Schools constantly struggle to meet IT support and training needs. One typical response to those needs is to do "basic skills training" in large groups and make attempts to build basic competencies of adults on campus. All too often schools pour resources into training people on skills they will use altogether infrequently. Institutionalized training and "basic competencies" do not work beyond introductions to new grading packages, new mail systems etc. Not everyone needs the same basic competencies.
IT Staff try their best to meet demands and are often are often over run with the number of requests and the diversity therein. User skills begin to grow as technology use takes hold and more diverse demands surface. With the best intentions IT Staff again reconstitute efforts to meet those growing demands. While IT Staff are meeting infrastructure and administrative support demands, educational requests by volume often sit unmet for long periods of time.
More often than not, the next step is that adults on campus do not want to burden IT Staff with questions so they don't call for support. Typically schools then look toward two routes: Only support core applications and hardware or they look to hire more IT Staff or Integration Specialists. Then the discussions on budget constraints usually begin. Next up schools usually look to offer after school training sessions and these are very poorly attended or are not attended at all. That poor attendance usually leads back to the concept of offering large group training and beginning conversations on exploring basic competencies... and the loop starts again.
Sound familiar ?
The bottom line: These typical models lead to the same cycle of discussions, the same support woes and the same unmet demands. Folks want help to do their work, be it adults or students. They also want flexibility to explore interests on their own time frame. They do not have the time or the desire to sit in hours of training that is not relevant to what they have interest in or need to do. If they get to the point where they want to branch out and discover new material they often have specific questions in that area and needs that go far beyond the concept of taking an introductory training class.
"If I need help to change a faucet I don't want to go to a class on the history of plumbing."
There is a time and place for general training, but that too is most often based on individual need and based on time available.
In all these traditional models IT support for students is not part of the equation. We leave support for students up to the teachers for the most part, who we readily state are not as proficient. No basic level of training for adults will bridge that gap. What can bridge the gap though is fostering relationships of mentoring, collaboration and individualized support.
"We'll get further by modeling, collaborating and using technology. A bit like putting the personal back in personal computing."
Based on that thesis, we'd like to propose a Help Desk system to meet the individual needs of students and adults on campus. Qualified students would intern with IT Staff and MAS Department Faculty to mentor individual requests on campus.
If you've heard of the "Genius Bar" model at Apple corporate stores, that's similar to what we are proposing. Our goal is to create a service that can address individual questions on technology. Cell phones, iPods, email, web browsing, whatever "you" need and at your convenience. It a "think tank" approach really. One that helps folks build skills on based on their own interests and aptitude.
Motto: "Train conceptually when it's appropriate."
Students participating in the program would learn the fundamental principles of IT service: Critical listening skills, needs assessment (specific skill based training vs conceptual training). Students would also be engaged in collaborative discussions and participate in a feedback and evaluation system. With those governing principles, the Help Desk personnel would be available to students and adults on campus for support and training. Of course, not all requests for assistance are appropriate to work on with a student in the Help Desk system. Those who wish to work by choice or by needs of confidentiality could work with IT Staff just like they do today.
Proven Track Record:
This Help Desk initiative is an expansion of the very successful IT Internship program that has been running for two years at our school. Based on the demands on the current IT Internship students and mentors this expansion is the next logical step. Additionally the MAS Department has successfully ran this expanded Help Desk model for 9 years at another institution in Vermont with very positive results and can assist in mentoring this program along. As we looked to expand we surveyed students to see if they would like to participate in this Help Desk program. 49 students said they were interested and 113 more said they would like more information before deciding.
Conversational responses to our introduction have been extremely positive with adults and students on campus and we're hoping to get this collaborative program under way.
Updated: Updated November, 14 2008:
Our full proposal was reviewed and a "beta test" model is being considered for the Spring. Discussions will resume over how many students will participate as well as the manner to proceed on the proposed Lab and IT Office location shift. Discussions will resume over the coming weeks.
Updated: January 8, 2009:
Since our presentation at VT Fest on this Help Desk proposal we've received a number of requests form other schools, Supervisory Unions and interest from the State on this new model. We are busy crafting presentations and answering questions we receive to share this innovative model.