Christian County Touts Student-Run IT Help Desk
The technology help desk at Christian County Public Schools in Kentucky is run by top-notch, fully trained information technology support professionals. More than 30 help desk agents manage the phones, logging anywhere from 100 to 500 calls each week from faculty and administrative staff throughout the district. They support 1,300 staff members, 2,000 personal computers, more than 100 servers, up to 1,500 printers, as well as all of the district's routers, hubs, circuits, and intercom and phone systems. In effect, these IT professionals are managing support calls for millions of dollars' worth of IT assets - and the best part is they're only high school students.
Since 2000, the technology help desk for Christian County has been staffed entirely by students, with the exception of an adult help desk manager/teacher. At a central location at Hopkinsville High School, the students take technology work orders for all of the county's sites, which include 17 K-12 and vocational schools, as well as an administrative office.
Bill Heise, a former IT manager for the U.S. Army and the district's technology coordinator at the time, implemented the HEAT Service & Support software from FrontRange Solutions to log and manage the school district's help desk calls. He was familiar with the software's customizability and functionality. Heise also knew it was simple enough for students to learn, use and manage the help desk with little or no supervision. Now, the district has an endless supply of talent with a broad range of technical skills, and technologically inclined students have a way to gain true hands-on work experience.
Christian County has integrated help desk training into its school curriculum. Technology Help Desk is a full-fledged course that earns students performance-based grades and credit. In conjunction with the course schedule at Hopkinsville High School, the 30 students work the help desk, four or five at a time, for 90-minute shifts during the week. To simulate a normal business environment, the classroom is furnished with office furniture and cubicles. Wearing headsets and using computer workstations, the students answer calls from district employees experiencing difficulties ranging from network failures to password resets.
The students log each call or e-mail into the HEAT system, noting the caller, type of problem and any other important notes. Between 15 to 20 percent of the time, students troubleshoot those calls in real time, using their knowledge and notes to address common issues. When they can't help, they create work orders assigned to one of four technicians who address the more complex issues on site.
This powerful combination of a student-run program and HEAT software has created significant benefits to the district by improving customer service levels and response times. "These days, most calls get a response within 15 minutes, which is a significant improvement to customer service," says Beth Henderson, technology help desk manager/teacher who oversees the program. The HEAT software also offers such features as reporting, which enable the district to track the status of calls and create weekly status reports. As a result, the district can identify systemic problems, see training needs among district staff and gather data for establishing maintenance budgets.
In addition, the student-run program has significantly cut help desk operating costs. Without the students, the district would have had to employ two or three IT support professionals to do the same amount of work. Henderson estimates that the student program saves the district about $100,000 annually. In the future, Henderson and her students hope to take their skills a step further by becoming certified HEAT users.
FrontRange Solutions Inc.
Colorado Springs, COwww.frontrange.com
This article originally appeared in the 08/01/2002 issue of THE Journal.