Tech trouble? Some schools are training students to help

Two Student Technology Leaders creating a tutorial in Spanish about iPads at a GenYES workshop for Albuquerque Public Schools, in Albuquerque, N.M. With more computers at school, some districts are training students to provide technical support to teachers and others. — Generation YES via AP

When Crane Middle School decided to turn over minor IT repairs and troubleshooting duties to students, even the program coordinator was skeptical.

Now, two years into the program, Nicole Rangel and her fellow teachers at the school in Yuma, Arizona, couldn’t be more pleased. “I have teachers begging me to send a kid down to help them,” she said.

With more school districts adopting one-to-one computing, now every student has access to electronic device – many are looking to students to help keep the equipment up and running. Dennis Villano, director of technology integration for the Burlington Public Schools in Massachusetts said that students are apt and often quicker than adults to adopt and understand new technology so assigning that responsibility to students really makes sense.

In 2011, after buying 1,100 iPads, The school district launched a tech training program for students and staff. At the time, the district’s Information Technology department consisted of two people. “There was quite a bit of panic about how we would deploy and support the technology,” Villano recalled. “Our one-to-one program has been successful in large part because of the help we got from students at the high school.”

Dennis Harper, CEO and founder of Generation Yes (GenYES), said that kid-led help desks are an economic way for schools to advance their technology offerings and provide career skills and workplace-type experiences for students.  

Some schools offer the program as a class for credit; others create a club that students join on a volunteer basis.

In most schools, students skills are not put to use, though they have much to contribute, Harper said.

They have a lot of energy and are pretty tech-savvy- so tapping into that energy and experience is an incredible idea. 90 percent of people in school are students.

Once trained, students gradually hone their skills and turn into successful technicians. Schools use them for setting up devices, fixing technical problems, posting blogs, creating and maintaining websites, staff training and more.

The Burlington schools have since expanded their program to elementary and middle schools. The help desk operates as a club in the lower grades and as a class for older students. Teachers provide basic lessons and need students to spend time watching IT-related videos and troubleshooting issues.

Villano asserted that students are the first level of defense for the district’s IT department.

The district modeled its program, which has caught attention from schools around the country, after Apple’s Genius Bar help desks, offering tech help throughout the day. Students also lead professional development courses, and assist teachers develop websites and lesson plans. In high school class, students use their down time to work on more advanced technology projects.