Center for Digital Education & Converge: research in education technology for K-12 and higher education

The Forgotten Piece: Support Infrastructure

on February 3, 2010

In the rush to put more technological goodies in our schools, we often fail to pay proper attention to that piece of the technology puzzle without which we are doomed to fail.

Time and time again, substantial quantities of money are spent on the "things" of technology with barely any spent on the technology support infrastructure (people, services, resources) that dwells in the background, yet is so essential to success. The ultimate victim of this shortsighted approach is the student. Let's look at a few examples of how an inadequate support infrastructure adversely affects student learning.

Deferred repair of equipment

Insufficient technical staff or the lack of funds for contracted services will usually result in an inadequate maintenance program. This, in turn, will lead to long delays in repairing malfunctioning equipment.

Equipment that is out of service adversely affects students in two ways. Most obviously, non-functioning equipment, such as computers and printers, are not available for students to use. Consequently, the amount of computer time available for students is limited. This is significantly worse when the repair of servers and switches are delayed, thereby creating technology chaos for an entire room, wing or building.

Equipment sitting like a rock waiting for repair can affect students in an indirect manner as well. Teachers lose confidence in technology when it frequently breaks down or takes an inordinate amount of time to repair. When this occurs, many teachers will look for other, more reliable approaches to instruction. Thus, students will be experiencing instruction with their teacher's second or third choices rather than their first.

Reduced staff development

Many schools expect their IT staff to provide some professional development activities to instructional, support and administrative staff. But if there isn't sufficient staff or other resources to maintain the most basic equipment, one can only wonder where they will find staff and resources to provide appropriate levels of staff development.

Clearly, you cannot expect teachers and other school staff to adequately learn new technologies or innovative technology-based programs without proper professional development and support. Yet, without the proper technology support infrastructure, that is exactly what we have been doing and continue to do. Of course, in the long term, it is the students who suffer from inadequately prepared and supported teachers.

What can we do?

It is not easy to change behavior that has been in place for many years. Who among us, for example, can say "no" to installing new technologies even when we know we really can't support it at an appropriate level? However, if our jobs were easy, we wouldn't be needed. Here, then, are some suggestions for increasing or improving your technology support infrastructure:

  • Start now, and don't let up, making the point to your district leadership that additional resources are needed to support the technology support infrastructure.
  • While it may appear difficult, reduce new acquisitions while maintaining or increasing the current support level and ratios.
  • Analyze your current support policies and procedures with the intention of making substantial changes where necessary. Make certain that you get school-based personnel involved in developing these policies.
  • Develop a policy, and adhere to it, to determine the support required prior to purchasing new equipment software, or courseware.

About the author: Phil Brody worked in public education for more than 40 years, during most of which he functioned as an educational technologist. He is currently an educational technology consultant.

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