Tips from the Bottom Line

A T&L columnist shares ROI highlights from the past year.

Funding Technical Support

Ongoing technical support is often under-funded in district budgets. Most fall far short of the Consortium for School Networking's (CoSN) recommended ratio of one technician for every 50 to 70 computers, or one technician for every 500 computers in a closely managed networked environment.

Add to this the fact that teachers' needs for instructional support are as important for successful technology implementation as a reliable infrastructure, and many districts find that overall technical support costs are much higher than they budgeted for. Districts must recognize the need to focus more attention on repurposing existing funds to pay for technical support, reducing dependence on grants and other types of short-term funding. Here are five successful strategies being used by districts across the nation.

Technical support surcharges. Whenever a site or office makes a technology purchase, the district adds a surcharge to cover ongoing costs for infrastructure and instructional technical support.

Annual technical support fees. Instead of a surcharge at purchase, sites and offices are assessed a fee per computer each year. Fees are used to pay salaries for infrastructure and instructional technical support staff.

Site-based technical support. The district takes care of the network, but schools are responsible for hiring and paying for their own on-site day-to-day support. This often takes the form of stipends for existing employees.

Technical assistance from interns. Districts form partnerships with community colleges and technical schools to provide student internship opportunities. Interns, working under the supervision of paid district staff, handle troubleshooting, maintenance, and repairs, freeing district staff to offer more instructional technical support.

Technical support provided by students. Programs such as Generation YES, Students Working to Advance Technology, the Cisco Networking Academy, and California's TECH CORPS train middle and high school students to provide technical support at their schools. Proponents see this as a win-win situation; students gain marketable skills, and district staff can offer more instructional technical support.

Hardware and Software Standardization

Standardization does save money. Districts that standardize develop a list of specifications for hardware and software and then support just those items on the list. In most cases, network administrative rights are also restricted, limiting the number of people who have permission to install software or enable access to Web sites that are blocked. However, this practice can also result in unintended consequences. Before adopting a standardization policy, district officials must anticipate potential pitfalls and make provisions to ensure that teachers and students have access to the resources they need, when they need them.

Pros

  • Districts can negotiate better pricing for hardware, software, and Web-based subscriptions through bulk purchases.
  • Training costs for staff technicians decrease with limited types of hardware and software.
  • Network security and integrity are easier to ensure with restricted access.

Cons

  • Standardization squelches innovation when teachers are forbidden to purchase and pilot new technologies.
  • Without administrative rights, teachers must wait for a technician to check out and install new software.
  • Teacher and student access to a variety of instructionally sound Web-based tools and sites may be severely restricted by measures taken to keep the network secure.
  • List potential partners.
  • Identify specific ways partners can help the school and contributions the school can make in return (for example, through service-learning projects that benefit a partner).
  • Present your plan and invite partners to join the collaborative.
  • Host regular meetings to share information and resources.
  • Publicize collaborative activities. You'll soon have potential partners approaching you.

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