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Friday
Dec102010

Goldilocks numbers and changing role of techs

Last month, Steve Taffee at Blogg-Ed Indermination wrote a series of interesting and useful posts on factors determining technology department staffing. (If Steve is not in your RSS aggregator, add him today.)

  1. The Goldilocks Number: Tech Department Staffing

  2. The Goldilocks Number: Support Staff Competence and Automated Systems

  3. The Goldilocks Number: Core Competencies of Users

  4. The Goldilocks Number: Service Expectations

  5. The Goldilocks Number: Systems Complexity

  6. The Goldilocks Number: Academic and Operational Goals

  7. The Goldilocks Number: Seasonality

  8. The Goldilocks Number: Funding

It must be the weather, full-moon, or boredom, but I've been asked several times by folks from other districts over the past few weeks about how we "staff" our technology department. First, I steer them to Steve's posts above (just like I've done here). I then readily admit that I don't really know a "recommended" level or type of staffing for a school's tech support.

Most district's tech departments have grown organically rather than by deliberated planning. I suspect that no two districts share identical job descriptions, identical levels of responsibility, or identical levels of staffing. Besides the organic nature of department growth, no two schools have deployed technology in the same way - resulting in every school district in the world creating its own technology plan and re-inventing the wheel. While good arguments can be made both for and against uniformity in any educational practice, this makes recommending a model for tech staffing pretty difficult.

Trying to "plan" for technology staffing is also frustrating since technology changes quickly along with the tasks associated with it. Less than a month ago, I suggested some ways the role of the CTO in schools is changing. Just as quickly, the role of the building, front-line technician is changing. As schools move from banks of wired student workstations in labs and classrooms running hard drive-based software to ubiquitous computing environments comprised of individual computing devices wirelessly accessing cloud-base applications, for the technician there will need to be:

  • Less attention to unique school machines; more lab-wide reimaging of fewer stationary devices with a standard, minimal configuration of applications.
  • Less trouble shooting of wired networks; more work with wireless networks.
  • Less in-depth knowledge needed of operating systems; more practical knowledge of a wide variety of OSs including cellphones, tablets, and who knows what - especially as they have problems accessing online resources.
  • Less involvement with stand-alone software applications; more involvement with systems integration and support, including cloud-based apps.
  • Less in-person, hands-on work; more remote support.
  • Very limited need for programming; greater need for designing custom reports, importing exporting data, maintaining user groups and user rights.
If I were a good manager, you'd think that I could strategically shrink the number of technicians I need in the district. But demand for these folks seems to be growing, not decreasing.
But growing are the systems and equipment they are charged with supporting. Each year a new system-wide program is added, a new device is adopted, a greater number of classrooms employ more technologies. (What did techs do with their time before we installed 500 Smartboards and projectors, 1200 VOIP telephones, GoogleApps for Education, etc.?)
I've long known the value of a good technician. And have tried to keep the good ones I have. But like the rest of us, they will need to adapt, grow and change to stay relevant.
How have you planned for tech staffing? How do help your staff retool, stay relevant?
OK, the picture below adds nothing to this post except that it is just too cute...
 

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