This spring I had a series of unexpectedly enriching experiences: I worked the morning shift in the new HelpDesk 303 space for 10 consecutive Fridays. My work as a substitute in this space, a space nimbly managed by members of the ATS team the rest of the week, came about for two reasons. First, we inaugurated the space as a satellite space in September. Our new BYOL initiative meant that we could reclaim and/or repurpose former lab space. The lab we converted was the perfect space for the new year: it gave the team two-way visibility and it put teachers and students at ease. Need a loaner? In My Life! Have a question? Come Together! Need to print? Here There and Everywhere! Second, the team lost one of its members. We were playing shorthanded. (He will appreciate the hockey reference.) I stepped in to support the space, its mission and the team that keeps it running. I knew it was a short-run stint, just April to June. What I didn’t know was that it was going to send me off with greater perspective on our work together: HelpDesk staff, Instructional Technologists, faculty, students and administrators.
I’ll start by saying I am a Spanish teacher by training and trade. I have 20 years worth of experience to draw on. I am also an Instructional Technologist–a trainer, a co-teacher, a researcher and a tinkerer. I have been in this role for two years. What I am not is a technician. Most AV calls give me chills and some updates keep me up at night.
Here are ten lessons I learned.
Lesson #1. The people who work in IT in schools are school people. They care about kids. They are endlessly curious about teachers. They contribute to the school community as advisors, sponsors, class deans, coaches, dorm staff and more. They also write high quality haikus like the one below. Each of my colleagues could make a living selling widgets or installing Windows, yet they choose to work in schools. This is powerful.
Lesson #2. The rhythm of this kind of work is different than the rhythm of teaching: it is less predictable, more intense. In a class, you know more a less when you are starting (time), who your audience is (class) and what the task is (text, project, problem). Yes, students come in with different understanding and yes, some are ready and some can’t be just yet. Nevertheless, a teacher can make some reasonable assessment of where things are and where he/she hopes to take them in class. HelpDesk work is different. Someone walks in with a problem and, for the moment, that is the problem. Additionally, the person in front of me has usually been futzing with this for a bit, meaning that frustration levels are on the rise before they make their way in. I think I knew this was the case–and to be honest I’ve been guilty of walking in “hot” once or twice. Now I understand both sides of the relationship for having done the work. In both roles, flexibility, forethought and the constant reminded that we are here to reach and respond to adolescents is key.
Lesson #3. My training was insufficient, a fact that lives fully on me. Preterite verbs? A Day in the Life! Double object pronouns? Here Comes The Sun! Device deployment? We can work it out! Printer drivers? Help! Wait, no…Helter Skelter! The most common issue/inquiry was printing…more of that in a minute. Whether or not I am working in the space, I need to continue to stay current in my own skillset and work with my colleagues to keep up and move ahead.
Lesson #4. Where my training was adequate, it was more often my training as a language teacher than as a techie. I have often said that my experience as a language teacher is more beneficial than any PD I could complete in the tech realm. I frequently find myself translating teachers needs and frustrations into coded vocabulary that ATS can act on. This translation works the other way as well, unpacking what ATS is saying into something that is pedagogically possible for faculty. Along the way, I learned a few shortcut for systems I was already familiar with and I studied up on a few that were new to me, specifically the library software and the system that runs our new laptop kiosk.
Lesson #5. We print too much. The good news is that we print way less than we did in years past. This is due in small part to the new BYOL initiative and in much larger part to the new PaperCut solution. Where before print jobs would fly to four corners of the campus before students or faculty realized where they were sending it, not the job is sent to _Print_Anywhere and then released at the printer with an ID swipe. Now, we landed in a good place and we learned lessons from how and when we rolled it out, as well as and how we allocated resources to it. The not-so-good it that print jobs were endless: drafts, documents, schedules, notes, readings, emails, invoices, tickets…you name it. We have all seen the message “Please consider the environment before printing,” right? Obviously the “environment” in question here is, in fact, the environment we all share and steward. What resources are we consuming? How are we taking advantage of new technologies not only to print different things but also to think about creating and sharing media that don’t have to be printed? Put another way, what if the very environment that we are considering were the classroom environment? What do you want your students to be able to do? How can they demonstrate and document understanding? How to space, time and technology combine to help us find the right answer? How do efforts in the name of stewardship and scholarship coexist?
