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DJ Factor

Most of my Head for the Edge columns, updated and edited, can be found in my latest book. Buy it and I might be able to afford a nicer nursing home one day. Thank you.


The DJ Factor
Head for the Edge, Technology Connection, February 1996

A lot of reasons are given for successful media/technology programs in schools - thoughtful planning, visionary leadership, curricular inventiveness, and so forth. All those things are important, indeed, but one essential component is often ignored. It’s what I call the DJ Factor.

DJ is one of three technicians hired by our district. Without him and his fellow “screwdriver” folks, our networks, our labs, our circulation systems, and our administrative programs would be unreliable, and therefore, unusable.

Great technicians have three essential sets of skills. The first set is of course technical skills. If a computer won’t connect to the network, a lab needs new software installed, or a critical disk gives the dreaded I/O error, technicians are the can-do guys. Multiple platforms, various operating systems, and those hopelessly complicated network protocols which are know only by their cryptic intials (TCP/IP, IPX) are enough for even the best minds to try to get around. And add to that encyclopedic knowledge base the absolute necessity of continually learning new versions, revisions, and bugs. Those “screwdriver” guys need a huge capacity for learning. (The intellectual half-life - the time it takes for half of what one has learned to become obsolete - of a computer science graduate is eighteen months. It can’t be much different than that for techs.)

It’s helpful when technicans have an understanding of some of the “whys” of educational technology. On a single day the week before school started last fall, DJ came back to his desk to find 24 voice mail messages, eight email messages, and several written work orders - all which needed IMMEDIATE ATTENTION. His bosses include: me, the network manager, the computer coordinator, 14 principals and their secretaries, about a dozen district office types, every media specialists in the district, and of course all 400 or so teachers. First come, first serve is not always, or even usually, the best way to chose what needs IMMEDIATE ATTENTION. We have a standing rule in our department - the technology which teachers use to educate children always comes first. Payroll, state reports, grades all can wait. Teachers and kids need running labs, working printers, and created student email accounts if lessons are to be successful. Nothing is more discouraging for the classroom teacher (and more detrimental to the sucessful educational use of technology in schools) than having malfunctioning equipment. My “screwdriver” fellows need understanding.

Finallly, techies need to be veritable masters of human relations. A malfunctioning computer creates serious stress for the person who depends on that machine. (I’ve had it on good report that it can even ruin your whole day.) Stress rarely does much for anyone’s patience, humor, or vocabulary. Computer users often unconsciously, but unfairly, associate technicans with the computer failures they come to fix. It’s a Pavlovian thing. The bell rings; dinner is served. The computer freezes; the technican appears.

Compounding the frustration is the very nature of computer repair itself. Complicated systems often call for an uncanny detective ability when figuring out what unique set of circumstances may have caused a particular problem. (Ah, it happens when this application is be used, the machine is low on memory, that extension is running, and one trys to print. “As I suspected, it was Colonel Mustard in the dining room with the lead pipe.”) If a computer is not fixed the first time, it is because diagnoses must be done through the process of elimination.

Keeping one’s composure around the stressed teacher or secretary is a given. The ability, however, to correct user errors without making the ignorant feel stupid _is_ an art. Any technican can blurt out “It works better if you plug it in,” with a you-moron-look on his face. It is the master technican who gravely intones, “Hmmm, looks like a power supply problem,” and creatively allows the hapless user to keep his dignity.

So plan, envision, and design for technology, educational leaders. Just don’t forget to factor in a couple of DJs.

(E-mail me at djohns1 at isd77.k12.mn.us and I will send you the job descriptions for a computer technician, network manager, and computer coordinator.)

Posted on Thursday, July 5, 2007 at 07:42AM by Registered CommenterDoug Johnson in | CommentsPost a Comment

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