Sunday, September 21, 2008

Technology as a Utility

The start of school is always a busy time of year. But it seems that every year that goes by, there is a greater emphasis on the reliability of systems and associated service the tech staff can provide. It is the quintessential double edge sword technologists face when moving from the sporadic uses of technology 15 years ago to the daily dependence on systems and associated service technology departments must provide. Access to email, online web applications, clients, codecs, and VoIP to name a few, have added significant strains to technology departments where information is expected to be available 24/7.

This expectation has led me to describe technology more as a utility similar to water and power. Technology, like water and power is supposed to work. It's supposed to work well and any downtime can seriously interrupt the day to day activities of teachers and non teachers alike.

So what is a school to do? First and foremost, have a plan that takes into account connectivity and service expectations users on your campus deem pivotal to day to day functions. As schools continue to migrate through the Technology Continuum, it will be important for school officials to recognize that teachers want and need just in time service when they integrate tech into the curriculum. The days of waiting a few hours or days for assistance are not acceptable as every minute lost becomes a lost educational opportunity.

As I see it, there are at least 3 strands that need to be considered. The first strand is the network and infrastructure. I'm not one of these guys but they are worth their weight in gold. They make sure the network experiences little or no down time. They work directly with the academic/instructional technologists to determine whether or not the infrastructure can handle curricular enhancements and any changes to systems that impact campus operations. And depending on the size of the institution, may also serve as the school's help desk. The second strand, represents the academic/instructional technologists. They interface with teachers and students as needed and provide professional development opportunities and training. These positions may also be responsible for budgeting along with the network strand and can handle a range of issues in the area of tech support . The third strand is the help desk. This is an area where I find most schools to be deficient. Often, the first two strands serve the school in this capacity too. However, all to often, serving in this capacity steals valuable time and energy that needs to be directed towards the planning and execution of initiatives. It is the help desk strand that provides the just in time service that maintains the confidence of the faculty that is willing to explore new instructional strategies.

If technology is indeed supposed to be reliable and ready to go 24/7, schools must have a human network in place that will ensure that teachers have a positive experience when integrating technology into the curriculum. With reliability, the mindset can move from will it work to how can I engage my students.

Ok, it's time to turn that spigot off.

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