Evolving K-12 small IT teams through people, technology, processes, and partners

Among its staff are 11 field technicians who provide on-site support in schools and three hardware repair technicians who perform approximately 17,000 device repairs per year.

“Our team is efficient and does an incredible job,” says Hill, district coordinator for technical applications. “And yet, I can’t imagine managing so many devices without the tools we have in place.”

Relatively small IT teams aren’t unusual for K-12 districts, but today’s IT staff manages more mobile devices than ever before. For many districts, the pandemic has brought a massive influx of Chromebooks and laptops, forcing districts to deploy individual computing for remote learning.

“It’s been an explosion of devices and applications,” confirms Keith Krueger, CEO of the Consortium for School Networking. “We’ve seen a huge injection of money for devices and access points through the Federal Communications Commission’s $7 billion emergency connectivity fund. This is putting tremendous pressure on IT divisions.

RELATED: What should K-12 administrators know about federal funding?

In Virginia Beach, Hill and his team rely on software such as asset management tools to track devices, remote administration tools for remote troubleshooting, mobile device management software to configure and update devices and IT department software to manage support tickets.

Some districts are also bolstering their IT staff with school staff — and in some cases, students — helping with support and repairs. High school students at Perry Township Schools in Indiana receive course credit for repairing Chromebooks.

For Omdia analyst Adam Holtby, these are best practices. “People’s practices, technology, processes and partners will all be critical in helping educational institutions overcome the challenges associated with establishing and empowering a more mobile digital learning environment” , did he declare.

IT staff take care of troubleshooting and problem solving

At VBCPS, Hill says her small team is able to manage thousands of devices because of a teamwork ethic and because they take a holistic approach.

When COVID-19 forced schools to switch to remote learning, students and parents who had Chromebook issues bombarded the district with frantic calls. Hill quickly bolstered the district’s customer support call center with his six-person field team so they could resolve issues immediately. They used a variety of remote tools, including Chromebook Remote Desktop, Google Meet, Zoom, and Windows Quick Assist, to remotely access and troubleshoot student devices.

“The team stepped in and responded to those calls to make sure the instruction wasn’t affected,” she says. “We wanted to ensure a first-call resolution.”

IT staff uses several technology tools to simplify management and improve efficiency. Last fall, as students resumed in-person learning, his team provided 9,000 new Chromebooks. To speed up the process, they plugged in an Arduino controller that runs a script, and it automatically enrolled the devices.

For Windows laptops, they use cloud-based Microsoft Intune, a mobile device and app management tool. Hill’s team can remotely configure devices and download apps and software updates to teachers’ laptops, she says. The district also recently started using Salesforce Service Cloud for help desk ticketing.

LEARN MORE ABOUT EDTECH: Easily deploy and manage new devices for K-12 districts.

Hill also has another source of support. Since launching its individual initiative in 2017, the district has supplemented the IT staff with a school staff member who provides first-level technical support in each school. When these technology support technicians can’t fix a problem, they escalate it to Hill’s field technicians, she says.

Screens and keyboards are the two most damaged parts. For the current school year, Hill has fully stocked its shelves with 3,000 spare screens, 3,000 spare keyboards, and extra batteries, charging ports, and headphone jacks.

VBCPS’ three-person hardware repair team fixes devices in three days, on average, which is more than three times faster than an outside vendor who did it for a year, she says.

“Now I have more control over how things are done, who does what, and when they do it,” Hill says.

They use an asset management tool to track the workflow. When Chromebooks need repair, technology support technicians at each school offer loans while they complete the repairs.

Asset management is key to maintaining staff and student devices

“Asset management is essential for us to support a large number of devices with a limited staff. In order to quickly support devices, it is imperative that we know where they are and what their history is” , says Matthew Willey, Technical Director of Perry Township Schools.

DIVE DEEPER: How can asset tagging save K-12 schools money?

The district in Marion County, Indiana, supplies 16,400 students and 1,000 teachers with Chromebooks and has several thousand spare parts. As part of the management process, Willey and his team of 20 people proactively search for lost or stolen Chromebooks. Last year, because the students were learning remotely, they didn’t return the Chromebooks at the end of the school year. When students resumed in-person learning last fall, nearly 1,000 devices were missing.

Willey and his team regularly check the Student Information System (SIS) to see which students have withdrawn from the district. They use the Securly app to track GPS coordinates and turn off devices remotely. When people try to turn on the devices, “it locks the devices. They can’t do anything,” Willey says.

Their efforts paid off in the fall. They learned that some missing Chromebooks had been sold to pawnbrokers; others were found near the dumpsters of an apartment building.

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