Students on the IT Front Lines

Seven steps to creating a student-run tech support program.

GUEST COLUMN | by Jon Phillips


CREDIT DELL EMC LEyden High School 212.pngClassrooms and learning models across the country are beginning to show signs of transformation and innovative engagement with the implementation of more technology empowered learning, with an emphasis on 1-to-1 programs which puts a device in the hand of every student. While these new tools are enhancing the ways students learn and providing them with valuable technological experience, supporting this growing number of devices can be a serious challenge for school districts and IT and support teams. A few school districts have addressed the strains of a more tech-heavy classroom and learning models with innovative solutions around student-led tech support programs.

The student support program at Leyden High School has closed 25,000 help desk tickets, taking a huge workload of minor issues off of their professional support team, who can then focus on larger projects.

Leyden High School in Franklin Park, Illinois, and Huntsville ISD in Huntsville, Texas, have found success with this approach. Other school systems can get similar results by implementing their own student-led tech support programs.

  1. Put the right teacher in place

The student program in Huntsville began when the district’s IT organization realized the imperative need for additional support in the coming years with an aggressive plan to deploy 6,500 new devices.

The team understood that a successful and properly integrated student tech support program would require a leader with extensive understanding of how tech support works and the role technology plays in the greater scheme of things within the school. Administrators tasked teacher Melissa Thornton, who had a background in both teaching and instructional technology, with designing the tech support program in tandem with Huntsville’s professional IT organization. Thornton’s approach centered on understanding the balance of how to create a functional tech support program with good customer service standards, while also giving room to the students to make their own mistakes and learn from them.

  1. Seek out quick wins

Working against tight deadlines, the Huntsville team was forced to act quickly to initiate the student tech support program, leading to some quick wins that got the program rolling right away.

The district gave Huntsville a hard deadline to implement a 1-to-1 program, requiring 1,600 new devices to be tagged and set up within a few months. The labor would have cost the district $30,000, but the Huntsville team saw it as the perfect opportunity to kick off the student tech support program. Staff leading the program turned an existing computer lab into a legitimate professional tech workshop, and students took on the role of an assembly line to set up the new devices in the new “professional” workspace.

  1. Ignite the passion & establish continual growth

The Huntsville team believed that setting up students for continual growth would be key for a student tech support program to maintain continual success. Students needed the opportunity to advance both in skill level and motivation, just as they would in a professional job setting.

Not only did the Huntsville program institute a standing time each day for repairs and assistance with their devices, just as a normal repair shop would operate, they also implemented a tiered curriculum for students participating in the program. The team designed the program with the following growth trajectory in place: Students start their curriculum with the goal of becoming A+ certified as sophomores. After receiving certification, they begin work in the shop handling low priority needs, unboxing and cleaning equipment, and learning basic customer service skills. They can work their way up to handling work orders around campus, and can even apply for a co-op position their senior year that earns them minimum wage alongside the professional IT team, making them career-ready upon graduation. Additionally, students can help with the recruitment of their peers through word-of-mouth or advertisement assignments.

  1. Tie student tech support to academics

Leyden High School created a support program within an existing class framework. At the start of each class period, students received a role for the day, ranging from managing the front desk and customer service to repairing a variety of devices.

By having to fill a variety of roles and figure out how to work as a team to streamline repairs for a grade, students began learning real-world skills that would someday help them in real jobs–tech-based or otherwise.

  1. Get buy-in from your professional tech team

Today, the student support program at Leyden High School has closed 25,000 help desk tickets, taking a huge workload of minor issues off of their professional support team, who can then focus on larger projects.

In return, the professional support team spends the extra time saved by serving as mentors for the Leyden students. Though it takes time for the professional team to train and mentor the students, the results are invaluable in terms of the real-world experience students gain and the increase in productivity for tech support across the entire district. Buy-in and mentorship from the campus’s professional tech team is a necessity for student-led programs to succeed. Teachers can provide the curriculum for the repairs and ins-and-outs of devices students need to learn, but there is no substitute for the opportunity to shadow a real professional in the field.

  1. Choose devices & support systems with management and maintenance in mind from the start

It’s a good rule of thumb that the devices you implement in the classroom must be durable, easy to fix and maintain onsite. If a device must be shipped away to be serviced, it not only causes a time strain but also is a missed learning opportunity for students. For example, a device might be easy to take apart, but the students might be unable to get hands on practice fixing the device due to warranty constraints. Work with your professional tech team to identify devices that are not only easy to take apart, but also field serviceable. This approach will better provide valuable knowledge and real world experience in tech repair for students who could eventually become vendor-certified for practicing on these devices.

  1. Collaborate with industry

Leyden High School’s district compiled an advisory council made up of tech professionals from a variety of companies to stay up to date on industry needs and create or adjust coursework accordingly.

Setting up a student tech support program is a great way to get students initially invested and involved with tech repair. It also opens doors for them to explore other tech-related career paths and better prepares them for a job out of high school. Once they begin receiving hands-on learning working with professional technology, it is easier for them to cross over into related studies, such as programming or video game design. Creating the channels and resources for them to gain timely, skills-based experience will not only make maintaining your school’s new technology easier, it will uniquely prepare the next generation workforce for the competitive job market of the future.

Jon Phillips is Managing Director of Worldwide Education for Dell EMC.


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