All About Tech Bars in Higher Ed

0 Posted by - 12th September 2019 - Technology

Guest post by Sophia Sanchez.

What is the raison d’etre of a tech bar on a college campus?

The tech bar exists to help people on campus with their tech problems.

College campuses are increasingly adding tech bars to support student IT needsYes, it is that simple.

But it’s also true that the tech bar can be more, much more, depending on how the college chooses to position it.

Tracing the Arc of Tech in College

Technology and education have crossed paths many times in the history of modern formal education. The Gutenberg printing press, a technology marvel, gave a fillip to education in the mid 1400s. Expensive handmade books rapidly gave way to much more affordable, mass-printed textbooks. This contributed in fundamental ways to increased access to education over the next few centuries.

In the last two decades we have witnessed a massive change again, as education takes the digital highway. With inexpensive computers and iniquitous highs-speed WiFi access, it is now common for colleges/professors to use e-books, podcasts, massive open online course (MOOCs), gamification, personalized teaching, etc.,  to deliver high-quality and (slightly) less costly education.

Students routinely use tech for online homework help, research, collaborative projects, data storage, communication, note taking, polling, conferencing, doing interviews, and submissions.

The Variety in Tech Bars

As students, teaching faculty, and college administrators increased their use of tech, the need for dedicated onsite tech support emerged.

At its simplest, a tech bar or walk-up service center, modeled on the lines of the “Apple genius bar” set up inside Apple stores (the format since 2016 is different), became a “one stop” shop where people on campus could take their devices for repair and maintenance. They could either schedule an appointment online or just walk in.

Some colleges went a step further and decided to get tech support to play a bigger role for better benefit of their campus communities.

St. Norbert’s tech bar, set up with a wider scope,  has a goal to turn their students into digital entrepreneurs by training them in digital literacy and citizenship. The consulting service hired was tasked with training students to become digital consultants at the tech bar.

Their training included making  videos, setting up blogs, building domains, digital mapping, and more. Whichever stream students opt for, these are common skills very useful for college students as they are headed out into an economy where such skills are frequently required.

Some colleges see the tech bar like the writing lab, where visitors can improve their skill at using tech products. Peer tutoring at the the digital knowledge center at the University of Mary Washington helps students with their digital projects and assignments.

The Stanford Medicine Tech Bar’s virtual home offers laptop loaner programs and a demo bar where customers can “test drive” new equipment before purchasing. This is apart from a variety of the usual tech bar services.

The Many Ways Tech Bars Help Colleges

Although tech bars have obvious uses, there are other benefits which might not be directly visible or measurable.

For example, tech bars ask customers to rate their service once their issue is sorted out—but there is no measure of the reduction in stress for the first-year student new to campus who can walk into a tech bar for help.

A service such as this can help the student feel confident that she has good support, will not be overcharged, and—most importantly—enables her to concentrate on her classes, while her problem is being sorted out. She could even get a loaned device from the pool while her’s is being repaired.

Here’s a list of the possible benefits for colleges:

  • By setting up a tech bar, the college is providing a service where device owners have a trusted place where they can go on campus to have their problem addressed by skilled people, thereby reducing the time spent on trying to fix it oneself.
  • Tech bars reduce stress among campus residents and prevent people from resorting to untrained sources of help which could make the problem even worse.
  • Having a tech bar frees up faculty and teaching assistants from helping students with technical issues, allowing them to concentrate on organizing good content, teaching, and testing.
  • By analyzing service request data, identification and delivery of training required for students/faculty/staff becomes easier to shortlist, and this can be organized via the tech bar.
  • As tech bars are frequently run by students, it’s like the college providing a real world ecosystem for students to get technical training, plus learn problem solving and associated soft skills, right there on campus.
  • Tech bars can improve operational efficiency in the delivery of IT-related services.
  • Tech bars can help both in licensing software and making available free software.
  • College administration can analyze the tech bar’s data to understand software/training/IT requirements, among other information.
  • Analysis of tech bar data can indicate when certain technology is getting obsolete.
  • Tech bars get departments to be collaborative in both assets and skills, thereby increasing productivity of assets.

Setting Up a Tech Bar

The key to the success of a tech bar is for a customer to feel confident that the technician/digital agent they have approached will find a solution to their problem.

To that end, here are the requirements for setting up a tech bar:

  • A common welcoming space with high footfall, which increases accessibility for the customers.
  • Convenient hours of operation.
  • Scheduling software for handling appointments, unscheduled walk-ins, scheduling technicians/agents, estimating the time required for the problem logged in, and managing the status of the logged in problem.
  • Technicians/digital agents trained to listen to the customer’s problem with empathy.
  • Competent technicians who can provide student-customers with both a solution to their problem and education/skills to be more technologically self-sufficient.
  • Report generation to analyze data collected by the scheduler with a view to improving efficiencies.

Technology Marches On

As technology keeps evolving, it becomes very difficult for students, faculty, and administrative staff to keep up with the changes as users of the technology. The staff of the tech bar helps people make the best of available tech, and bridge the gap when new tech is introduced.

Sophia Sanchez is a newbie online ESL/EFL instructor. She is a passionate educator and blogs about education on her personal blog. She found her true calling — teaching — while she was juggling writing and a 9-5 desk job. When Sophia is not busy earning a living, she volunteers as a social worker. Her active online presence demonstrates her strong belief in the power of networking.

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