vendors

Why service level agreements (SLAs) are valuable to schools

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011 | Sustainability | 5 Comments

It is a real challenge for schools to find technical support for their ICT facilities.

The best way to support ICT, if a school can afford it, is by means of a full-time technical support person.  Such a technician will ensure that the hardware remains operable, that the software is installed properly and that all the network connections work as they should.  Regrettably, at present no provision is made for technology related posts in South African schools and if a school wants to appoint a technician, this has to be funded from the school’s own resources.  Many schools simply can’t afford to employ such a person.

Most schools with technology facilities have to depend on whatever “corporate services” are offered by their education authorities.  These corporate units are often under-staffed and when the number of schools requiring their services increases, the service rendered to schools becomes unsatisfactory.

Some schools succeed in arranging pro bono technical support with a parent, a member of the community, or a company that makes its technical staff available to the school.  Sometimes this arrangement works well, but since the school has to depend on the good will and availability of volunteer workers, support is often not accessible when it is most needed.

For schools that are serious about the use of technology for teaching and learning, another option exists: service level agreements.  These are often referred to as SLAs.

In a school context an SLA is an agreement reached between the school and a commercial technical service provider, where the service provider agrees to render a certain level of technical support to the school.  The company may, for instance, agree to pay a specified number of scheduled visits per month to the school, to perform routine maintenance tasks, and to provide a number of hours of additional support when things go wrong.  The cost of such a service is determined by the number of agreed visits and the additional support that can be expected.

The advantage of an SLA to a school is that it is more affordable than a full-time technician, yet support is available when required.  The level of service can be negotiated according to the requirements of the school and available funds.

Many technology companies are able to render this service, but some of them specialize in assisting schools.  These companies often provide a better and cheaper service, since they understand school systems and are geared towards assisting schools.

If your school battles with technology support, the solution to your problem may lie in entering into an SLA with a service provider with a proven track record in schools.

Technology service providers who can offer SLAs to schools are welcome to leave a comment, giving a description of the service they can offer, contact details, as well as their geographical area of operation.

For more tips for principles, click here.

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Do you really have to purchase software for your classroom?

Sunday, December 12th, 2010 | technology | 5 Comments

Some teachers claim that, when they move technology into their classrooms, they don’t have to purchase any educational software products – they create their own teaching and learning material.  If you are one of those teachers – good for you!

If you’re not yet in their league, don’t despair.  Packaged educational software can be a valuable stepping stone while you’re familiarizing yourself with the use of technology in the classroom.

Excellent software packages are available commercially.  Some software may be bundled with the device you purchase – this is particularly so in the case of interactive whiteboards.  In other cases good software programs are available from software vendors to suit all your classroom needs.

A common mistake of teachers new to technology is to purchase too many software packages.  Some of these turn out to be less useful that they seem at first.  It is sad when you spend all your available funds on software that is of little value to you, and then find you can’t afford appropriate programs.  Avoid this mistake by starting off slowly – perhaps with only one simple program – and as you progress and come to grips with classroom technology you’ll be in a better position to select software that will really be useful to you.

Some software may be available to you at no cost:

Examine the software that is bundled with the device you purchase.  These products are often of limited value, but may suffice to start you off.

The internet is a rich source of free software.  Thousands of teachers have developed resources, including complete lessons, and have made them available on the web.  These resources are mostly tried and tested.

Your school may hold a site license for educational software programs.  Enquire from the vendor of the product whether the license entitles you to use the software in your classroom without additional cost.

Software suppliers may make software products available to you on a trial basis for a month or so – you can try before you buy.  This is an ideal way to avoid purchasing products that you won’t use in future.

Software does not have to cost you an arm and a leg if you choose it judiciously.  Start small, use what you have as stepping stones, and strive to reach the point where you can develop your own no-cost learning material.

For more technology tips for teachers click here.

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How can I keep the initial cost of technology down?

Monday, December 6th, 2010 | Sustainability, technology | 6 Comments

The initial cost of technology is the up-front cost of the item you’re purchasing.  This could be a computer, an interactive whiteboard, a data projector or any other device you’re contemplating for your classroom.

A sizable portion of the total cost of classroom technology is taken up by its initial cost.  For this reason you must think carefully how, when and where you buy it.

