How Student Help Desks Support Mobile Devices

Originally posted in Center for Digital Education by Tanya Roscorla on October 18, 2012

High schools are creating student-run help desks to deal with larger numbers of mobile devices.

A thousand miles apart, Niles West High School in Skokie, Ill., and Burlington High School in Massachusetts each have student teams handle problems with mobile devices.

The 20 tech leaders at Niles West High School support 3,600 netbooks at two high schools. When the schools gave netbooks to freshmen in 2010, the tech leaders helped image and distribute the machines. Now the schools have three grade levels of students with netbooks.

“These guys are running a help desk that, as far as I can tell, is a bigger business than your standard Best Buy would be,” said Tim Furman, student technology and application support specialist at Niles West High School.

Even before joining the help desk, these students were helping their classmates. “When netbooks were distributed at school, I found that a lot of friends needed help doing simple stuff such as installing programs, uninstalling programs and so on,” said Sunny Bharucha, customer service specialist and senior. “I was usually one of the people they would [ask] to get help.”

The help desk staff members each have a title, role and responsibilities. They solve problems for students and staff in-person, but they also update a blog with videos that address common issues they see.

“We thought it was a more efficient method to get our points across, and it would help us and the students even more,” said Talha Aslam Ahmed, student executive director and senior.

The help desk’s creative director, senior Farzin Rezvani Najafabadi, pushes the staff to think of different ways to creatively share their insights, Furman said. Students write the script in Google Docs, shoot the video and create the blog posts when they have time.

Because the help desk isn’t part of a class, students work during lunch, study hall and after class. They earn a community service credit and upgrade their issued netbooks for their service. But students say they would serve even without those incentives.

“It’s a great way to spend my study hall helping others, and I just love working with computers and helping others troubleshoot their issues,” Bharucha said. “It’s great working with a team of the tech leaders we have, so I just spend my study halls here.”

The help desk at Burlington High School runs a little differently. Instructional technology specialists Andy Marcinek and Tim Calvin each teach three sections of “Student Technology Integration,” modeled after Apple’s Genius Bar. Students go through interviews, submit resumes and solve problems in an interview before they can participate. They also have to maintain a high GPA.

In the class, students tackle problems that their peers or teachers are talking about, said sophomore Hannah Lienhard. They post videos and scripts on their blog to show students how to fix the problems. These Pathway Project tutorials also highlight new iPad apps that will help students.

“It takes a while for fads or trends to catch on, or for kids to tell each other what would make good apps,” said sophomore Yash Kamani. “But if we make a Pathway Project about it and we put it up on our blog, it travels a lot faster and our school runs a lot more seamlessly.”

Last year, the school rolled out 1,100 iPads. Because the student help desk took care of day-to-day problems, the three IT administrators at Burlington Public Schools could focus on bigger infrastructure issues, Marcinek said.

“I joined the help desk because I think this 1-1 initiative is an initiative I believe in, and it’s something I personally feel should be implemented in more schools than it is,” Hannah said.

Outside their school, the help desk also reset passwords, adjust projectors and install printers in the middle and elementary schools. Next week, the students will provide technical support for MassCUE, one of the largest education technology conferences in Massachusetts. And in June, the team is pulling together an edcamp event — an “unconference” model of professional development where participants guide the discussions.

“We put a lot of trust in our students that they are a really phenomenal resource and that they can do really great things,” Marcinek said.

Soon, the student help desk staff at Nile West High School hopes to create something with the Burlington High School team to show other schools how to staff a student help desk.

For more information, check out the student help desk blogs at Nile West High School andBurlington High School, as well as Nile West’s Twitter stream.

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