Technology Applications: Maintenance and Support

Are resources and processes in place to maintain school technology?

Technology has not yet fully established itself in the school setting, as it has in many business sectors. When the network goes down in a school or district, the administrators, teachers, and students just wait until it comes back up. Any information lost may not be restored. In the instructional setting, preparing for an outage may mean that teachers file printouts as backup materials. The same outage in the business world can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost sales; lost instructional time has not been valued in the same way. Yet, as schools rely more and more on the use of technology (both administratively and instructionally), the loss of time and information is increasingly understood to be expensive and disruptive to the learning process. Maintenance and backup systems are therefore begining to be recognized as important throughout the school setting.

This key question assesses maintenance and support systems in terms of the number of maintenance incidents, the amount of downtime, and the stages of response to a request for maintenance; provisions for preventive maintenance; access to FAQ resources and technical manuals; backup and disaster recovery procedures; replacement and upgrade procedures; and diagnostic and repair procedures.

Are personnel available to provide technical support?

As schools commit more funds to the purchase of technology, they must also look at the support needed by the end users of these purchases. Most school systems have designated an office of technology support, but rarely do tech support personnel work directly with school staff. Usually, the only times tech support visits a school is when there is a major infrastructure malfunction or new equipment is being installed. Even more rarely can central-office technology support personnel be of assistance in educating users, say, on how a software package works.

The majority of support personnel time is focused on acquiring, installing, and maintaining hardware and the technology infrastructure. The ratio of end users (or computers) to professional support personnel is generally very high (see sidebar topics "Four Ways to Ensure Quality Tech Support in Schools" and "Tech Support Rule-of-Thumb"). As schools record the levels of support staffing and maintenance incidents, they can work to determine acceptable support ratios.

Much support for instructional staff comes from volunteer or part-time technology coordinators, working on donated time or in addition to other instructional obligations. Help desks are still a relative rarity. Use of students in these roles is not uncommon.

Indicators for this key question assess numbers of support personnel and full-time-equivalent (FTE) hours, the extent to which support personnel have other responsibilities within the school system, the total number of person-hours of technical support committed, and various ratios-of support calls to FTE staff hours, of support staff to the number of computers, and of support staff to the number of users.