A few factors influence the price tag of a technology device: 

  • the brand name
  • the model
  • the vendor.

You must look at these factors before you make a decision.

Some brands of technology have a good reputation of reliability.  It is also true that some popular brands are more expensive than others.  You can keep the initial cost of classroom technology down by not insisting too strongly on a particular brand, unless you have a good reason for doing so.

The models of devices differ with regards to capacity and special features.  You can easily be dazzled by these things when you shop around only to discover later that they are never used at all.  A specific model may sport a big capacity or a special feature – but the question is whether you really need it.

Vendors often offer the same item at different prices.  It pays to shop around before you buy.  Some vendors may give a special discount on their products for educational use – be sure to ask for it.

Never buy a piece of technology on impulse – this rule applies to computers, other classroom technologies and educational software.  When you attend a demonstration or a trade fair, resist the temptation to sign an order on the spot.  First consider your needs: capacity requirements; the need for compatibility; your dependence for support on existing vendor partners.

The cheapest price of an item does not always translate to the lowest cost.  You can keep the initial cost of classroom technology down by matching your purchases to your needs.  And remember: the initial cost is only part of the total cost of ownership.  Other factors may dictate that a higher initial cost may result in a lower overall cost.

For more technology tips for teachers click here.

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Should I enrol for a commercial course to help me gain technology skills?

Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010 | technology | 6 Comments

Courses covering a wide range of computer-related topics are available from commercial training companies.  If you want to gain basic computer skills, or acquire advanced computer technology skills, or build expertise in specific software applications, you should have no trouble finding a course to suit your needs.  In the cities and bigger towns such courses are more readily available than in rural areas.

At present training courses in the use of technologies other than computers – such as interactive whiteboards – are not plentiful.  Courses are often offered as an add-on service by the supplier of specific technologies – some companies give such a course as a free service to clients, whereas others charge a fee.

A commercial course may be a perfect choice when: 

  • other training opportunities are not available
  • you feel that other training options are not adequate
  • training accessible to you does not suit your personality or learning style
  • certification is important to you.

 The advantages of a commercial course are:

  •  the training is done face-to-face
  • the course is structured
  • the presenter is a trained professional
  • it is rewarded with a formal certificate.

 The disadvantages of a commercial course are:

  • you may not be able to afford it
  • the course often concentrates on the technology itself and not so much on its application in the classroom
  • the presenter may not understand the world of a teacher
  • the course may be presented at an awkward time.

Check the references of the company before you enrol in a course.  It would be prudent to talk to others who have already done the course to determine the level of benefit you can expect.  Make sure you understand exactly what you will be taught, who the trainer will be and what type of certification you will receive. 

After consideration you may conclude that a commercial course is the only option open to you – in that case you will be wise to make use of it.  If other training options are available, assess all of them and then decide what will best satisfy your needs.

For more technology tips for teachers click here.

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What role can vendors play in helping me to learn how to use technology?

Monday, November 22nd, 2010 | technology | 6 Comments

Technology vendors are not charity organizations – they have a profit motive.  The fact that they take money from your school – or from you – does not make them your enemies.  In fact, they can become your best friends!

How can you use the client-supplier relationship between you and vendors to your advantage?  Think about it this way:

When a vendor sells you a piece of technology – it can be a device like a computer or a data projector or an interactive whiteboard or it can be a software program – and it is not working, it reflects unfavourably on the vendor.

Many people – teachers, principals, school governing body members and even education department officials – are not yet convinced of the value of technology as teaching and learning tools.  They question whether an investment in it will yield a positive return.

Vendors know that future sales depend on successful operation of their technology.  When the equipment or program is not working because you – the teacher – don’t know how to use it, onlookers seldom understand the real reason for this.  They only see expensive technology that is not working.  Vendors need their products to be successful in your classroom and it is therefore in their own interest to give you all the training and support you need.

It is also in your own interest to make use of whatever training vendors offer you!

Not all vendors provide proper training and so it is important that you select reputable dealers – those who are not mere box-droppers and interested in a quick sale.  Good vendors understand that, after selling technology to you, they can’t simply walk away and hope for the best.  The service they render must include initial training, as well as ongoing support.

