When I have a problem with my iPad, I look to Google. Google is my worldwide knowledge base for fixing my toilet, unsticking my iPad, and figuring out the origin of that clunk sound my car started making. For every technology and almost every mechanical thing in my life, I can go to a website or run a general Google search to figure out how to fix it—or at least diagnose the problem.

Everything, that is, except how to get onto the wi-fi in my school district.

Technology is delightful and enriching. It connects students across the globe and invites them to explore the wonders of the world. But the ugly truth is that behind all this technology is a frantic, very overwhelmed IT team without the platform to manage the thousands of transactions asked of it each day. These IT people fully understand and support the promise of technology in teaching probably more than anyone. But when it comes to managing 75,000 K-12 students with brand new school-issued iPads or their own devices, there is often no knowledge base or even an adequate tech-support system in place to adequately assist them.

We’ve seen a mind-boggling assortment of school and district IT department configurations with specialized support teams operating in silos, each using different management protocols—and that assumes any protocol actually exists. Administrative functions, curriculum, libraries, media services, facilities, and security operate as completely separate IT departments. And, when the departments do work collaboratively, the roles, responsibilities, and dependencies are so intertwined it is difficult to see the beginning and the end of any single workflow.

(Next page: The importance of a knowledge base)

Information technology in education must adapt to the new normal of interconnectivity if it is going to keep pace with the demands and promise of tech-enabled instruction including data, personalization, and specialization opportunities it is intended to present.

Building a knowledge base
In our business of helping leviathan-sized districts manage their IT, we follow an IT Maturity Framework as a ladder to bringing order to the chaos. At first it can seem daunting, but it’s critical for school districts to reach the highest levels on the IT Maturity Framework to adequately give students and teachers the best opportunities to use technology in learning.

One easy first step up the ladder is to build an online knowledge base, which is a centralized repository of information about how to get online, add a new app, or navigate the thousands of tech-enabled processes that are unique to each school or district. Outside of education, we routinely—and almost instinctively—turn to Google for answers and support with our tech problems.

Why schools need a knowledge base

Why isn’t this same level of knowledge available in a school environment?

Giving students, parents, teachers, and administrators access to a district-run knowledge base drastically reduces requests to the help desk. If the iPad shatters, the knowledge base can surface clear instructions on whom to call, where to ship it, and how to track it for resolution. If the wi-fi isn’t working, steps are given to get connected. If the LMS is locked up, a troubleshooting guide is provided. If those tips and tricks fail, the correct number to contact is given.

Should the knowledge content not address the issue, a quick click through the service-request catalog will create a ticket and route it to the appropriate resource. These portals can offer services for IT repair, HVAC issues, requests for parent/teacher meetings, a method to report bullying, or a place to review holiday calendars and policy. Many of our customers have seen a 50- to 70-percent drop in call volume by implementing a knowledge base and portal in their school or district.

Edtech spending will reach $252B by 2020. Education is, and has been, going through disruptive, transformative, and exponential growth, much like healthcare did from 1990 to the present. As an IT professional serving the K-12 space, it is unconscionable that school IT departments are not even at the first rung on the IT Maturity ladder with an online knowledge base. The good news is that countless other industries have gone through the difficult process to reach maturity with success, and education can do so as well.

About the Author:

Andrew Graf is the co-founder of and head of project strategy for TeamDynamix, which is a project portfolio and service management platform for K-12, colleges and universities, state and local governments, and nonprofit organizations. Andrew was previously a technology and business process consultant.