The Internet is broken...

"Mr. Dawson, please contact the main office...The Internet is broken again."

So I've already taken a post to talk about back to school preparations (in which I am currently neck deep myself)...Now I'd like to talk a bit about end user training.  The new school year is here and so are new opportunities to train the staff and teachers in your schools.  New teacher orientations, administrative welcomes and inservices, teacher information packets, and all the beginning-of-the-year craziness provide a vast array of media for IT-related messages.

How many times have you been paged over the intercom (or gotten a text message if your school district is a bit more sophisticated) with a flustered message along the lines of:

" [Insert your name here], please contact the main office...The Internet is broken."

I always want to respond with shock at their faith in my ability to fix everything that is wrong with the Internet. Of course, then I realize that my users simply understand too little about the systems they use every day to actually define a problem for me.  Well-trained users = happy IT guys, not because they can do our jobs for us, but because even a the smallest clue can help our users really tell us what is wrong.

Parents of multiple children will understand this analogy.  By the time you hit kid #3 or #4, calls to the pediatrician for routine illnesses are quick and easy.  They go something like this:

You: "Hi, Doctor.  Little Johnny is running a fever of 103.  We doubled his dose of ibuprofen last night and followed up with Tylenol 4 hours later.  Still no luck and he's pulling on his ears.  Sounds like the ear infection Bobby always used to get."

Doctor: "Definitely sounds like an ear infection.  I'll call in a prescription for you.  You can pick it up in an hour."

You: "Thanks.  Bye."

First-time parents will end up with a lengthy doctor's visit (or an emergency room visit), as well as several sleepless nights trying to figure out why little Jenny has been so upset for the last week. 

End users are the same way.  If you can provide some simple troubleshooting guidelines and basic "steps before you call tech support," you will not only empower your users, but reduce your time spent diagnosing problems and eliminate a few calls a day to reboot a computer.

Perhaps even more importantly, improving your users' level of understanding can breed a bit of empathy and create a fair amount of political capital.  The effort of providing in-person training, simple manuals and guides, and taking the time to educate users will make them that much more sympathetic the next time it takes a day or two to answer a tech support call.  When we provided a simple overview of our student scheduling process, teacher complaints regarding problems with our student management system dropped significantly because of the new understanding of the behind the scenes problems we encounter so frequently.

Bottom line, take a little time to educate the educators.  A few hours spent during the first week of school can save a lot of time during the next 175 days.  Better yet, the intercom calls from the office might now start sounding like:

" [Insert your name here], please contact the main office...Our switch up here does not appear to be connected to the backbone any longer. Can you take a look in the wiring closet?"

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