Open letter to those providing tech support in educational settings

Dear Technical Support Professional,

Today I helped a faculty member I work with setup her iPads to use in her classroom. She had technical support in her college come help her set them up but they ran into problems and couldn’t come back for two weeks. This is a problem.

While I fully understand the constraints that tech support professionals operate under, especially having been one myself in a school district, it is completely unacceptable to allow faculty to struggle with a technology problem for two weeks, when in reality a day is too long.

There appears to be a misperception in the hierarchy within the organization. You see, faculty, teachers, and students, are near the top of the hierarchy, with support staff such as technical support, near the bottom. However, it appears that we have inverted this hierarchy and now support staff, in particularly technical support, believe they are able to dictate when problems will be addressed, when equipment will be setup, and which policies will be in place. I’m writing to say, enough is enough. It’s time to find your place.

Plain and simple, technical support professionals don’t get to make the rules, they don’t get to dictate policy. They get to support the people in the organization that need help with technology. Sure there will be give and take, especially as budgets continue to shrink. But you work for the faculty, teachers, and students. You are there to make their lives easier. You are there to make their teaching better. You are there to make it possible for their students to learn better. You don’t make unrealistic demands that effect teaching and learning. You aren’t qualified to make such decisions. You are there to make things possible.

I respect the knowledge, work, and commitment to your profession. I have been there. I have been technical support. I know what it’s like. It’s tough and stressful and unappreciated. You are the person people come to when they are unhappy and rarely are you thanked for your contributions. I’m not writing to be a pain. I’m writing because even though you are frustrated, stressed, unappreciated, and any number of other adjetives, you have a role. A crucial role. A role that is perhaps one of the most important in the school. Your role is to support faculty, teachers, and students in whatever they want to do in the teaching and learning process regardless of how outrageous it may sound. Innovation is outrageous by design and we need to embrace that if we are going to make a difference.

I want to thank you for all that you do and encourage you to help make things happen. We need you.


Daniel Mourlam


Online education: Is it as good as face-to-face education…it can


I came across these two questions when I was browsing through my RSS reader this morning, and it made me think about how we can wield distance education to reach the ever expanding clientele schools are educating.  Here are the questions:

What I like about this article is that it shows some of the problems associated with online education as it is widely done at all levels.  I think of the courses that don’t allow for student voice, feedback, interaction with other students/instructors, etc.  I also think of some of the courses that were offered online from a local community college from my K-12 days as a technology coordinator.  The courses were online courses taught without an instructor, where course materials are available online and students complete assignments based solely on readings and online exercises that rarely require any form of higher order thinking.  When online education is conducted in this manner, I too find the prospects of a face-to-face education much more appealing than the online alternative.

However, it doesn’t have to be this way.  With the range of available online technologies today, there are very few technological reasons to not have a meaningful online educational experience.  The problem lies with poor instructional design for online learning environments.  We cannot simply post instructional materials or as the article mentioned, provide no way for feedback or interaction.  The principles of effective instruction are still applicable in online environments just as they are in face-to-face environments.  For me it all starts creating an environment that promotes interaction and social presence.

Interaction is key for any classroom.  This may seem difficult for online courses, but it doesn’t have to be if the course is designed in a way that promotes interaction in both synchronous and asynchronous methods.  In synchronous online environments, this can be done through the use of video conference software, web cams, microphones, chat rooms, and back channels.  With some simple moderation all of these can be integrated into most online synchronous courses.  In asynchronous online environments, the same level of interaction can be attained through discussion boards, social networks, email, weekly video updates from instructors, or even texting between participants.  While interaction is delayed, it doesn’t mean they are or need to be of any lesser quality.  All of these means of communication also provide the necessary social presence that is necessary for students to perform well in any learning environment.

Social presence is the level at which a participant in a course feels they are received by others in the course.  This can be simply done in a face-to-face course by going to class and interacting with other students and the instructor.  However, distance education makes this a little more difficult since participants don’t physically go to class.  This doesn’t mean that social presence isn’t necessary or possible in online environments.  It just means that instructors have to work a little harder to make it possible for social presence to be established.  There are many ways to go about this, but what I have found to be the best way, from my experiences in an online graduate program through Iowa State University, is to provide a way for students to communicate with each other.  Provide them with a space that is meant just for them.  Let them share stuff that’s going on in their lives, even though it won’t relate to what’s being discussed in class.  Life happens so embrace it and use it to make the connections stronger within the course.  These interactions are necessary for students to become comfortable with each other and lead to more enriched discussions.

Another way to promote social presence is to have a blended learning environment where students actually meet face-to-face at different times in the semester.  This can be done at the beginning of the course, a couple times throughout, or at the end of the semester.  Being able to see and hear what someone else sounds like is a great way to establish social presence in an online course.

When it comes down to it, education is all about the interactions and connections being made by students and their instructors.  If we fail to create a learning environment that promotes these characteristics, then we will not be able to succeed in online learning environments, or at least not at the same level as their face-to-face counterparts.

T.I.C.L. Day One

Today was the first day of the TICL conference.  It was a pretty full day with two keynotes and three breakout sessions.  The keynotes suggested similar ideas as I am currently focusing on.  It’s nice to realize that I am on the right track!  Two of the sessions I went to today were led by Dr. Scott McLeod from Iowa State University.  I have been following his blog and twitter feed for a while now and he challenged us to think about the roles we have in education.  I enjoyed having the time to talk and listen to other technology coordinators and the problems they have and how we can start to make improvements.  What challenged me the most today was when Dr. McLeod said, “Why is it unreasonable for teachers to take their kids to the computer lab to try out a new software without talking to the technology person first?  It’s degrading to the teacher to have to ask to do something.”

This caught me off guard a little and wasn’t sure how to respond.  Part of me wanted to say, yes teachers need to check with me before trying out something new, but then I thought, why?  Why should I have much say?  Shouldn’t the computers just be at a point where if they want to try something it just works?  As you can tell this has taken some time for me to figure out and I’m still not sure if it is right.  Regardless, this session definitely got me thinking about what my role in education is and what it might be.

On a side note: I hope the Internet works better tomorrow because I can’t stand being disconnected all day.  I’m glad my phone had Internet or I might have gone crazy.