Tag Archives: education

‘What are you trying to do?’ The great technical staff / end user divide.

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!

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The transparency of technology…?

Why do I get angry with technology?  When it gets in the way.  The whole point of to deploying technology in the classroom SHOULD be to make people’s lives easier.  So why is the case that so often it doesn’t seem to happen?   There’s a few issues at play:

1). Unreliability.   For me, technology has to be reliable.  Therefore, if equipment cannot be trusted and staff have no confidence in it, it is destined to fail.  What can be done?  Repair/replace/retrain!  In many cases, if the system is genuinely faulty then pull it!  But is it the case that the users’ expectations don’t match what it was intended to do?  In that case retraining is the answer – what better chance to get genuine, real-world feedback than from talking to your users about their exact requirements and see how close the system is to serving them?

2). Inflexibility.  Technology should be flexible.  Humans behave in mostly predictable patterns, but one of the most fascinating thing about working with children is their ability to think with unclouded vision and mis-use (NOT often in a negative way) equipment.  If it’s a students’ instinct to use a system in a particular way, and it supports the educational goals, should we not consider how we can adapt to make this possible?

3). Transparency.  The best technology is the kit that you don’t realise you’re using.  When electric kettles were introduced, I’m willing to bet it was a big deal!  But I’m also willing to be that they didn’t require intensive training sessions.  Technology SHOULD be the same, and it’s heading there – look at the Nintendo Wii.  It’s the first games console to make controls intuitive, utilizing real-world motor skills to achieve tasks that would have required arbitrary button-presses via ‘traditional’ control methods.  Of course, using these skills to decapitate zombies is one thing and hopefully unlikely to have any real world benefit, but the Wii is also teaching people to cook, stay fit, even the basics of improving their mental agility with titles such as Big Brain Academy.

So, where does technology go from here?  The answer is ‘anywhere we want it to’.  As those tasked with supporting teaching and learning, technical and support staff need to spend time talking to students, teachers and each other and try to understand what people want to achieve.  Could the lesson take place without technology in the classroom?  In most cases, to a degree yes, but can technology be deployed to engage and enthrall students without the destabilising nature of intensive training all round?

Time will of course tell but technology is already moving in the right direction – it’s up to everyone involved to help deliver a future where its use becomes more transparent.  The next time you use a kettle, consider how neatly the technology suits the purpose!

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