Technical support for teaching and learning in schools

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1 Information sheet 3 Technical support for teaching and learning in schools This information sheet draws on findings from the evaluation of the Government s NGfL Programme. It is informed by the lessons learned by the Pathfinder LEAs and schools in developing technical support for teaching and learning. Today s schools contain as much ICT equipment as most small to medium businesses. And, unlike in an office, where each workstation may have only one regular user and perform only a limited range of tasks, school computers are used by a wide number of pupils for a range of activities. This sheet considers schools needs for technical support and how it might be provided. What is technical support? Technical support in schools needs to have four distinct aspects: Repair actions that are required when hardware or software breaks down Maintenance actions to check the operation of hardware and software, to install new software, or to check the efficiency of a network Trouble-shooting actions that are required when something happens unexpectedly, when an error occurs, or a teacher does not know how to solve a problem Training for teachers and support staff to enable them to use ICT equipment, become aware of the technical problems that arise, and show them how to deal with the most common ones. Why is technical support needed? If a school is to rely on its ICT equipment and the majority of schools now use an ICT network for teaching, learning and administration it must have access to effective technical support. Every time that a piece of software or hardware fails midlesson, it represents a lost learning opportunity. It also damages the self-confidence of teachers who may not be ICT experts, and may ultimately jeopardise the expected benefits from what is a relatively costly investment. What level of technical support do schools need? Different schools may require different elements of technical support, depending on the ICT and technical expertise of their staff, the age and complexity of their equipment, and the warranty terms under which it was purchased. The level of support needed can also fluctuate, as outlined below: Repair is a fairly rare occurrence with technology such as interactive whiteboards, but other items printers and laptops, for example may be subject to high use and therefore high wear and tear. Schools need to budget for warranty arrangements that will cover equipment breakdown beyond the first year. They also need to bear in mind the value of equipment as it ages and the comparative cost of replacement versus repair at a time when equipment is quickly outdated and better models are available for the same price. Maintenance the equivalent of an annual MOT for ICT equipment and networks is often

2 overlooked but can be an effective way of solving problems before they become critical. Ideally, technical support staff should have a weekly or monthly schedule of maintenance to include all equipment and resources. Trouble-shooting activity is particularly likely to fluctuate, and is usually at its height when teachers and pupils are beginning to use equipment and resources that are new to them. Teacher and support training are essential when new resources or systems are introduced. Teacher training also needs to continue beyond the introductory phase, so that teachers learn how to react to problems that arise regularly; some schools offer a weekly surgery where teachers can drop in to discuss recurring problems with technical staff. A programme of induction also needs to be available for new members of staff teaching and non-teaching whatever the stage in the year that they take up their post. How does technical support relate to different LEA ICT implementation models? Many schools are supported by their LEA in terms of technical support. However, LEAs work in different ways and there are at least four types of provision, as highlighted below. Schools in a Type A LEA are likely to have to make their own decisions about each element of technical support, but the LEA may well have a technical support unit. In Type B LEAs, schools may have to make their own decisions about each element of technical support, but the LEA may well have made specific arrangements for the technical support of networking. If this is the case, it is important that schools recognise which aspects of technical support are covered, since repair, maintenance, trouble-shooting and training may not be included. For schools in Type C LEAs, it is likely that at least some elements of technical support will be covered by the LEA. However, it is important to identify which aspects are not covered, so that they can make arrangements to cover these in the way that suits their circumstances best. Where a school is in a Type D LEA, then it is likely that all elements of technical support are covered, but it will be important for them to put some time aside in order to liaise with the external service provider. All schools may find it helpful to complete a checklist like the one below so they can spot vulnerable areas. Characteristics of the approach or model Type A Type B Type C Type D The LEA takes a very decentralised approach. Schools take responsibility for making choices about networking hardware and software. The LEA maintains a range of choice and low-cost options through framework agreements. Networking provision (but not connectivity, hardware or software provision) is contracted to a single company by agreement with all schools. A partnership has been managed between the LEA and a single company, to provide for all networking, hardware, software and content. Elements of technical support are also included, and, as such, this constitutes a form of managed service arrangement. A public-private financial initiative places a greater emphasis on the company involved to provide technological support, but links schools into a much longer agreement with a single company. Schools have committed their funding to the initiative over a long time period. Checklist for technical support Element of technical support Repair Maintenance Trouble-shooting Teacher & support training Aspects covered Networking and connectivity Computer hardware Peripherals Software and content Covered under Need to Covered under Need to Covered under Need to Covered under Need to contract buy in contract buy in contract buy in contract buy in

