Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Student Technology Assistants

When it comes to teaching students technology skills, each school looks at it and goes about it just a little bit differently.  Some schools have classes that address issues like keyboarding, Internet etiquette, Internet researching, word processing and spreadsheets.  Some teach those skills across the curriculum and only offer specialized courses such as photo editing or movie making.  But the only schools that specifically teach the skills needed to troubleshoot and fix computer problems seem to be VoTech type schools.  Some schools will say, "We just aren't that kind of school' or "there's just no time in the day for that".  And those are valid reasons... but there are other options!

I have worked with more than one school at implementing a student run technology support team.  The team consists completely of students with a faculty or staff advisor who can manage the students, instruct them and guide them in the proper techniques needed.  Techniques for what, you ask?  This group of students could be tasked with things as rudimentary as replacing toner in printers or as advanced as helping a teacher with an issue on their interactive white board.  And the most adventurous school has a student run help desk that actually works on computers repairing things like memory, hard drives and virus infections.  These are all ideas and programs that almost any school can implement, plus it can be an extra set of hands and eyes for your technology department!  Just imagine how great it would be to have a student help another student with an issue connecting to your WiFi?

But really, the ideas do not end there.  A student team could be tasked with assisting in creating tutorials, editing movies for the athletic department, installing updates on lab computers or mobile carts and much more.  But to do any of this you must have a few things.  First, and foremost is a faculty or staff member who is willing and able to lead the group.  Second, you need a solid base of support from the administration (and possibly the board, too).  You will certainly need a group of reliable and trustworthy students.  This is important, because the other teachers are going to have to trust them to help -- sometimes in a pinch.  Once you have these three things, you are on your way. But that's not all -- you need a plan.  Here are some bullet points for developing a plan:
  • What will the students be able to do?  You certainly do not want students working in your student information system (ever) or your development database.  It is important for you (and the students) that everyone understands the tasks that students are allowed to tackle.
  • How will students be trained to do these things?  Students may be interested but need to develop troubleshooting skills or specific computer knowledge.  Not everyone can just pull out a new toner cartridge and put a new one in.  An hour training on "Printer Maintenance" goes a long way!
  • How will you staff your student staff?  Anyone who wants to join? Or will there be a selection process?
  • How will students be assigned tasks?  Will there be a task board?  Web based help desk?
  • Will there be a student hierarchy or is everyone equal in the group?  Some students will certainly have skills that others do not.  A train each other approach doesn't hurt if you've trained a certain set of reliable students already.
  • How will the meetings run?  Will a lead student run the meetings to collaborate on issues and discuss what is happening or a particularly tough problem that they've encountered?  When I've run it as a class, we often had students do presentations on issues and how to solve them.
One of the best models for something like this is the club model.  The group meets together at specified times, but can do tasks when they are free.  Students (and teachers, administrators, parents etc) should be crystal clear that school work always comes first, but I've had clubs that have students that work on tasks during a study hall or other breaks throughout the day.  I've also run it as an honors level technology course, too.  That can work really well when students want school credit for the course.

But no matter whether you have it as an activity, group, club or class -- you need someone to lead it!  And the Faculty Advisor role is no small bag of potatoes.  With all of the above that needs to be considered -- what are the responsibilities of the adult in the group?  Here is a list of thoughts:
  • Assess the technology needs.  This sounds simple, but if you have a small tech department (or none at all) you might find that the needs are varied, all over the place and not easily defined.  If the advisor is not part of the tech staff, they should reach out to the tech staff and find out where the group could be of assistance.  If they are, then a meeting with other administrators might help hone down the idea of what the needs are that the group could address.
  • Choose, evaluate and deploy!  The selection of students is certainly key.  When first starting the group, it generally works best to be able to chose a small group of tech savvy students who are reliable, or at least can be guided.  As the program grows and gets roots, you can expand out to then take in students who are less savvy and require more training and hand-holding, but at first that might derail the program from taking off.  And you certainly don't want a student who thinks he is Jonny Lee Miller from Hackers and inadvertently wipes a teachers computer because he thought he knew how to do it, when he just could have asked for help.  So choosing and then learning the skills and strengths of the students is key!
  • Scheduling and Overseeing.  At any time you may have two students working on a laptop cart, two others updating a lab and three others handling printer maintenance.  Being able to oversee, schedule and keep things moving forward is an absolute skill that any advisor will need... oh, and the time :).
  • Promotion and Community Help!  It never hurts to get some good PR.  Plan to take the group to a senior center or church to help upgrade or clean their computers.  A student run technology table at a senior home during an afternoon is a great thing for both the students and the folks being helped!
So what kind of jobs/skills can students build?

  • Hands-on technology break it/fix it with all types of equipment (computers, printers, monitors, projectors, cabling and more)
  • Software programming
  • Software updating and maintenance
  • Staff management
  • Inventory management
  • Customer service
  • Listening and pulling out key information
  • Researching issues
  • Leadership of peers
  • An understanding of technology standards
  • ...and more!

These are just some ideas and guidelines for implementing a program like this at your school.  It doesn't require fundraising if you have the right advisor to do some training, and it doesn't require a lot of resources to implement.  This is a win-win for any school that can put the time into it.  The students develop leadership, troubleshooting, logical thinking, practical hand-eye and useful computing skills.  The school can gain a valuable technology asset to help out in a pinch and everyone ends up just a little bit happier at the end of the day!  Personally, I've had students come from my teams to: found their own technology company, work in graphic and editing for a major television network, work in technology in the military and even one who decided to go on and teach computers himself.

And think this is just for boys?  Think again!  It is a *great* way to get girls involved in computers!  Girl Tech Power!

Bruce has worked in educational technology for over 18 years and has implemented several 1:1/BYOD programs.  He also has served as a classroom teacher in Computer Science, History and English classes.  Bruce is the author of five books: Sands of TimeTowering Pines Volume One:Room 509The Star of ChristmasPhiladelphia Story: A Lance Carter Detective Novel and 
The Insider's Story: A Lance Carter Detective Novel.  Follow Bruce's Novel releases by subscribing to his FREE newsletter!

Be sure to check out Bruce's Allentown Education Examiner Page, his Twitter and his Facebook!

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