Schools have long bemoaned their inability to hire qualified staff to provide classroom tech support. As a result, technology tools and resources are often underused, either because they need maintenance or, more often, due to teachers’ lack of confidence in using them. This reticence is understandable. Nothing is more frustrating than incorporating technology into a lesson, only to have something go wrong during class (which it will), and then not have the time or skills to fix it (which we often don’t). After this happens a few times, the troublesome technology often gets shelved.
However, every classroom has skilled support personnel waiting to be tapped — namely, their students. And some schools are recognizing this and putting these underemployed techies to work in student tech support positions.
Schools’ student-run tech support programs come in a variety of types and sizes. Some are informal and comprised of kids recognized as “experts” by their teachers and used as their on-the-fly support: “Miguel, can you help get my laptop hooked up to the projector and speakers so we can watch this video clip?”
But other schools have established full, well-organized student-run tech support programs. They are providing both teachers and other students the help they need, while also offering their tech-team students a valuable range of new skills.
An elementary teacher in Wisconsin wrote in EdSurge of her school’s successful student-led tech program. Going beyond just providing tech support, the school’s junior techies work to help their teachers develop tech-infused classroom projects, while also mentoring the school’s younger students on iPad use. Recognizing the importance of not just relying on their usual star students, the school has made a concerted effort to recruit other less likely kids into the program, so they too can benefit from leadership and recognition opportunities.
At the high school level, some schools have begun offering their students course credit for taking tech support training classes. These classes teach the skills needed for marketable tech support work and give the students additional hands-on experience, since a component of their coursework includes serving as the help desk staff for their schools.
One such student tech support program is offered at Burlington High School in Massachusetts. Based on the Apple Genius Bar concept, Burlington’s student-run help desk has become both an important support program for the school’s technology initiatives, and also a notable example of a successful implementation that other schools are emulating.
The grandparent of all student tech support programs is Generation YES. Over the years, many schools have been GenYES participants, where they purchase the organization’s teacher training, student curriculum and ongoing support. Or the schools have gone their own way, but still followed the GenYES guidelines. First developed at a Washington state high school in the early 1980’s, GenYES led the way in the student help-desk concept. The program also branched out to cover classroom curriculum support, where students help teachers develop technology resources for their instruction.
Student-run tech support programs — whether they are of the elementary club variety or more advanced-level high school programs — serve many worthy functions for both the students and their teachers. But to me, the most important aspect of these programs is this: Schools can become better learning communities for everyone, students and teachers, when students’ skills are recognized and valued. And when it comes to technology, students definitely have a lot to offer.