IT Services: Week 1 of the new academic year

The first week of a new academic year is probably one of the busiest periods of the year for IT teams in schools and colleges across the UK and also the world.  Here we have seen a 10% increase in calls logged, when compared with last year and that excludes countless walk-ins and telephone calls where the resolution was quick and therefore never logged.   Comparing last week with the previous year average, last week is around twice the volume.    So why is it so busy?

Returning staff and students

The first week sees all your returning staff and students once again logging on and accessing school systems.   One of the challenges though is that it may have been 2 months ago or more that they last logged in.    This means there is always several forgotten passwords or queries about how to use a particular system or find a particular report.   For some reason printers and copiers in particular make frequent appearance on IT call logs at the start of term.

The need for Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) also throws some challenges in here, where staff have bought new phones, and where their old phone was setup for MFA.    This then requires support is provided to setup MFA on their new device.

System Changes

Although teaching staff may be on holiday over summer, a lot of the IT upgrade work occurs during this period.   This means that teaching staff may come back to slightly changes in the IT setup and processes.    You can never underestimate the impact even the slightest change will have on some users.    As such, the likely system changes conducted during summer contribute to a busy first week as staff need to adjust and build new habits.

And it isnt only schools which make changes; Some EdTech vendors will also take the opportunity to upgrade or update their platforms.  Again, this will cause some users difficulties leading to a “quick” call to IT.   Occasionally this can cause big issues where changes don’t go according to a vendors plan, resulting in service disruption.    Sadly, this is largely out of IT Services control however that won’t stop users directing their frustrations and annoyance towards the IT team.

New students and staff

I have already mentioned the challenge of returning users having forgotten how things work or how to do things, but then there are the new staff and students for whom the school’s setup, systems and processes are totally new.    Despite whatever training or support they have been provided, they are likely to need support; During their opening weeks they will likely need to learn so many new things, from school processes, staff names, their way around site, etc, and as such it won’t all stick, and where its an IT issue that doesn’t stick, it’s a likely call to the IT services or support team.

Last Minutes changes

We always hope things have been planned in advance, but each new academic year brings with it plans or ideas which were only agreed or decided upon recently just before the year begins, thereby requiring last minute actions.    This is often very frustrating, as despite some of these ideas and initiatives having value, the worst time from an IT point of view to make changes or try to implement new things in a hurry is the start of the new academic year when you are already under pressure. 

Conclusion

The start of the new academic year is always going to be busy.   I am not sure there is much we can do about this as most of the factors listed above are unavoidable.    I think the best we can do is to look to those areas which are avoidable and seek to do just that and avoid them.   We also need to carefully find ways to mitigate issues through providing JIT (Just-In-Time) training resources and directing users to these.   If you can empower users to solve their own issues as much as possible IT teams can then focus on the issues which need their support and where users cannot resolve themselves. Developing ways that teaching and support staff can share ideas, difficulties, etc, among themselves can be an important solution here.   We have an EdTech Mutual support team for example where staff can share questions or issues, with other staff then able to provide the solutions, workarounds, etc.   I will note this is also a good resource for IT teams as it gives insight into the issues and on occasions gives us solutions which we hadnt considered.    The need for prioritisation is also important, to focus on the jobs which have the biggest impact.  This requires users be understanding to the limited resources IT teams, no matter how big they are, will have.    

In conclusion, if I was to end with just one message it would be, be kind and considerate to your IT services and support teams at the start of the new academic year.    This is a very very busy time for them, much as it is for most school or college staff, however they may have also been busy throughout the summer.  

Well done to the IT people in schools and colleges around the world;  By the time you read this most of you will have survived the first week (and maybe the second) of yet another academic year!   Keep up the great work!

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Author: garyhenderson2014

Gary Henderson is currently the Director of IT in an Independent school in the UK. Prior to this he worked as the Head of Learning Technologies working with public and private schools across the Middle East. This includes leading the planning and development of IT within a number of new schools opening in the UAE. As a trained teacher with over 15 years working in education his experience includes UK state secondary schools, further education and higher education, as well as experience of various international schools teaching various curricula. This has led him to present at a number of educational conferences in the UK and Middle East.

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