This situation is clearly beneficial to you.  If you form a close partnership with your vendor you stand to benefit from: 

  • initial orientation and training
  • advice on how to integrate the product into classroom practice
  • user communities – both face-to-face seminars and online networks.

 A mutually beneficial relationship can exist between you and your technology suppliers when you prove that their products work and they give you valuable training.

For more technology tips for teachers click here.

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Why should I stay close to the supplier of my interactive whiteboard?

Sunday, February 14th, 2010 | IWBs | 3 Comments

Vendors of interactive whiteboards are in the business of selling interactive whiteboards – they are not charitable organizations and have a profit motive.  But this is not a bad thing – it can work to your advantage.

It is important for the suppliers of your equipment that you use yours optimally.

Why?

Many people – teachers, principals, school governing body members, and even education department officials – are not yet convinced of the value of interactive whiteboards as teaching and learning tools.  They question whether the purchasing of more boards will yield a positive return on an investment in this form of technology.

Vendors know this.  The only way they can ensure future sales is by proving that the use of interactive whiteboards leads to better classroom results.  And the evidence they can point to is the success in your classroom.  They need this!  An under-utilized board harms their case.

Reputable interactive whiteboard dealers – those who are not mere box-droppers – go to great lengths providing a service to teachers.  They understand that, after selling the board to you, they can’t simply walk away and hope for the best.  The service they render includes giving initial training, supplying a constant flow of useful resources and providing guidance on how interactive whiteboards should be integrated into classroom practice. 

This situation is clearly beneficial to you.  If you form a close partnership with your vendor you stand to benefit from:

  • initial orientation and training
  • new operating software releases
  • familiarization in the use of new features
  • advance training
  • user communities – both face-to-face seminars and online networks.

Two things are required for you to benefit from you supplier partnership.  The supplier must render support, and you must make full use of the support.

A perfect recipe for a win-win situation!

Click here for more information about interactive whiteboards.

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Should I rely on the supplier of my electronic whiteboard to teach me how to use it?

Tuesday, October 6th, 2009 | IWBs | 9 Comments

The extent to which you should rely on the supplier of your interactive whiteboard for training depends on two things:

  • the nature of the supplier
  • the package that you purchased.

Some suppliers have programmes in place where they provide training to teachers obtaining electric whiteboards from them.  When you purchase your board, you must enquire about the availability of training.

Many vendors are mere box-droppers; they sell you a device and once you’ve taken the box and they have their money the transaction is complete.  In all fairness to these dealers, they do not profess to be more than vendors.  This is something that you have to keep in mind when you select an interactive whiteboard dealer.

Vendors usually know their product range very well, and even if they don’t provide formal training, they are a good source of information if you have any hardware – and even software – related questions.

Where training is provided look carefully at what such training consists of – it may focus on mechanical functions of the interactive whiteboard but gives little guidance on pedagogical issues.  Remember that the most important thing you have to learn is how you, as a teacher, can most effectively use your board as a teaching tool.

Choose a reputable dealer to supply your interactive whiteboard.  That does not necessarily mean you must stick to the big, established companies.  There are many smaller ones who give excellent service.  In fact, you are more likely to get some training thrown into the bargain from a smaller outfit.  Be careful of the fly-by-night establishments – those vendors who suddenly appear from nowhere and make grand promises.  Check their references, ask around and get some feedback from other teachers before you select a dealer.

Should you rely solely on the supplier of your interactive whiteboard to teach you how to use your machine?  No.  The dealer must make a contribution, but should not be viewed as your only source of training.

Click here for more information about interactive whiteboards.

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Does a software package add volume or value?

Thursday, May 21st, 2009 | software | 8 Comments

Many excellent software packages in support of education are available commercially.  Some of these products are content-rich, very useful to teachers who lack resources.  Other products are content-free, used by innovative teachers to create exciting learning experiences for their learners.

A vast array of educational software products exist.  Each one of these products has a specific focus and could be a useful tool for teachers when used in the correct context.  It is no wonder that teachers become excited about some products when attending software demonstrations at trade shows or vendor presentations.

