The above is probably the phrase I use most in my day-to-day support role. In almost all cases, as teachers and students report problems, it’s only after asking this question that I’m able to offer help, or propose a solution. Why is this? It’s an interesting point that technical people very often have a different approach to their interactions with technology than those that are not so technically focused. This isn’t to say that either party is ‘in the right’, but it can prove confusing for those who try to ‘walk the line’ between the two worlds – I count myself in that group!
A supplier to the school recently told me of the problems they have with getting information to Software Developers. Very often a message will be relayed through a number of people, eventually ending up at the Development Team as a totally different project to that which the original user requested! Part of this problem is the ‘chain of command’. Because an issue has progressed through the layers of support, the risk of Chinese Whispers has increased, but also so has the feeling of detachment from the original user. Helpdesk solutions DO help Support Teams plan their day, react to issues and ensure users are communicated to effectively, but they can add an unnecessary layer of stress to anyone reporting a problem. However, the problem is bigger than that. In most cases, when a user reports a problem, or a limitation of the software/hardware they are using, they are stressed – quite often they feel let down, either by the technology or their own ability and this can lead to lack of clarity in any requests to the Technical Team.
So, how can we ensure that Technical / End user conversations happen effectively? One low-tech solution is to simply talk it through. Very often we find that an email conversation over a matter of days could have been dealt with quickly by a face-to-face meeting. IT departments can help by becoming more visible – it’s rare I can walk a corridor without bumping into someone with a request and that’s GREAT – it’s often the best part of my day to have a chat with someone and them (hopefully) leave feeling they’ve been helped. I just don’t get that feeling from closing a ‘ticket’. Let’s not forget that in education, we are dealing with users that have far less control over their time than we do, in support.
But there’s more. Users can be encouraged to give more context and information in their requests and this can be done by VERY short, regular sessions with the staff, perhaps at briefings and other training times but also at key points throughout the year (preferably BEFORE busy times, not during). It’s important that everyone realises the two-way nature of diagnosing and fixing technical issues.
Lastly, it’s important for all of the technical staff to have a decent understanding of how the technology is being used. We aren’t in the business of simply opening a door and letting people do what they want once inside, but supporting, developing and advising how they can carry out their tasks in way that’s best suited to them and support teams should be making time to discover this. Who knows? These investigations might mean a change of technology is required? And that’s just fine, as long as such decisions are measured and taken in view of a wider strategy, it’s only right and proper that things should develop and change – the trick is spotting it coming!