Master of Arts in Educational Technology Pepperdine University  
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Introduction - Peer Collaboration: Building an Infrastructure for Enhancing Technical Support

There is nothing more frustrating than not being able to get through to the help desk when you have an urgent, technical problem. Worse yet, is getting through only to find that staff is unable to help. The Gartner Group, a leading information technology research and advisory company, reports “An increasing demand on employees to use more and more advanced technology, is responsible for a growing shortage of technical support within mid-sized organizations” (Mingay, S., Furlonger, J., Magee, F. & Andren, E., 1988). A survey from a staffing firm, Robert Half Technology in Silicon Valley, finds that CIOs believe their technical support teams are 40% smaller than they should be (Tucci, 2007). So what is the solution? I believe, and my action research project confirms, that it is empowering people to help themselves and each other.

This paper will exhibit the importance of establishing a support community of committed individuals who are ready, willing and able to help each other in order to lighten the workload of an overburdened help desk. This goal aligns with my personal values, WestEd’s excellent reputation, and Pepperdine University’s mission of strengthening students for lives of purpose, service and leadership.

The purpose of my action research is to establish a peer-to-peer support group network within my place of employment (WestEd, a nonprofit, public research and development agency) that will help to reduce the number of calls to an extremely busy help desk. My action research question is, “In what ways does a peer-to-peer support group within WestEd alleviate the demand on our Information Services help desk?”

Problem Statement

I would like to find the solution to a common problem that occurs in both the business and academic world—timely answers to computer, software and technology-related questions. Many larger institutions try to meet this need with internal help desk support. Numerous studies have revealed (see Literature Review section) that help desks, in general, are not always the optimal choice for first-level support when employees are faced with computer problems or software issues. Even though WestEd has an excellent Information Services department (IS), with experienced, knowledgeable help desk staff, far too often employees cannot get the assistance they need in a timely manner. When an employee calls the help desk, they are not always able to get through, are put on hold, or do not get the kind of answers they are seeking.

Help desk staff are generally very competent at handling server outages, compatibility and connectivity issues, installation difficulties and hardware problems. Unfortunately, they are not as well-informed when it comes to software solutions such as: selecting appropriate applications, document preparation, standardized templates, working with functions, editing, formatting, working with images, styles, fonts, etc. Finding the right combination of people, with suitable training and the technology to maximize the speed and quality of help desks’ response is a major problem for most institutions. According to research, peer-supported networks can improve personal practice by ensuring that those needing help get the assistance they need without any delays.

  Kathleen L. Lepori - Peer Collaboration: Building an Infrastructure for Enhancing Technical Support ©