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.



Tech Support Problems, Apathy, & Solutions

By: Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

Recently I was reading a Technology Directors’ forum, and noticed that a few very well established schools were explicitly looking for people to assist them in improving their technology support system (Help Desk, Help Tickets, etc.)

Reflecting on how I design and implement such systems, I began to wonder if these schools have looked at the core foundation issues that cause problems in systems that support a variety of tech-ecosystems and networks.

Why Does Anyone Need Tech Support in 2018?

The question may seem obvious, but this question should be asked every year: Who actually needs support and why?

Why do teachers need someone to come to the classroom to help them? Is the equipment old and/or inconsistent? Is the classroom design too complicated? Does the classroom equipment not work well with the teacher’s issued device(s)? Are students unable to use or manage their devices? Are the deployed software and services too difficult to master?

For example, if a school is running Google Apps for Education or Office 365 for Education, is the school running these newer solutions using and old model? That would cause many problems for end users. End users would be trying to follow an internal plan, that conflicts with the external supplier’s solution. Google and Microsoft are external suppliers, and they do have  recommended implementation plans. In this case, the school has created a problem that will now need support.

The truth is, tech support and training are not the same thing. Asking support staff to execute tasks that an employee is required to do is a massive use of support time. The support staff is not the end user. Meaning, the support staff person is not a teacher. This means they will be very mechanical about explaining how things work, but possibly not very practical. Many issues are strictly job related, and require training from peers, not IT support staff.

The goal of anyone who is planning technology support, or facilities support, should be to eliminate the need for support. Expanding support around problems, will simply make those problems worse. Problems need to be eliminated to reduce the need for regular support.


Read More at The International Educator

Start At the Wall


Holidays are a very interesting time if you work in technology leadership or support. Ideally, people want to have some time-off. Therefore, making a list of essential projects to finish starts months before the holiday plans. Then a list of “what to do if” scenarios needs to be created and shared with whomever is going to be covering the campus/organization/service/website etc.

If you are like me, you are always prepared to remotely assist, even during times of rest and relaxation. The fact is critical processes can fail, and when they fail, a team effort is required to bring the world back online and settle the chaos.

My expectations for having to spend time-off supporting my campus connect directly to events that are unplanned, or mistakes in planning I have made. I do not expect to be contacted with an urgent request, have to leave my plans and find a laptop, and then fix something that is a problem inside of the local infrastructure. In other words, I do not want to get a phone call because someones chair is broken or printer is out of ink.

The Basic Problem 

Many years ago I realized that for some reason people who do IT Support seem to follow patterns (almost blindly). They repeat the same steps all the time, without actually diagnosing cause. They treat the symptoms and not the disease.

In addition, IT Support people make assumptions about users as well. The assumptions often lead to inaction or the repeating of useless actions, without any consideration of the actual situations.

In 2009, I instituted a simple rule on my campus. When anyone, myself included, walks into a classroom or office, go straight to the connection point in the room and Start At The Wall.

If a classroom or office uses Ethernet (pictured above), always check the cable first and walk socket. If the user is on Wifi, inspect the work area and power, and also if possible, visually inspect with Wifi Access Point.

The rule states that even if the problem is simply a question, take 30 seconds to inspect the source of communication and power in any and every space and look at the workspace.

Why This is Not a Huge Waste of Time

IT support people very infrequently connect to an individual user in the user’s space. In a given semester, support might enter a given teacher’s classroom or other user’s space just a few times. Therefore, every time IT support enters a room they should be observant and looking for any issues, which include simple maintenance problems, that a user may not notice.

Starting at the wall also has the benefit of focusing the mind. When a person goes into a space, their assumptions take a backseat to the job and process they are following.

What Happens When this Process is Ignored

Panic. Irrational judgement. Defeat. Only bad things can happen. In fact, in a recent case during my time-off,  IT Support made an assumption that the problem was not only unsolvable by local means, it was completely external. Meaning, there was nothing they could do to solve it. They tested the issue in 3 laptops, with the same exact results, and never once considered the issue could be something on the local network.

This assumption should have been avoided, as they had an email from 24 hours before explaining that the system in question had been successfully tested by a third party (off-campus), and the performance was normal.

They were so convinced, that even after the problem was tested off-campus and visual confirmation was provided that the services in question were working fine, e-mails flew reconfirming the problem still existed. I inferred from the emails that they believed I was using the system by some mystical means, which would prevent me from seeing the same results they were seeing.

The fact is, once people believe in a cause, justified or not, getting them to let go of that belief is extremely difficult. Not following some initial simple steps, can lead to conclusions that make bad problems worse.

All school administrators should be aware of their campus IT support processes and procedures. People tend to disconnect from IT support and see it as a black-hole of mystery, and they just hope that it will work.

Tony DePrato


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