ICCSD Tech Slack Chat #1: Supportability & Innovation

This is the inaugural edition of the ICCSD technology Slack chat.  This will be a recurring series, with a different topic for each chat.  Joining me for the chat today were Kelly Nelson, Denise Rehmke, and Justin Miller.  We look forward to bringing others from within and outside the technology & innovation department into our future chats.  If you have a request for a chat topic, please send it to me.  

ajkurth (Adam Kurth, Director of Technology & Innovation): Welcome everyone; I hope that you’re all having a fine Thursday afternoon.  As a reminder, the topic for today’s chat is: walking the line between supportability and innovation.

nelson.kelly (Kelly Nelson, Help Desk Manager):  I’ll kick off by expressing my enthusiasm for changing how we deploy teacher computers. I think this will simplify support tremendously.

ajkurth: I agree, but how so?

nelson.kelly:  Well, right now we support at least 6 different models. Several different images. Crazy specialized software like Finale. Fewer images, fewer models, will let us concentrate on providing better service, and free up a LOT of summer time for things other than deployment of new teacher computers and reprepping.

ajkurth: Does bringing our staff onto a more unified platform support innovation, or stifle it?   

This question is for all.

deniserehmke (Denise Rehmke, Library Coordinator): It does seem to suggest the “one size fits all” scenario, which can be contrary to innovation.  I think of innovation as extending one’s reaching, seeking the new.

That said, not all innovation has to come from the type of laptop one is using.  It’s possible to go may different directions from the same device.

nelson.kelly:  Right now, we have little standardization, and we’re scrambling to support them. If we can standardize and simplify hardware and images, we can spend more energy on being creative and not worry so much about the tools.

miller.justin (Justin Miller, Technology Operations Manager): If we think about the technological resources (computers, Chromebooks, tablets) as just tools, giving everyone the same size hammer isn’t the thing that will determine innovation.  How the teachers are using that tool will, by being able to focus more time and energy on the use of the tool rather than the tool maintenance will greatly enhance the educators’ ability to engage with the students

deniserehmke: I agree, Justin, with the idea that the device is just the tool. The innovation can emerge by using the same tool, but in different ways.

nelson.kelly: Simplifying the hardware tools by putting all teachers on the same 2 laptops for 4 years should allow us to be much more efficient in our support. How are we going to handle software upgrades during that 4-year period?

ajkurth: I agree, Kelly.  I think that support is critical, and if we’re struggling to keep our basic technology equipment and operations functional, we’re certainly not making much time for working on innovative and unique practice

How does our planned implementation of a limited Choose Your Own Device (CYOD) plan factor into this?  It’s one more device to support, but the goal is to offer a choice of functionality.

deniserehmke: The CYOD–giving a few options–will counter the “one-size-fits-all” situation, allowing a bit of customizing to accommodate different ways of workflow and teaching.

ajkurth: Some businesses have opted for almost unlimited CYOD programs; you get $1000, and can buy whatever device you want.  Is that an option at all for schools?

deniserehmke: I don’t think we want to go there, Adam, having the choices wide open!  But I like having a limited number of options.

nelson.kelly: To Adam: NO! an unlimited choice would put us further back than we are now. It would open us up to supporting all kinds of things.

ajkurth: lol.

nelson.kelly: HAHAHAH

ajkurth: I’m going to stick with the devil’s advocate approach, though.  Why?

nelson.kelly: We walked right in to that, didn’t we?

ajkurth: We see businesses do it; law firms, etc.

nelson.kelly: We would have to support Macs, tablets of all types, who knows what. And carry parts for everything, and develop relationships with all kinds of manufacturers… Too bad you weren’t here for the tablet pilot. It was painful.

deniserehmke: The IT departments in business and law firms will support absolutely anything someone chooses?  The firms I know about either give NO choices, or a very limited menu of options.  They are quite concerned about security and compatibility with their networks/systems.

ajkurth: I’m not saying all, but some.  See here: http://archive.fortune.com/2009/04/13/technology/fortt_choice.fortune/index.htm

nelson.kelly: I was looking through Schooldude this morning for something, and if the New Requests are any indication, we can’t begin to keep up with current support requests at some buildings. Adding more options would just increase the problems for those buildings.

