Tech Support – By Schools, For Schools

I know some of you might already recognise the phrase including in the title, as it is a central tenet of the ICT Register, but the same ethos is wide spread within the education community. It doesn’t matter whether you are talking about school staff getting together at TeachMeets, having in-depth discussions via twitter though things like #ukedchat, online communities such as EduGeek.net or more local groups such as NorthantsBLT the growing role of schools taking ownership of their advice and guidance and how they share it with others is a very important part of how schools need to react to recent changes which have come out of DfE.

Many of the above are free … well, when I say free I really mean that they are paid for by people and schools using their own time for the benefit of others because they get the same sort of response back, or it is a bit of educational philanthropy on the part of others. This is brilliant in many ways, but can make it difficult to plan for sustainability. Also, there is nothing wrong with paying for advice, guidance, ideas, expertise, etc. There is often a saying used, “you get what you pay for!” and this is very true. People forget that the payment is not always cold, hard cash, but time and your own expertise … and when time, expertise, capacity and ideas are running short then people face the reality that paying for something is almost inevitable.

And this is one of the areas where I think some schools do it wrong. It shouldn’t be that paying for something in cash is the last option, it should be considered an option from the very beginning when you are planning what you need, what your goals are, how your school will develop / deliver things like CPD, technical support, parental engagement, etc.

Technical Support is a perfect example of where failing to plan can result in staff in the school, both techie and teacher, having to scrabble around to find information and guidance. I have been preparing a number of reports around the use of Framework for ICT Technical Support (FITS) within Northamptonshire schools and conversations with schools who have staff trained and accredited against FITS has shown what a difference planning makes. Except that it doesn’t just stop at the school gates. A number of schools are actively involved in supporting other schools. This will range from Lodge Park Technology College being actively engaged with the ICT Register and Microsoft’s Partners In Learning, Sir Christopher Hatton School providing support on Microsoft training courses and technical support to local schools, Wrenn School providing technical support to local schools and staff being active in online communities such as EduGeek.net, and both The Duston School and Southfield School for Girls providing staff time and expertise to chair local working groups such as the Schools Broadband Working Group and NetworkNorthants (the local IT Community for technical staff in schools and school support providers). Some of this is for free (i.e. no charge to others) but some of it does have a cost and is well worth it.

Having another school cover your tech support or provide advice around it has some major benefits. This can range from educational understanding and expertise, through to experience of deploying some education specific technologies. Couple this with easy access for teachers to talk with teachers, SLT to talk with SLT, you can having a winning combination.

So I was please to see, over the weekend, a tweet from a friend on the south coast. Tim Dalton is the IT Consultant at The Wildern School, the school which runs its own TV Studio (BBC Schools Report), has previously run YouTube style services for other schools, has developed advice and guidance on using media technologies in schools … and much more. Tim put a tweet out letting his PLN know that they are doing it again, taking their expertise and bundling it up for others. This time it is is punnet; a support, development and advisory service for other schools. Whether it is hands-on, regular tech support, development of software and applications for schools or advice and guidance around classroom use of technology and school strategy, Wildern hopes to be able to cater for your needs.

Yet another example of By Schools, For Schools …

Do you have more examples? Are you involved in similar to the folk at punnet or the other schools mentioned? Have you spoken with other schools to share ideas, expertise, tools and goals? Go on … now is your chance.

4 thoughts on “Tech Support – By Schools, For Schools

  1. John McLear

    Bradford schools used to have some technical support by secondaries for primary and it failed because when an important issue came about in a primary the secondaries dealt with it with less priority than they would if it was in their building.

    Having a specialist ICT technical support company for your schools network allows that provider to use a number of specific tools such as network monitoring that a smaller provider wouldn’t have the time or incentive to implement. All of these tools combined can help the school with eFits, SRF and maintaining high availability.

    So to summarize, it makes a certain degree of sense having schools trade services however if the scaled service is performing well and can prove the value it provides by using tools that require scaled services then a change could be damaging to teaching and learning.

    I actually started out as being traded from one school to another and it worked really well in a really small scale but after 5 schools things required an additional member of staff and a school environment isn’t the perfect environment for growing an enterprise and it’s the enterprise that provides value to the schools I work with!

    Reply
  2. Chris Elliott

    A very interesting and appropriate posting here. I agree with you that this aspect of sustainable self-help is a growing interest for schools and, working on the LP+4 rollout, I am finding increasing numbers of schools who would like to be included in what is being loosely called “Cluster” site environments.

    Through these secure systems, schools using the LP+ learning platform are now extending their ideas outside their walls. They describe a need to not only share their best practice to other linked schools but also gather advice and support through discussion forums, celebrate success through blogs and collaborate on projects through anything from workspaces to wikis. These are challenging times for schools and where technology can lend a hand to allow teachers to work more smartly and easily, in a collaborative style, can only be a good thing.

    Reply
    1. Tony Sheppard Post author

      Thanks for the comment Chris, and yes, the growing number of tools which help schools collaborate is also enabling schools to work with one another.

      If I go back to examples close to my heart, the UseNet group go uk.education.schools-it used to be a prime location for like minded people to talk and share, but it was limited to a core of active posters. The advent of EduGeek.net (now over 41,000 members) changed that. The group pretty much died out but a better tool for collaboration between technical staff arose. The fact that it is used by those supporting other schools, commercial companies and vendors, LAs, and many more … it goes to show what a difference a collaboration tool can make. And this is before we get onto twitter …

      Specific tools such as Learning Platforms do raise the bar again. Having a core group of schools supporting one another as they try different things out, share good practice and learn from one another as to what pushes the educational button … now that just makes common sense.

      Reply
  3. Tony Sheppard Post author

    Thanks for the comment John, and yes, I do agree that if a secondary school does not prioritise a primary school right then they are not giving a proper service. As soon as any school, primary / secondary / special, starts to trade with other schools for any server, not just teach support, then you cannot give them a below standard service for *any* reason.

    Being honest, if you are getting a high standard of IT support, educational knowledge and are paying the right price for it I wouldn’t change to a school-traded service anyway … but for those many schools out there who aren’t getting what they need (or what they think they need) then working with other schools can make all the difference. Saying that, I do know of companies such as yourself, who have access to the collective advice and guidance of many other schools to share … and it goes back to that educational philanthropy I mentioned earlier … if you aren’t a shining example of that I don’t know who would be … but not everyone is in that place.

    The reality is that there is a balance somewhere, a trade off between commercial enterprise and school-led expertise and experience. It is just wonderful to see more and more schools understanding that they have to take more control … and more accountability … of their decisions.

    After posting this article earlier I did have one school explain to me that they expect to see a drop off of this sort of thing over time. As they support and advise more schools the improvement in in-house expertise around building strategies, choosing the right technology and the right curriculum, managing IT support, etc … it will mean that they will do themselves out of a job. I countered that it is a rare school that has all the answers, and that there will always be a place for those with expertise to share.

    Reply

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