The Support Puzzle


By Tony DePrato | Follow Me on LinkedIn

I was recently in a conversation with a large group of people who provide IT Support. Many do not work in education, which is why I like the group. One of the members was recently asked in an interview to rank the following support requests in terms of importance.

1) A teacher has standardized testing starting in 30 minutes however she is unable to access the testing site.

2) The principal (aka your immediate supervisor) can’t open a spreadsheet that she needs to have ready for a presentation later that same day.

3) A teacher is unable to start a lecture because her PowerPoint won’t open. Students are waiting in the classroom.

This scenario truly exemplifies the difference between EdTech and CorpTech. In EdTech the order of importance should be, 1-3-2. In CorpTech it could easily be 1-2-3, or, even 2-1-3. Anyone who has worked with a demanding boss in a Hire-At-Will employment environment would understand why.

In a school, unless the school is on the bad side of accreditation standards, the answer would be 3-2-1.

Here is why.

Teaching and Learning

Most people look at the options and see time and urgency. And although the right answer can be derived from time and urgency, that metric will not always apply. A universal metric is to always focus on Teaching and Learning (TL).

This means that all processes at the school, IT included, need to be on mission and that mission is to support Teaching and Learning. In order to do that, students and teachers come first, and everything else later.

The business of the school is education, education happens within the TL dynamic.

Most school administrators will not even interrupt classes unless there is a real emergency. School administrators will inconvenience themselves to reduce the impact on teachers and students.

In organizations with a head of school or superintendent, those offices may have their own separate support for the technology to further reduce any impact to TL.

The Eisenhower Matrix

I am a big fan of using time management and decision management frameworks. My favorite is The Eisenhower Matrix. I have written about it here if for those who are not familiar with it. 


I use the layout above for decision making and project planning. I also use Agile and Scrum when executing the actual pieces of projects. I need these tools to prevent reacting emotionally to problems.

In the scenario above this is how I would categorize each of the three support problems.

DO, Do it Now: 1) A teacher has standardized testing starting in 30 minutes however she is unable to access the testing site.

The reasoning here is that standardized tests have controls that the school must follow. This is a tricky scenario because unless you have implemented IT procedures for standardized testing you would not realize that the pre-testing is completed well in advance. That means the school has already scheduled and guaranteed a test window. The test either has to occur or be canceled and rescheduled. I would write a guide on test implementation, and they vary greatly. For older children, there is a high risk if these test fail.

DECIDE: 3) A teacher is unable to start a lecture because her PowerPoint won’t open. Students are waiting in the classroom.

As a school administrator, I would, of course, ask IT to go help the teacher immediately. In this case, you really need to know the schedule before deciding when to go. If classes are 70-80 minutes every other day, you would want someone in there immediately. If classes are 35-40 minutes daily, you would want to send someone at the end of the class.

The technology has made achieving the lesson goals impossible if the lesson is short. However, the lesson occurs so often that the impact on TL is low. In fact, taking more time in the end when the students are transitioning will allow someone to look at prevention instead of just adding a quick solution that only deals with the symptom.

Most schools have requirements that teachers should be able to run their lessons in the event of an IT failure. This should not happen every day, but it can happen, and teachers are required to work through the issue. If a teacher follows protocol going into the class 5-10 minutes after class has begun, could interrupt their backup plan.

This is why it is a DECIDE. It varies based-on campus and culture.

Delegate: 2) The principal (aka your immediate supervisor) can’t open a spreadsheet that she needs to have ready for a presentation later that same day.

Anyone can do this job as soon as the others are in progress. If there is one IT support person, they will do this last. It is not time-sensitive. Most principals would angry if a teacher or class of students were put in lower priority.

If there is a team, the leader could assign someone to this with a reasonable timeframe.

If you are in EdTech IT Support, make sure you are connected to the culture of your school. Understanding the policies and procedures outside of IT is key to understanding how to support Teaching and Learning.



This is what happens Larry, when you misuse technology….

If you do not get the reference made by the title, then you you can spend the day trying to figure it out. Improve your Google skills, or whatever. I know that my fellow podcaster, Preston, will get it, and he is the inspiration for this post.

In fact, he said something this week that was so funny, Patrick made a meme using Preston’s likeness. Here is a sample of that meme:

Screen Shot 2013-05-16 at 8.39.30 AM

I invited Preston and some others to watch the premier of Star Trek: Into Darkness.  The premier was in 3D, and so Preston said, “I hate 3D. I am not going.” Even though he likes Star Trek, he refuses to watch 3D. He feels, and rightly so, it is over used. Apparently he has had one too many bad 3D experiences in the last few years.

Yes, we can blame James Cameron for this, he did bring back 3D from the dead with Avatar, but, that is not really true. He did not bring back 3D, he literally reinvented it. He had his teams building hardware, software, and special computers to create a movie that was designed from storyboards to be 3D. That is why it is a great movie, 3D was the planned medium.

The Star Trek film was also designed for 3D. As I predicted, the 3D was not distracting, it was just part of the film. A film designed to be in 3D.

Then there are films such as the much overhyped and widely loved Harry Potter series. I watched one of the films in 3D. It was awful.  Obviously, they converted it to 3D in post production. Researching this topic, I found this was attempted on another Harry Potter, but the results were so bad they canceled the plan. Unplanned technology, creates a bad experience. Misused technology creates a bad experience.

In grad school we looked at some research, and this was ages ago back in 2001-2002, but it has stuck with me. The stats read that people had the same neophobia with technology that they did with food. If someone has a bad experience, it could take up to seven, and sometimes as many as ten, more exposures to get them to move past their first initial bad experience. As I have been working in educational technology, I have found that this theory is very accurate.

Preston had a bad experience with 3D. More than one. He kept attending movies that he was genuinely interested in, but still left those movies feeling annoyed because of unplanned and misused technology. He was motivated by the content, yet, he still had an adverse reaction.

Preston is not alone, because 3D technology being misused and abused is just a small percentage of technology that is often injected without a plan into educational technology. Obsession with QR codes, time-consuming presentation technology, apps that do not allow for any creation only consumption, wikis, Twitter for backchannel chats, expensive analog response systems, and of course the Coomber potable audio recorder (which looked like it was made in 1975 when sold to schools in 2009).

All of these technologies have legitimate uses in education. Even the Coomber would be useful in a school based in the Arctic or in one of those towns that prohibits wifi technology.  However, most of the time, the uses for these technologies would be considered niche. They would plug-in to enhance a larger plan or project, if that project was designed for plug-ins.

Keeping people of all ages interested in learning can be challenging. Impacting learning negatively with extraneous unplanned technology is only going to stifle educational technology initiatives. The curriculum and the educational goals should naturally lead people down a path to appropriate technology.  It is true that technology can create new insights and new directions, but that is only true if those things exist in unity with educational process.

Wrapping this up, a word to Preston. The use of 3D in “Star Trek: Into Darkness” is appropriate. In the first scene, the entire theater shifted to the right to dodge a spear moving at high velocity. Wait, and watch it in 2D. Then, watch it in 3D if you liked the story. Avoid all 3D TVs and other 3D technologies until you have done this. 

And remember, when planned appropriately 3D abides.

Tony DePrato