The principal has the difficult task to determine if the school should invest in a particular product.  There are so many of them.  Which one must you choose?  Should you go on the recommendation of an enthusiastic teacher?  You may have a persistent vendor knocking on your door.  Perhaps you already have many unused software products and may wonder if it is worth your while to buy yet another one.

You need to ask yourself, and your teaching staff, only one question:

Will this product add volume or value?

There is no merit in having a great volume of products if they are not used.  The only justification for purchasing the product would be if it has the promise of adding value.

Answer the following questions to help you determine if a particular product will add volume or value:

Does this product fill an educational need?  Can you name the need?

How do we intend using the product?

How many teachers are going to use it?

Do the teachers posses the necessary competencies to use the product?

How much training is required, and how will the teachers be trained?  Do they have time to be trained?  Are they willing to be trained?

Is it a product I am buying, or a service?

The last point is very important.  Software vendors can be valuable partners of the school.  You will be able to identify good potential partners by the training and support service offered to you as part of the deal.

When confronted with the decision to buy a software product, pause and ask:

Will it add volume or value?

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Of what value is a laptop’s warranty to me?

Tuesday, May 12th, 2009 | laptops, security | Comments Off

What is a laptop’s warranty?

It is a guarantee given by a vendor to you, the buyer of the laptop, stating that the product is reliable and free from known defects and that the vendor will – without charge – repair or replace defective parts within a given time limit and under certain conditions.

Three things should be noted in this definition:

Free from known defects:  The laptop comes to you as a new product and you can expect it to be in perfect operating order.

Within a given time limit:  The warranty period is always stipulated.  In most cases it is one year, but special deals for extended warranties could be negotiated.  A longer warranty is a statement of confidence from the side of the vendor that the machine will withstand the test of time, but the seller is also taking an extended risk – the purchase price of the laptop cushions this risk.

Under certain conditions:  You must understand the warranty conditions – these are often found in the “small print” of the warranty certificate.  To protect themselves, vendors state clearly under which conditions the warranty will not be honoured.  It is your responsibility to make sure that you understand these exclusions.  Take note of where the repairs will be done: at your site, at the vendor’s premises, or must the laptop be sent away to the manufacturer?

A warranty is of great value to you.  It provides you with peace of mind – if the machine breaks down owing to a manufacturer’s fault, it will be fixed at no cost to you.  But the warranty on your laptop does not free you of the responsibility to look after it.  When you read the warranty conditions, you will note that all of them imply that you undertake to take good care of your machine.  You can’t expect the vendor to fix your machine if, for instance, you:

  • drop it
  • spill coffee on it
  • scratch or damage the screen through rough handling
  • fiddle with the delicate parts
  • allow an unauthorized person to fix or upgrade it.

In general, hardware vendors will honour warranty agreements.  It is likewise expected that you will honour your commitment to care for your machine.

Click here to find answers to more laptop related questions.

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Should I enrol for a commercial course to learn how to use my laptop?

Friday, May 1st, 2009 | laptops, training | 1 Comment

A multitude of courses aimed at teaching you how to use a laptop are available from commercial training companies.  These courses are designed for the general public and not for teachers specifically.  You may want to consider a commercial course when:

  • other training opportunities are not available
  • you feel that other training options are not adequate
  • training accessible to you does not suit your personality or learning style
  • certification is important to you.

The advantages of enrolling in a commercial course are:

  • the course is structured
  • the presenter is a trained professional
  • it is accompanied by a formal certificate.

The disadvantages of enrolling in a commercial course are:

  • it could be expensive
  • the course is generic and not geared specifically to the needs of a teacher
  • the presenter may not understand the world of a teacher
  • the course may be presented at an awkward time.

Reputable training companies do excellent work in providing laptop training.  But be wary of the unscrupulous ones.  Check the references of the company before you enrol in a course.  It will be prudent to talk to others who have already done the course to determine the level of benefit you could expect.  Make sure you understand exactly what you will be taught, who the trainer is and what type of certification you will receive. 

Weighing up all of these factors will give you an indication of whether you should enrol for a commercial course to learn how to use a laptop, or not.  At times it may be the only option open to you – in that case you will be wise to make use of it.  If other training options are available, assess all of them and then decide what will best satisfy your needs.

Click here to find answers to more laptop related questions.

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