Put another way, what if the very environment that we are considering were the classroom environment? What do you want your students to be able to do? How can they demonstrate and document understanding? How to space, time and technology combine to help us find the right answer? How do efforts in the name of stewardship and scholarship coexist?
Lesson #6. We assign too many assignments whose endgame is necessarily to print. Now, I should say that we graduate amazing writers in every possible genre. I am proud of their work and I continually look for ways to make it available to a wider audience. How? When? We have struggled with these questions, but we are making steady progress. We are also empowering students to create in different media–blogs, vlogs, video and podcasts come to mind–that are just as well researched and written as a term paper but much more dynamic. The recent uptick in senior/spring projects in these media give me reason to believe there is room for growth among underclassmen.
Lesson #7. Having an accessible, inviting space is good for business. Look at the trajectories of Apple Stores and Circuit City. HelpDesk 303 is a pretty sweet space. It sits squarely in the Student Center and it has sightlines–more importantly “shout lines”–to three academic departments. In this realm, it is ideally positioned to reinforce the notion of learners working together across grade levels and traditional disciplines with the help of technology. Now, this did come at a cost, and not just for the hardware. It came at the cost of a computer lab, a lab that was student-facing. It’s a welcoming, dynamic and symbolic space, but what it’s not is a hangout. Should it be? How does a BYOL initiative change the needs and the very nature of space? When does support become supervision, and when does supervision become something else? These are questions we are asking going into year two, recognizing that it was exactly was it need to be in year one but it can’t continue to be that forever. If printing and laptop checkout are both self-serve, do we need an adult present at all times?
It sits squarely in the Student Center and it has sightlines–more importantly “shout lines”–to three academic departments. In this realm, it is ideally positioned to reinforce the notion of learners working together across grade levels and traditional disciplines with the help of technology.
Back to #1-4 on the list above, how can we measure the impact of someone from ATS being available compared to being–for lack of a better word–“billable”? If we looked at the space from the perspective of a teacher not a IT staffer, what would we learn? What if there were a way to make teachers available for help–and not just tech help–in this space? What would they see and hear that they might not in their own classrooms or departmental spaces? How might they incorporate technology into their work with students if they camped out in this space and/or had a staffer ready?
If we looked at the space from the perspective of a teacher not a IT staffer, what would we learn? What if there were a way to make teachers available for help–and not just tech help–in this space? What would they see and hear that they might not in their own classrooms or departmental spaces? How might they incorporate technology into their work with students if they camped out in this space and/or had a staffer ready?
Lesson #8. Many parties on campus are rethinking computer lab space, and there is currently an interplay between traditional lab space, much needed class space and hybrid (designation and demographic) space. Over the past four years we have seen the the Language Lab, Middle School Lab, the Math Lab, the English Lab and Labs 1-3 morph into different spaces. The Language Lab became a hybrid media and meeting space and then became an additional Spanish classroom. The Math Lab was designated as a showcase classroom featuring new design concepts. The Middle School Lab became a social studies classroom. The English Lab became a student-teacher workspace and then a department office. Lab 1 was reclaimed as an Upper School history classroom and Lab 3 became HelpDesk 303. What is next, both in terms of specific spaces and identified institutional needs? How much space and supervision do students need? How–and if so how much–does a BYOL/BYOD/1:1 environment change the needs of a school vis-à-vis lab space? I get the sense that many schools are asking these questions.
Lesson #9. We need to get students involved more. We have a team of Rangers who provide tech support in dormitories and some other spaces. They do very good work, but we recognize that they are “underemployed.” Can we create an Odd Squad, and Even Squad, a top-notch team of trainers? We are lucky to have amazingly students and graduates who are qualified to do this work. We need to figure out how to empower them to educate faculty, while setting guidelines on things big (privacy and policy) and small (payroll processing). I know that schools like Burlington High School have taken a leadership role in this area. We need to assess our school environment and make some changes.
Lesson #10. Hopefully it was just 10 Fridays! This work is rewarding, frustrating, confusing, inspiring…all in one. I am happy to have helped out and I will do so again if I need to…just not anytime soon.