3 Who can provide technical support? Technical support can be provided in a number of ways: Warranty this usually covers hardware, networking or peripheral equipment, but only lasts for a specific period of time. It may be possible to take out extended warranties when equipment is first procured, but the cost of replacement versus warranty cost should be considered as equipment becomes older and loses its asset value. Employing full-time technician(s) is a common way in which schools cover technical support needs, but it involves a regular funding commitment. The difficulty of finding a suitable qualified technician in some localities should be borne in mind, and the fact that technicians are increasingly sought after by other institutions. Employing (or re-deploying) teaching staff can be an alternative to employing a full-time technician, but the cost should be considered very carefully. There are examples of schools which have successfully redeployed administrative staff for technical support purposes. Sharing the cost of a technician with one or more schools in the locality may be an option. However, the pattern of commitment to each institution needs to be agreed beforehand. Student placements can be a useful way of starting a career in technical support. However, the amount of time that a student will be within the school once he or she is qualified needs to be considered at the outset. Classroom assistants may be suitable for some schools, and likely to be a less expensive option than using a teacher. Whether the classroom assistant will spend all his or her time on technical support, or divide these duties with other classroom support, will need to be considered, along with the need for specific technical training. Governors and/or parents may be very willing to offer their expertise to a school, but the amount of time that they can realistically offer should be considered carefully. LEA units may offer a variety of levels of support. When subscribing to these services, schools need to make sure that the forms of technical support being provided are identified carefully. Any areas not covered need to be addressed in alternative ways. Managed service providers (MSP) generally cover the range of technical support needs in a comprehensive way. However, the cost of cover needs to be established, together with the width of technical support being provided. Commercial units may be available, either as computer maintenance companies or in connection with the supply of hardware and networks. Schools will need to clarify what services are on offer and find alternative quotations to ensure they get best value, and other schools may be able to recommend local providers to them. Some models of technical support Some examples of the ways in which schools have addressed their technical support needs are given below. School A is an infant school with some 100 pupils, with four full-time equivalent teaching staff. Equipment is classroom based. There are two computers in each classroom, one computer in the staffroom, and two administrative machines. The school has a technician on site, who provides three hours of support each week. It is recognised that this level of technical support is not adequate, and that one day a week would be more suitable. No repairs to equipment have yet been needed, and no maintenance is undertaken on a regular basis. The technician finds that she spends a lot of time on trouble-shooting needs, particularly on printer problems. Teaching staff find that technical support on software is needed most. Technical support has also been provided by the ICT co-ordinator and by the computer provider (the latter has so far

4 responded within a week, over the telephone, or by a site visit, at no cost). School B is a primary school with 78 pupils, 5.3 full-time equivalent teaching staff and a number of learning support assistants. There are eight computers located in a central computer area, and two other rooms have one computer in each. In addition, there is a laptop in the staffroom, a desktop machine in the headteacher s room, and two machines in the school office. ISDN has just been installed. The school currently has no technician available to support its needs. There are warranties on some machines, but no maintenance is carried out. Trouble-shooting is undertaken by teaching staff internally, and training is done informally. The LEA s curriculum unit provides curriculum support at a cost of 1,755 per year, and breakdown cover costs 176 per year. The school has been satisfied with the support it has received, but would like to buy in technician time from a secondary school as and when such support is required. School C is a junior school of some 368 pupils, with 16 teaching staff, seven learning support assistants, and two office staff. There are 30 networked machines located in a computer suite (of which eight are multimedia machines), four machines are located in the library, three in the administrative area and there are four laptops in the school. Repair of equipment has not been needed, and maintenance is undertaken by the LEA technical support unit. Liaison and trouble-shooting are undertaken by the ICT co-ordinator, who has also provided some training for staff. Technical support needs are covered by a combination of the LEA technical support unit and the ICT co-ordinator. The service level agreement with the LEA costs 300 per year, and other costs involved to date have been on telephone calls, and for equipment replacement (such as a monitor at a cost of 40). The school has been satisfied with its technical support, and would be likely to continue to use this approach in the future. School D is a primary school with 485 pupils, 22 full-time equivalent teaching staff and seven learning support assistants. There are 31 machines contained within a computer suite, and all classrooms (18 of them) have at least one computer. Additionally, the school has four administrative computers and four laptops. The school has recently appointed a part-time technician (for 16 hours a week), who was a secretary but was trained on the job to offer technical support. A commercial unit has also provided technical support (at a cost of 2,500 per year), and an independent technician has been employed as required at a cost of 80 per half day. The technician keeps a daily log of technical support undertaken, and the contracted commercial provider is being used for support around once per month. The contracted commercial provider has needed to repair and rebuild some workstations. Maintenance is undertaken by the on-site technician and ICT coordinator, who also provide for trouble-shooting needs. It has been found that software such as word processors create some problems, as do printers. The school feels that its technical support is being further developed, but it would ideally like to cover its technical support needs by advertising for and employing a year-out school leaver. School E is a secondary school which has 1,250 pupils and 75 teaching staff. The school has two networks a curriculum network with about 120 computers deployed in four suites (30 machines in each suite), and an administrative network with 12 machines on it. There are also some other standalone computers in the school, and a separate network of some 15 machines in one department. The school has no technician on site. The LEA technical support unit was used a great deal when the school developed its ICT facilities two years ago. A county-based company was involved in repairing equipment when it failed. Repairs were needed at a rate of about one or two items each month initially. The head of ICT and a group of sixth-formers offered maintenance support, and do so by using a checklist on a regular basis. This maintenance team also provides trouble-shooting services, and find that a lot of quite low level work

