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The fall NDATL conference happened right after our last Jr. High football game.  The timing worked out such that I could hit the game then go straight to Minot for the conference.  In the past, I have voiced some discontent as to the content of the conference.  I don’t feel that it really helps me be a better me at work.  The sessions are really good for a teacher that wants to look for new things to add to their classroom and the large schools usually show up with a presentation or two about some project that they have accomplished.  They will tell you about the training materials they have developed, the device roll out and then their follow-up.  It’s great that they are able to do that sort of thing, but that leaves out the small to mid-sized schools.  The smaller schools have a hard time finding someone to keep everything running, they won’t really have time or money to pilot some sort of 1 to 1 initiative as well as develop training materials for the instructors.  What I really wanted to see is something that targets my job.  How can I harden and optimize my wi-fi?  What are some best practices for new machine deployments?  What sorts of cost-effective things can I do on the back-end to manage user data?

As this year came around, I decided that I would volunteer to talk about some of the things I have done that have made things manageable across BPS.  I’m by no means saying that my way is the right way, or that I even have great solutions for bulk management…but I at least wanted to start people thinking about things.  Trade some ideas.  Maybe for the next conference, someone will do a session on what they did in their small school to stream line I.T. management.

The big thing I wanted people to take away from my session was Deep-Freeze.  For small schools, especially ones with a part-time I.T./Teacher on staff Deep-Freeze is the greatest I.T. product on the planet.  You setup a machine the way you want it…then lock it down.  It doesn’t matter what is done to it software wise, reboot and you are right back to exactly where you started.  This product was a huge time saver when I started here.  There is a cost for Deep-Freeze, the exact amounts escapes me right now…but if you compare the cost of deploying the product to an admin’s lost hours chasing around reconfigured machines, it’s well worth the cost.

I also discussed using deploy studio.  This product allows you to quickly deploy images.  You could also use it to manage updates and other software package deployments, but the big thing it does for you is automate setting up a new box.  A machine comes in, image it and put it out on the floor…maybe 30 min.  2 machines, 30 min…20 machines…30 min.  You get the idea.

I get the impression that a lot of small school (I consider BPS small) I.T. folks have never worked in I.T. for a private business.  They are really limited on their exposure to what business’s have found to work efficiently for their I.T. departments. To that end, I discussed the importance of having a homogeneous system.  As many systems as possible should be on the same software releases.  If you do have to mix and match, do it as little as possible.  Also, and the staff here is going to love this, I spoke about using a ticketing system.  There was a ton of resistance to using a ticketing system when I implemented it, but now the user base has really started utilizing it.  Having everything in 1 place…the issue, my response, if it pops up again, etc has been very helpful to me.  I don’t have to wade through emails to try to track outstanding issues.  When you have only 1 staff member or maybe even a part-time staff member, it’s vital to use your time in the most efficient manner.  It’s not efficient to be digging through emails or trying to remember what someone mentioned to you in the hall.

The last thing I touched on was the use of a student assistant.  When I started here, I had thoughts about working out some sort of internship program with the college.  It hadn’t realized that a high school student would have a free hour in which they would be able to assist with I.T. duties.  Last year a student approached me with the idea, to which the administration gave the head nod.  It worked out very well.  I know it helped me out and I do believe it helped the student out as  well.  As I told the attendants today, the benefit isn’t just in the area of I.T. or gaining “work” experience.  If a student goes in to an instructor’s class room, fixes something or provides some other form of professional service…they more often than not receive a genuine grateful response from the instructor.  That positive response is something beyond being thanked for handing in some homework and what not.  I believe it’s a feeling that can only benefit them going forward.

Hopefully the attendants took away something positive from the session.  I had a few questions, and the vast majority seemed to genuinely engaged in the conversation.  One talked quite a bit after the session about issues they were working through at their current school.

For the next session, if it works out on my calendar, I’m thinking about offering to do a discussion about starting out live streaming.  Of course just offering doesn’t mean the organization will see value in my services.  We’ll see how it goes.