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Student Technology Leadership: Collaborative Learning

This is a crosspost from the Students 2.0 blog. You may comment on the original post there.

If students or teachers fear an inability to support technology used in classrooms this can become a major hindrance to adoption of technology in teaching and learning. Tech-savvy students, however, can help alleviate these fears.

This is the first of a series of posts about my school’s Student Technology Group, also known as StuTech. The idea for the group came from a meeting in March of 2006 during the ISACS accreditation process with the hope of taking advantage of student resources we had available. StuTech currently provides support for over 300 student laptops on campus (students may bring any computer they choose and no staff support is provided) and works closely with teachers to support their use of curricular technology and tech-intensive projects.

There are a number of ways that StuTech provides support for students but its primary responsibility is the student helpdesk, the StuTech room. This was an underutilized but central space in the school that has been turned into stutech’s ‘home’. It is located across from the flat panel that shows student pictures and adjacent to student publications (for whom we installed a blue screen). We keep a collection of PCs and Macs around so our members can both get work done and help others.

The real magic begins when the nine or so ‘stutechies’ begin spending their free periods in the StuTech room making themselves available to help others. We usually get one or two student requests per period (45 minutes) and more during lunch periods. We see problems ranging from trouble connecting to the school’s wireless network or VPN to questions about iMovie.

Watching students help their peers is inspiring; it is collaborative learning at its best. The stutechie might not know the answer to the student’s question, but working together it is rare that a solution can’t be found or a future course of action plotted. Each question turns into a learning experience for both the student in need of help and the stutechie.

There is often more than one stutechie at a time in the room providing an additional collaborative learning opportunity. United in our common interest in computers, we often share interesting facts or techniques and tech news with each other. Each week we place questions on the board in the room for the rest of the group to research and attempt to answer (e.g. “How do you troubleshoot DHCP related errors?” or “Why are bugs in device drivers so dangerous?”). These questions often lead to discussions from which students routinely gain new insight and understanding into aspects of technology.

Beyond the obvious education in technology, the stutechies also have a wonderful opportunity to practice communication skills. The stutechies must learn how to work with each other to solve problems, they must learn how to explain solutions to students in an easy to understand way and how to calm panicked students. During rush periods StuTech may have twice as many people with problems as people to help them, so we must practice managing the load so that all can be helped.

Stutech uses a copy of RT to track student issues and make sure that no issue brought to us is overlooked. Because a student may have his problem looked at by more than one stutechie we place a strong emphasis on documenting the problems we see in RT, giving the stutechies an opportunity to practice their written technical communication.

StuTech is on the surface a very outward-facing, community-oriented group, but that is not where its biggest benefits lie. The learning opportunities that (groups like) StuTech can create for students can not be under-emphasized. StuTech is the ultimate in self-directed learning, a group of students sharing a common passion and learning about it together. The strong student led nature of StuTech means that there is no required learning, just exploring of passions. As much as I love helping students as a whole, it is the opportunities that StuTech offers its members that makes it such an amazing organization.

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