ajkurth: Hey Justin, do you know that typical technician to employee ratio in the private sector?

miller.justin: Ideal FTE to technician ratio is 82:1

ajkurth: So ideal is 82:1. What’s our ratio?

miller.justin: counting our entire team, I’d say we have an employee to IT support ratio of 166:1

ajkurth:  right, but that 82:1 ratio is really just for techs.  They don’t count people like you and me and the system administrators who live in an office most of the day.

miller.justin: in that case we’d be more like 285:1

miller.justin: One advantage I can see by letting anyone pick any device is that it pushes many of the simple troubleshooting tasks back onto the user.  They are more apt to try and fix it themselves if they have a greater sense of ownership of the device

ajkurth: Ah, yes.  One of the stated advantages of 1:1 for student devices, actually.

deniserehmke: It comes down to choose the right tool for the task.  If there are employees who only use their devices for x, y, and very occasionally z, they might not need the same device as the person who additionally need to do a, b, c, and d.

nelson.kelly: It (self-support) would be total paradigm shift for our teachers/staff users, and I don’t see it. However, students in 1:1 may be more likely to do this.

deniserehmke: And the device that is good for x, y and z, might be less costly than the device that does more things.  The challenge will be to anticipate and make selections now that will last for a number of years.

nelson.kelly: What about the arguments that Macs are difficult to support on an enterprise level?

ajkurth: On the balance, it sounds like we think that getting staff devices on a consistent refresh cycle is a plus for supportability, and as long as those devices are sufficient to support innovation, we will be able to better support uses beyond what we currently can.  What are some of the other things we’re doing right now that are either bright spots, or raise questions, with regard to improving these areas?   

Macs … Apple doesn’t make a server product.  They don’t allow their OS to be virtualized on non-Apple hardware.  A cluster of mac minis in a server rack is ridiculously inefficient.

nelson.kelly: Time to completion on work orders is critical to freeing us up for more innovation. If we can fix this across the board, there will be more time and energy to support new things.

deniserehmke: Has not having an optical drive been an issue for most teachers?  This was a fairly significant change two years ago.

nelson.kelly: Not as much as we expected. They borrow drives from the library, and we sent some out to Special Education teachers for using with Boardmaker

ajkurth: I really wish they would update Boardmaker to no longer require a CD to be present …

deniserehmke: About Boardmaker.  There is a web-based version that we really should move to.  This will be a funding issue for Special Education, given the number of teachers using the software.

deniserehmke: So we have moved on through that change.  Are there others?

ajkurth: We see other changes.  How about moving towards wireless, with Chromebooks and Windows laptops that don’t have ethernet?

This is definitely an area where we have to improve our infrastructure to adapt to changes in tech.

nelson.kelly: We need to look hard at current Wi-Fi capability and practices. The timeout for Wi-Fi authentication causes problems that then require tech support, sometimes onsite. Wi-Fi speeds are pretty slow at times, and cause teachers to lose connection to the Pearson Math site, etc.

Also, new state-mandated testing for ELL and Special Ed (FAST TIER) don’t work nicely on our Wi-Fi.

deniserehmke: Adam–I have quoted (well, paraphrased) you to several groups concerning wireless. That today, it is important that we have wireless everywhere in our schools, and that it needs to be robust.  That our response to users is not that they should plug in because the wired network is more reliable/robust than our wireless.  This is a real shift in our department.  I think we have, and probably continue, to tell folks to plug in, with the expectation that while wireless is nice and convenient, it’s an extra.  Wireless shouldn’t be a nice extra; it should be pervasive.  I like that as a goal.

miller.justin: We should have an opportunity to really ensure the infrastructure is up to the cutting edge this coming summer.  Between these upgrades and the gradual phase in of current generation access points, I expect our Wi-Fi speeds to no longer be an issue.

nelson.kelly: That will be very good!

ajkurth: Well, we’ve hit our time limit, so this about wraps up our inaugural tech slack chat.  We’ll have to schedule more time for these in the future, as a half an hour flies by.  I thank all of you for participating!