EDTEC 700: Blogging in the Classroom

Saturday, September 25, 2004

My initial thoughts on how to incorporate a blog into my district's culture


These days I'm working with the office staff of 67 schools in San Diego City Schools. I'm involved with rolling out a new student information system to the district. My main roles are to conduct needs assessments, develop handbooks and job aids, and design the training for principals, VPs, nurses, counselors, clerks, and secretaries. Based on the limited human resource of my team of six, end users—the schools’site techs or power users, actually—are supposed to call the Help Desk when they need assistance. The Help Desk, however, has limited knowledge of the new SIS and also is inundated with calls on other topics. When the Help Desk receives a phone call, a ticket is generated. This ticket sits in a pool until an employee in the I.T. department can address it. Typically, the site tech ends up emailing or calling me, or one of the other staff members on my team. Figure 1 shows how reliant schools are upon the Help Desk.

My Vision

My vision is that schools are more self-reliant and less dependent on the Help Desk, that they can build upon their knowledge base by learning from one another. My partner and I have tried a few methods to accomplish this vision:

  1. Website. My partner and I maintain a website that has handbooks, job aids, and troubleshooting guides. But we can’t provide troubleshooting tips for everything. Things come up, like network and connectivity issues, that aren’t even SIS-related but affect the site tech’s job.
  2. Email. I send often send bulk emails to all site techs. Often I’ll recap various issues I’ve heard from individuals so they can get a sense of what’s going on. However, because some site techs are out of their office for hours at a time, they may come back to dozens of emails. I’ve heard that some of them often “don’t have time to read their emails because I don’t have the time.”
  3. Listserv. My partner and I set up a listserv for the power users. It was difficult to establish this as part of our support culture. It’s not often used.
  4. Buddy system. The schools figured this one out on their own long ago. Some of them have “buddied up” and will call or email one another for assistance. This bypasses the Help Desk rut, but what happens when the buddy doesn’t have the answer?

A blog seems like an ideal tool to meet this dream model of obtaining technical help. Site techs could post questions and they themselves can offer solutions or tips. I could use it to communicate news, like when a server goes down, or if there was (yet another) data conversion error. The blog is in one place. The site techs would not have to wade through emails to get to the information about the SIS. (One may argue, if they’re not checking their email, then why would they go online? I’m not sure about that one yet.) A blog allows them to “see” the issues in the district versus experiencing something and wondering if it’s just happening to them. It also provides the opportunity to grow as a site tech community. Figure 2 shows my vision of the dream model, where site techs give and receive information as they blog.

My Questions

My next step was to list the questions I have regarding how I might go about accomplish incorporating a blog into my school district's culture. Here are the questions I have:

  1. Who am I hoping will participate? Secondary schools and elementary schools together? Separate? Just secondary schools for now?
    I think that secondary schools would need to have a blog separate from the elementary schools. Their issues are so entirely different. As far as implementing this, I think it would be easier to focus on the secondary schools in the beginning. The elementary schools don't have site techs. Their "power user" may be a secretary, clerk, or other office staff member. Currently there are 22 high schools and 8 middle schools that are using the new SIS.
  2. What are the purposes of the blog? What do I want the users to get out of it?
    I want to be able to disseminate information easily. I want the disseminated information easy to obtain. I want the users to be able to pose questions here, where others can respond to them.
  3. How should I set it up? In Blogger? Or through a district webpage?
    I'm not sure. Please advise!
  4. Do participants need accounts? Do they need to log in? Or is it open to anyone?
    I suppose if I want them to be able to create their own posts they would need to have accounts. This ties into how I handle Question 3.
  5. How do I incorporate this? How will they know about it?
    There are three ways to go about this. (A) I could try it out with a small number of site techs, like the ones who I know would be more apt to use it. Then, we can try to build it from there, showing others how it works and how it benefits them. (B) I could email the site techs and say, "Hey, here's this new thing...here's how it works." (C) I could have a face-to-face meeting and model how it is used, hype up the benefits, and have them try it out. It seems that C is my best option.
  6. How regulated is it? Do I monitor it or let it go? Will there be rules?
    I'm not sure. There's potential for chaos. Ideas?
  7. What problems do I anticipate?
    I anticipate difficulties in getting them onboard with this idea. I can already hear, "I'm so busy already. I don't have time for this." And, as I mentioned in Question 6, I see potential for chaos and disorganization.
  8. As a result of this, what is the best case scenario?
    The best case scenario is that the site techs are fired up on this idea and they use a blog to share tips and solutions, and build a community. As we roll the new SIS out to the rest of the district (only 100 more schools to go!), they hear about it and jump on board, too. They're happy because they don't have to call the Help Desk. The Help Desk is happy because they're not getting bombarded with phone calls. I'm happy because no one's calling me anymore.
  9. What is the worst case scenario?
    The worst case scenario is that this totally flops. If there is no buy-in, no value, for the site techs then they are not going to invest the time to use this tool.

This is where I'm at with figuring out how to incorporate a blog into my district's culture.


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