“Don’t limit a child to your own learning, for he was born in another time.” The opening to “Hack 5” of Mark Barnes and Jennifer Gonzalez’s book, Hacking Education: Ten Quick Fixes For Every School, begins with this incredibly eye-opening quote. Immediately you begin to reflect on your practice as an educator. However, the quote also brings it back to the most important piece of the puzzle, the students. It’s not uncommon to hear teachers, admin, board members and even parents make the claim that “when they were younger, they didn’t do ‘it’ this way. In this instance, “it” can reference just about anything; seating, scheduling, programming, testing and the always popular, technology. I’d like to focus specifically on the technology piece because much like education, technology is constantly changing whether we want to accept it or not. It seems the only real constant, we can count on, is change. If we, as educators, are not willing to adapt to the constant changes in education, much of which are partnered with changes in technology, we will quickly become “extinct,” just like every other living or non-living thing that was unable to “adapt.”
Adapting to these changes, however, is much easier said than done. With new programs popping up constantly, teachers are finding it increasingly more difficult to keep up with the rigorous demands of curriculum changes, new building procedures, standardized assessments, and meeting the needs of ALL learners. Pile on learning new programs, systems, codes, logins and MORE, it’s easy to see why some teachers are so hesitant to change, especially if it means having to learn it on their own, with “not enough tech support.”
Barnes and Gonzalez tackle this problem head on in Hack 5 of their book, “Student Tech Gurus.” As educators themselves, Barnes and Gonzalez understand the high demand of integrating technology into the classroom. Along with those high demands comes “higher expectations for teachers.” (Barnes & Gonzalez) In order for anything to function at it’s highest level there needs to be some instruction and support for our teachers. Unfortunately, most of us know those things tend to be in short supply when it comes to bringing on additional staff members to fix some of the problems. However, Barnes and Gonzalez have come up with an incredible way to “hack” this problem; “Student Tech Guru’s.”
Essentially these “Student Tech Guru’s” are a “team of students who can be trained to provide tech support to their classmates and teachers.” (Barnes & Gonzalez) As educators, we need to be honest with ourself and come to the realization that yes, there are going to be students who know more than we do on the devices in front of them. As educators, we need to understand it’s okay that they know more than we do. In fact, they should know more. They are the consumers, utilizing the product on a daily basis with no inhibitions or fear of failure. They explore, they try, they fail, they learn. Let’s use this to our advantage. Please teachers, do not be afraid to say you “don’t know how to do something.” These vulnerable moments are when rapport is developed and what better way to model learning, than by learning yourself.
In our district, we have a team of “tech guru’s” already in place. iSWAT or “I’m a Student Willing to Assist with Technology” is our student technology club. I am fortunate enough to be the leader of this club in my building and through this experience as leader, I have been blessed with the opportunity to work with some of the most talented tech students around. Recently, after reading Hacking Education, I took a chance and implemented the “Irving Help Desk” at my school. I sat down with Jim Mukite, our districts IT Systems and Network Specialist, to talk about ways in which the Irving Help Desk would be most effective to him, our staff and our students. We went through his “help desk” tickets he receives from our building and generated a list of things our students would be able to fix. I then selected three students to work with him directly to begin their training for the “Irving Help Desk.” They each created a “tech support booklet” so they could reference it if they needed to during any calls and also created an “Irving Help Desk” ticket on GoogleForms for teachers to submit for any problems that arose in their classroom.
This past Wednesday we had our first successful Irving Help Desk ticket. We had a 3rd grade student coaching a teacher on how to change her displays on her Smart Board and explaining the connectivity settings on her computer. Since it was our first Help Desk, I did go along to facilitate, but was not gladly not needed. I simply stood back and let him go. He was professional in his demeanor and represented iSWAT incredibly well. He even introduced himself upon entering the room. Talk about REAL WORLD SKILLS people. These students are equipped to repair numerous devices, training teachers on how to utilize these tools in their classrooms and gaining unbelievable experiences in communication, networking and development that they would have never received in the classroom. Did I mention they are all under 10? This is invaluable, both to the students and also to our staff. This problem is something that would have taken days to fix, but instead, our Irving Help Desk staff was able to fix the problem in a matter of 10 minutes.
For individuals who are skeptical about starting a help desk or concerned about loss of class time and resources, don’t be. Below you’ll find a summary of some answers Barnes and Gonzalez provide to general anxieties some teachers and administrators face when first implementing a student run “help desk” at school.
- Claim: Our students are too young.– Trust me when I tell you, they’re not. These students have likely been playing on devices since before they were potty trained whether you want to believe that or not. They are already very knowledgeable on these devices and as stated above, we have a third grader working with us right now already fixing problems in real time. Of course, use your discretion when selecting students. Be mindful of behaviors, academic successes and overall communication with teachers and peers. You want someone who is always able to represent your school in a positive light.
- Claim: These tech kids will miss too much instructional time.- Barnes and Gonzalez claims “by only recruiting students with strong academic records, you significantly reduce the chance that occasional absences will hurt grades.” They also state that the teacher as well as the supervisor can make “participation guidelines” much like a sports team, where the student must meet a certain amount of predetermined requirements in order to participate as a “tech guru.” The coordinator could certainly speak directly with the students’ teachers to block out any specific times the students are unable to miss class due to content being taught. For example, during our first help desk call, I coordinated with the students’ teacher first, prior to pulling him from class, to verify he wouldn’t be missing valuable content. My absolute favorite thing Barnes and Gonzalez say though is “even if students are missing some class time, they are still growing in their communication and technology skills, which will both be useful in their future academic and professional lives.” All I can say is, PREACH TEACHERS PREACH!
If you’re interested in some input or need assistance in any way I’d be happy to help in any way that I can or just be an ear to listen as you launch your Help Desk. Moving forward with our help desk, I plan to have our kiddos create screen casts of how to solve problems on specific programs teachers need assistance with and how to access some programs teachers are unaware we have access to in the district. Overall, the possibilities are endless, and as Barnes and Gonzalez say “if you start thinking of the ways [students] can authentically contribute to your learning community as teachers in their own right, you have already shifted in the right direction.” Consider how powerful this could be. Don’t limit your children to your own learning or due to lack of fear. They know what they’re doing. Learn from them! Let them go!