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Help Desks: Teenagers as Classroom Tech Support

Chris O'Neal

Educational consultant and former blogger
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I'm reading through lots of notes and mental Post-its I recorded at this year's NECC, and, in upcoming posts, I'll share a number of fun, productive conversations of which I was a part.

First, something struck me while I was chatting with a teacher after one of my sessions. She said she felt like she had grown so much in the last few years in regard to integrating educational technology into lessons and units in her middle school classroom. She shared how when she first attended technology-related workshops years ago, they were nearly all mechanical: Intro to Word, File Organization, and so on.

Later, however, they turned into integration-related workshops, aimed at helping weave technology resources and projects into content and standards-based units. Her thought was that she had gotten better at both those pieces -- her own technical skills as well as her ability to integrate technology more effectively.

However, she felt she was sometimes still frustrated with technical issues getting in the way of integration, and teaching in general. She mentioned that, over the years, she had collected numerous technology items -- computers, a scanner, a digital camera, and so on. But each time one of these things had a technical glitch, or the students couldn't figure out how to fix a printer jam, for example, either she had to stop her lesson and go help them, or they had to postpone the piece of the project they were working on that involved that piece of equipment.

I told her that when I was teaching middle school, I had students doing all first-level tech-support issues -- those things I was capable of fixing myself before having to wait on central-office tech-support staff.

At the beginning of the year, I would keep a handful of children after class a few days in a row and train them on one of our classroom pieces of equipment. I'd give them the basic rundown of how to operate the digital camera: taking pictures, zooming, saving images, deleting images, using the charger, basic care, and so on. From that point on, anyone in the classroom who needed the digital camera for anything would first ask that group of students for help. I then used another small group for printer issues, the digital microscope, and so on.

In my classroom, I posted a chart listing student troubleshooters their classmates knew to check with before coming to me with a problem. I did not want to be removed from teaching to handle computer crashes, jammed printer paper, or a digital camera question, and I rarely was. Nine out of ten times, they were able to handle small technical issues without even letting me know.

Plan now, and think ahead to how you might use something like this chart to relieve yourself of some tech-support issues this fall. I'll bet even elementary school students can handle many of the issues you would otherwise waste time handling. You get relieved of the bother of technical interruptions, and they gain valuable skills in technology, teamwork, and helping out their classmates!

Share your strategies for empowering students to solve technology-support issues and for streamlining technology use in your classroom in general.

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Chris O'Neal

Educational consultant and former blogger

Comments (8) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Herb Coleman's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Although I have mixed feelings about this overall I see it as positive. The one thing to be careful is to be sure to recruit girls as well as boys to serve as tech support. As a former "tech boy" who was frequently pulled out of class to help a teacher thread the 16mm projector or get a cassette tape to sync with a filmstrip, I felt like I was part of a select boys club; and I was. There were no girls and this later became a "no girls allowed" situation. Unwittingly, many teachers fed into the stereotype that "techies" had to be male. It wasn't until a girl showed me a shortcut to getting a 16mm to regain its "loop" that I got respect for girls as equals in this area. I can still remember her saying, "...with these newer Bell & Howells it's much easier. They've added this lever that..." I had never even noticed the name brands on the projectors.

The bottom line is that this early experience as a "tech specialist" was probably at the root of my eventually becoming a Director of Instructional Technology. We need to make sure that young girls have the same opportunities.

Chris ONeal's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi Herb,
GREAT point, and sure to not be neglected. I'm the father of an only child, who happens to be a girl. So, that topic is always on my mind - thanks for the feedback!

Kern Kelley's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I think that students as tech support has to become an assumption in the classroom. Everyone wins. The teacher get extra sets of hands (or they need help themselves) and the students learn the material even better. You never internalize something better than when you teach it.

As for the worry about girls and boys, though that's certainly a concern, I find the issue more likely to be that there's just one a small set of kids that always are first to raise their hand and are those you know will probably have the answer.

In my class once someone has complete a task, they become an 'expert' in that task and are expected to help the next student that needs to work on it. Even if they are not quite an 'expert' the two students together usually figure it out and learn to troubleshoot more deeply than if I had just given them the solution.

Students as teachers and teachers as students!

Josh's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

The past few years we took a group of 5th and 6th grade students that we used for both minor tech support and software help as a way to increase the amount of technology that teachers were using with their students. It worked great. The first year, more than 75% of our teachers said that they were more likely to use technology becuase they had our Student Technology Squad (STS) as "helpers." We chose the 12 best students for the job, regardless of gender (although there were at least 4 girls the entire time). At the same time, we made it very clear that there was zero tolerance for making mistakes. We also made sure to celebrate them and share their work as often as possible. Students made multiple appearances in the local paper, TV channel, and got to share at our local Apple store. Our STS is a great program that that was very beneficial to our school.

Brad Fields's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Last year I created a Tech Squad of students in our Baltimore City high school that did installs and first level repairs. This year the voluntary effort has evolved into our first Computer Science class.

K. Berry's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

...however, in my tech ed class I have had to replace at least 2 CD's this year because students left them out and then they were scratched beyond repair or broken. We used to have a Sims Flight Yoke for the Aviation station, but after having to replace this $200 piece of equipment twice due to student neglect, we have gone to simple joysticks. I really like the idea of student tech support and I believe it will work with the right students.

This is something that I will definately take and mull over. Thanks for the idea.

Stephanie G.'s picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I really liked your ideas that you shared about involving your students in maintaining your computer and software. Working with sixth graders I have found that they love to help in any way that they can. When my students feel useful they become more interested in what is going on in the class. Students are proud of their accomplishments when their teachers allow them to be active in keeping the classroom up and running.

What a great opportunity to teach children how to use technology in today's world. Also,it is great to instill in children how to take pride in and be responsible for their belongings. Holding the students accountable and having a zero tolerance policy is commendable. Children need to learn that there are some situations in life that there is no room for making mistakes or being irresponsible.

Using the students as tech support in our school district would be beneficial in many ways. First, the student body has a sense of belonging. Second, the students are trained to be the professionals-they are learning valuable tools for computer use. Third, using the students would free up our subcontracted faculty member (he takes care of all of the problems in both of our schools).

Danny's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

In another post I mentioned, a website that enables students to create webspaces in a protected, safe web community. When my team teacher and I started getting this off the ground we quickly realized there was a serious learning curve. We both had the capacity to learn what we needed to learn, but time was typically short.

We played around with it for a while, then ended up turning things over to the kids after realizing that they were probably more capable of figuring it out anyway. The same teacher has been working on his EdD in technology and speaks often of technological "natives" and "immigrants." I'm pretty savvy when it comes to tech issues, but our current students have been raised in the age in which essays are typed on computers, not typewriters or wordprocessors, music is often "zapped" from a computer to a tiny device with virtually no moving parts, and the concept of "developing" film is foreign. Again, I feel able to keep up with an ever-changing world, but these kids make this 32 year old feel ancient sometimes!

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