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Solving the Biggest Back-to-School Challenge

With reliance on technology so prevalent, edtech IT needs to run smoothly

Looking back at my time in school, I remember how organized my teachers were when we returned from summer break: new packs of chalk, handouts printed and ready, red pens full of ink for correcting, lesson plans broken down to the exact page of text. But this is no longer my, or your mom’s, back-to-school.

My CEO is constantly referring to school technology as an add-on, and it’s become my job to constantly remind him that technology is the background of learning today. I imagine technology as the circulatory system of today’s schools: the pulsing lifeblood that makes all other higher levels of action and thought possible.

But what happens if all of a sudden that system not just breaks down, but runs inefficiently? What if IT service calls flood the department on the first day, making fixes near impossible? What if the Wi-Fi that handled x amount of devices last year isn’t accounting for the additional amount of devices with new security protocols this year? What if the new digital lesson plans for History aren’t downloading correctly?

The amount of time and energy that could potentially be lost in the first week of class is horrifyingly staggering. Which is why, when a contributor to eSchool News recently wrote “3 ways to get school services running smoothly after summer—quickly,” I thought, ‘Gosh, are other schools thinking about this?’

In the piece mentioned above, Nancy Van Elsacker Louisnord, president of TOPdesk, says that one of the biggest challenges to back-to-school is IT drag; specifically, IT not being able to quickly handle problems as they arise throughout the district.

For example, Van Elsacker Louisnord notes that many IT systems rely on heavy system customization, and if that customization isn’t updated or known to most IT staff pre-back-to-school, it can create intense headaches when trying to streamline services, log requests, communicate with users and track the progress of calls.

“The service desk staff [at this school district] was answering the same problems over and over again, for caller after caller,” she explained. And only after implementing an out-of-the-box service management solution could IT record answers to recurring problems in the knowledge base. Service desk operators are then automatically alerted to possible standard solutions based on keywords. Has the operator found a standard solution? They simply add them to the incident.

Not only did automation and streamlining service desk management help save time, but communication became much better for the district between IT and other departments, including admin, which often rely heavily on technology for streamlining their own day-to-day tasks of billing, digital communications, answering calls and requests, et cetera.

I wonder how many other schools and districts are currently in the thick of back-to-school preparations and how many are focusing on updating and helping IT to streamline their functionality. Is this a priority? I’m genuinely curious. Because honestly, as an EdTech editor, I hear a lot about preparing for back-to-school with professional development; or school supplies; or implementation plans for new reform ideas; or even big technology rollouts for trending tech like VR. But service management solution prep? It’s not sexy. It doesn’t roll off the tongue. But is it happening?

Funnily enough, trying to understand the vast challenges faced by school and district IT helped me to examine my own company’s dependence on IT. As it turns out, our “IT department” is pretty much just one guy, who helps the rest of us with everything from Blue Screens of Death to coding our entire customized publishing platform. If Vince Carlson, eSchool Media IT Wizard, left—or even missed a day of work—we’d be devastated.

Vince once told me that his favorite dessert is apple pie, yet no one ever makes it for him, even on his birthday. I made it for him last week.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting everyone bake pies for their IT department. What I am suggesting is that when schools and districts begin to think about back-to-school preparation, IT and the technological support they need, should be top priority.

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