Technology use in schools is growing at an exponential rate. Every year brings more opportunities for integrating technology into our teaching, and along with them come higher expectations for teachers.
To meet those expectations, schools need two things: training, to learn how to operate the technology at the optimum level, and support, to address problems with hardware, software, and connectivity when issues arise.
Ideally, every school would employ a small staff of dedicated IT professionals who could provide training and solve problems when they occur. They could report to classrooms within minutes of a problem happening and quickly get things up and running again so that teaching and learning could continue.
Unfortunately, this is not the case in most schools. In some cases a school has only one person in charge of all the technology in the building; other districts require a single specialist to split their time between several schools.
And many schools only have a default “tech person,” someone whose original role was something else (librarian, career ed teacher) but who now has the added responsibility of managing building technology.
This support shortage causes a whole host of problems, including lessons that have to be abandoned due to malfunctioning technology, hours of instructional time wasted while teachers try to solve problems on their own, or worse, the engaging hands-on activities that are never planned in the first place, because the risk of things not working is one many teachers aren’t willing to take.
Apart from troubleshooting, a team of student tech gurus can also work proactively, training students and staff in basic skills, so the whole school learns together.
In the award-winning Hacking Education, Mark Barnes and Jennifer Gonzalez employ decades of teaching experience and hundreds of discussions with education thought leaders to show you how to find and hone the quick fixes that every school and classroom need.
Using a Hacker’s mentality, they provide one Aha moment after another with 10 Quick Fixes For Every School – solutions to everyday problems and teaching methods that any teacher or administrator can implement immediately.
Just like the kid who used to help with the classroom movie projector way back in the day, students can be trained to provide tech support to their classmates and teachers. Because many students are already comfortable with technology—often more so than their teachers—they can learn new tech skills quickly. This added support in every building means more lower-level problems get solved at a greater speed.
Although many teachers probably already enlist student help with classroom technology, it’s likely that they use a “catch-as-catch-can” system: The teacher is having trouble getting a tool to cooperate, so a student jumps up, clicks a few things, and solves the problem.
Imagine how much more effective this process could be if it was formalized, if a student tech support team was hand-picked, trained, and made available whenever it was needed. Apart from troubleshooting, a team of student tech gurus can also work proactively, training students and staff in basic skills, so the whole school learns together.
Building a well-oiled student tech machine takes time, training, and planning, but you can start a loose pilot program right away with these 6 steps.
Step1: Identify the team.
If you already have some kind of club or other group that focuses on technology, finding students to serve on a support team should be easy. Students on the team don’t need to already know the exact tools or platforms required by the school, but they should demonstrate general aptitude with technology, the ability to pick up new skills, and good communication skills, since they will have to teach others.
They also need to have strong academic and conduct records, because fulfilling their duties will mean missing some class time, and when giving assistance in other classrooms, they must be on their best behavior.
Step 2: Identify the school’s needs.
Survey teachers and students to learn what problems they have most often, what new skills they most want to learn, and what their general needs are with respect to technology. Then choose two or three areas for your team to focus on first.
The list of needs is likely to be long and varied, so look for patterns and frequent requests when deciding what your priorities will be. When creating your list of priorities, frame items as measurable goals. Here are some examples:
Along with your list of goals, brainstorm a set of possible frequently asked questions or problems that are likely to come up again and again.
Step 3: Train the team.
Once you have set clear, high-priority goals, train every member of your team until they have met each goal and can perform those tasks in their sleep. Be sure everyone can answer the list of frequently asked questions correctly.
Finally, establish clear standards for conduct during help calls and role-play possible situations to give student helpers practice in giving assistance respectfully.
Step 4: Create the support team infrastructure.
Before telling anyone about the support team’s services, set up the request infrastructure and a team workflow, so that when services are requested, those who need them get a timely response. Here’s what should be included in your plan:
Step 5: Market your services.
People won’t use student tech helpers if they don’t know about them, so launch and maintain a marketing campaign to educate teachers and students about what services are provided and how they can access them. A good place to start is to create a tech team homepage somewhere on the school’s website.
Be sure to include a specific list of the skills your team is trained in, along with any specialty areas for individual team members. Is one of your support specialists especially good with PowerPoint? Advertise this!
Step 6: Plan and deliver training.
Providing tech support to a school isn’t just about reacting to problems as they come up; the support team can also train staff and students in the proper use of tools. These trainings can be conducted in large or small groups, delivered as part of faculty meetings, or given to individual classrooms.
Trainings can also be recorded on video or offered as screencasts, which can be stored on the tech team’s homepage.
The students in your building are walking around with skills—or the capacity for skills—that your school needs, especially when it comes to technology.
Regardless of how formally or informally you structure their assistance, if you start considering students as potential resources, if you start thinking of the ways they can authentically contribute to your learning community as teachers in their own right, you have already shifted in the right direction.