4 things to do when IT’s not working

Earlier this year I was a panel member of a really interesting discussion about teaching Computing in the primary curriculum. One of the questions came from a teacher who asked “I’ve got a class set of laptops, but out of them only about fourteen are working. How can I teach Computing?”

It’s a frequent scenario I suspect, and one that struck a chord with others in the room. There are lots of brilliant ideas for teaching Computing without computers (also known as unplugged activities) but there comes a point when pupils need computers to write their own code, create their own databases, edit their own videos and generally have a go at automating their thoughts and designs. Having worked both as a technician and a teacher of Computing in primary schools, I have some ideas to share based on my experiences of seeing both sides of the situation.

  1. Is the equipment under warranty? The school inventory should give information about the date of purchase of the equipment and cross-reference back to the invoice with full details of the purchase, including whether the item has a warranty for 1 year, 3 years or something else.
  2. Who has responsibility for maintaining your IT equipment in school? Does the school employ a technician? Does a company come in under a contract? Does the local authority provide support? Find out what support is available from them. Bear in mind that they are working with limits such as time and budget and that school SLT are equally important to involve if these are the problem.
  3. Log problems as they arise giving as much detail as possible. Quite often primary schools have a book or a folder in the staff room or office to do this.  A problem logged as “Netbook 23 came up with an error message and wouldn’t log in despite trying several times” is better than “One of the netbooks isn’t working.” (I know this may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised by how many vague descriptions I’ve seen!). A good log will give space for the staff to write down their problem and the technician to write down the solution.

I’ve saved the most effective thing I’ve done until last …. 

4. If at all possible, get the technician who is responsible for IT support to come into the classroom and work with you when you are teaching using technology. Ask them, cajole them, bribe them with cake or biscuits if needs be – it really is worth the effort! (And if you’re a technician who is asked to do this, read on and give it a go). So often, the technician can see the technical issue to be resolved without knowing the impact of the problem in the classroom or the whole school. Being there as issues arises will help them to get a really good grasp of how the equipment is performing with multiple users and be able to see any error messages as they come up.

Going into a lesson and working with the teacher was the most productive way I resolved IT problems. It strengthened my working relationship with the teacher, helped me understand the urgency and priority of getting equipment working and gave me plenty of information to help diagnose and resolve the issues. I was also able to spot problems which occurred because children didn’t know how to use the equipment properly, such as trying to switch the computer on multiple times as the screen stayed black for the first few seconds, or children trying to switch a computer on instead of bringing it out of standby mode.

Technicians are professionals who want to know what IT problems are occurring, how important and urgent they are, and then get them resolved in a timely manner. Teachers are equal professionals who want the pupils in their class to have access to reliable, consistent, working technology.  If you’re a teacher frustrated by tech that doesn’t work, or a technician frustrated by vague, ambiguous problem-logging, this could be the solution for you!

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