Jun 08 2021

3 Ways to Support Understaffed IT Departments

Schools can use student volunteers and invest wisely in technologies to ease the burden on IT teams.

Educational technology boomed in response to the pandemic. Across the nation, districts worked to get devices into students’ hands. Connectivity increased as entire cities came together to provide internet access for teaching and learning. Educators found new classroom tools for online instruction that they will carry into the classroom. And companies — those new to the industry as well as old pros — made leaps and bounds in the educational technology space.

Come fall, most of this new technology will find its way back to the classroom. This adds pressure to understaffed K–12 IT departments. In cases where districts aren’t backfilling tech positions, IT departments are stretched even thinner. Relying on tech-savvy teachers to provide assistance may help in the short term, but it isn’t a viable long-term solution. School leaders should instead consider implementing programs and technologies that can have a lasting effect in their districts.

1. Create a Student Program to Provide Assistance

Districts may want to enlist the help of someone other than the school’s tech-savvy teachers. At St. Charles Borromeo in New York, students are the ones aiding other teachers who need help.

“We use the old-school method of a job system, and we spruced it up and gamified it,” says Dave Robles, a fifth grade teacher at the school. “One of the careers is the tech wizard position.”

The students have to apply and interview for the position, Robles explains, to ensure the tech wizards aren’t counterproductively putting burdens on the IT team instead. Although, at St. Charles Borromeo, the tech “team” is only one person.

“There’s one guy,” Robles says. “His name is Nate, and he comes in in the afternoons to provide support. He’s spread thin and works with other schools in the partnership, so it’s super helpful to have students help out.”

Headshot of Dave Robles wearing glasses and bowtie
We use the old-school method of a job system, and we spruced it up and gamified it.”

Dave Robles Fifth Grade Teacher, St. Charles Borromeo

The students primarily help other teachers in the school set up their interactive whiteboards, troubleshoot audio and video issues, and connect Bluetooth devices.

“On our end, as admins and teachers, we need to humble our pride and give some of our authority and power to the students,” Robles says. “That keeps them engaged as well as keeping them motivated.”

READ MORE: Use student data to motivate students and increase equitable outcomes.

2. Use Software to Automate School-Issued Tech

Smart investments in software can make the massive quantity of devices more manageable for a school’s IT team. K–12 district leaders should look into technology that is interoperable and helps manage a range of possible concerns.

Device management technology like that offered by Absolute Software can help schools monitor their one-to-one devices more easily. The software is built into devices from 27 major manufacturers, is easily activated and can quickly benefit a thinly stretched IT team.

“This year, I don’t envy IT administrators; they were under a lot of stress before the crisis,” says Torsten George, Absolute’s vice president of product marketing. “And now IT teams are dealing with a far bigger number of devices, a far bigger number of applications installed on these devices, the movement of devices — all of which increases the risk of loss or theft.”

This software automates a range of processes for school districts, letting IT leaders know if devices and applications are being used across the district even if they aren’t connected to the school’s network. That way, if a student is sent home with a device and doesn’t use it, the school can track that data. Conversely, if a class downloads software that isn’t approved by the IT team, they’ll know that as well.

Districts can also see where their devices are located and take advantage of security features, a critical component to automate in an understaffed department. Absolute Software’s cybersecurity features allow IT teams to monitor whether educators disable any of the security features on their devices or install incompatible security programs. IT admins can also track down and lock down a device if they’re alerted it’s been compromised.

61%

The percentage of IT professionals who say their cybersecurity team is understaffed

Source: cybersecurityintelligence.com, “Most Cyber Security Teams Are Understaffed,” May 19, 2021

“A lot of sophisticated IT people unfortunately left the school environment this year, and so districts are really struggling,” George says. “Offering them a way to automate some of these efforts so that they don’t have to constantly check — is it working, is it not working — that’s very important.”

3. Choose Technology with Built-In Support

Not every district has the resources to provide professional development in IT for educators returning from more than a year of teaching remotely. In those cases, CTOs and district leaders should look into tools with built-in support.

Promethean recently announced a new software update for ActivPanel to help teachers learn to use the product without support from their district’s – or Promethean’s – IT team.

“We put an app on the ActivPanel so that teachers can get real-time access to content that is relative to what they’re doing,” says Lance Solomon, Promethean’s chief product officer. “It can give them a tour of the panel if they want to learn the features of it.”

By helping educators learn the product’s features on their own, the IT staff is freed from providing assistance. This will be especially useful in schools that are upgrading to ActivPanel technology this summer in preparation for students returning to the classroom, as teachers can immediately become familiar with the tech districtwide.

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