5 is being done in this respect. There are often more than a dozen queries from staff arising each day. Training sessions for staff are undertaken by the head of ICT and these generally cover basic technical issues that need to be solved. In this school a range of ways are used to cover technical support needs. The cost of repair and servicing all of the electrical equipment in the school is 625 per quarter, while technical support for software, the network, servers and access is provided by the LEA technical support unit at a cost of 350 per month. The school already has a science technician and a technology technician, and would ideally like to employ an IT technician, perhaps shared with another school. School F is a secondary school with some 1,540 pupils and 90 teaching staff. The school has a wide variety of technological resources. There are four subject cluster areas with 25 desktop computers in each, and 25 machines deployed in clusters in each business studies teaching area. There are clusters of desktops in the library, sixth-form centre and the science area. Additionally there are four full sets of 13 mobile laptops, shared by subject departments. The school has a campus-wide wireless network. There are about 50 to 60 machines used by staff in department bases. The school has 2.5 full-time technicians on site, as well as a technical services manager who schedules the technical support work. Quite a lot of repair work has had to be undertaken on the laptops. The technical staff undertake regular maintenance, which is scheduled, in terms of cleaning and checking. Servers are maintained regularly, and a holiday rota to undertake maintenance is put in place by the technical services manager. Trouble-shooting is undertaken by the technical support staff, and quite a lot of time has been spent in this respect on the laptops (such as the need to reinstall software). The cost to the school of the technical staff is some 41,000 per year, which covers the technical requirements for over 400 machines and associated equipment. The school is satisfied with this form and level of support, and would not want to make changes to it in the near future. How effective are the different models? It is clear that different models suit different schools. However, those schools who report that they are satisfied with technical support have generally used a range of means of provision, and have catered for the needs of repair, maintenance, trouble-shooting and training. Some questions that might be asked in relation to these school examples are: Are any schools vulnerable in terms of technical support? Does their school cover technical support needs as adequately, or more adequately? Factors to consider when thinking about technical support needed in a school There are a number of key questions to ask when thinking about technical support for a school: Which elements of technical support repair, maintenance, trouble-shooting, technical training are currently covered well in the school? Will the same levels of technical support be needed in the future, or are they likely to change (because of new resources being procured, for example)? Which elements of technical support will be most needed at which times? Is it possible to plan or schedule the levels of support needed in view of equipment or resources being acquired over the next two to three years? How does the LEA implementation of ICT relate to the school s needs? Who currently provides for the four areas of technical support, and who might do so in the future? How effective is the technical support judged to be by managers, by teachers, by pupils?

6 Further sources of information Building the Grid web site This site holds a range of materials to help local education authorities (LEAs) and strategic school managers in England support the planning, procurement and practice of ICT in schools. Useful links are included to ICT technician job descriptions. ICT Technical Support web site The ICT Technical Support web site aims to help schools develop their approaches to managing and organising ICT support. It includes a group of case studies and a report from an independent evaluation, indicating current practice. Ipas web site NGfL Pathfinders: second report on the roll-out of the NGfL Programme in ten Pathfinder LEAs pathfinders/index.html The Pathfinders research was carried out by teams at Manchester Metropolitan University, University of Bristol, University of Lancaster and University of Nottingham. Information for these sheets was provided by Don Passey (University of Lancaster). The Final Report is also available from the above address. Performance Indicator Results of Becta s survey of schools in England investigating their satisfaction with ICT products, services and suppliers, including technical support services. Ipas is the Independent ICT Procurement Advisory Service for schools. The web site provides advice to schools on purchasing ICT products and services and brings together a range of guidance documentation and links to other agencies. Their total cost of ownership (TCO) simulation demonstrates the total cost of ownership of an ICT suite in a secondary school including the technical support costs. British Educational Communications and Technology Agency Millburn Hill Road, Science Park, Coventry, CV4 7JJ Telephone: , Fax: , URL: Becta / /182/a/PC/10K

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