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The IT Crowd: Student Tech Leaders Support Innovation and Build Literacy Skills

by Laren Hammonds
April 8, 2014

Hello, IT... Have you tried turning it off and on again?

These words, spoken repeatedly by one of the main characters on the British sitcom “The IT Crowd,” have become something of an inside joke for a group of thirty seventh- and eighth-graders at my school. This team, the RQMS Student Tech Leaders, is the first of its kind in our district and helps to facilitate current technology integration efforts in our school. Moreover, they are building their own literacy skills and lending their collective voice to the discussion as the system implements a more widespread digital transformation that blends new technology resources with innovative instructional practice.

What Tech Leaders Do

Student Tech Leaders | Reading Today OnlineThough their slogan implies a purely tech-support role, students bring a variety of talents and interests to the table. Therefore, student tech leaders need not be limited to troubleshooting hardware and software. In addition to traditional support, our tech leaders provide a variety of services for their school: manning a video team to film school events and produce short digital pieces, running daily announcements via intercom and Google Hangouts on Air, supporting teachers and students with tech-embedded projects and activities, and helping to facilitate technology use at school events.

The student tech leaders do not in any way replace the IT professionals employed by the school system. However, they do provide an additional support system for teachers and students that can help our school move forward with technology integration efforts.

Developing Communicators and Question-Askers

In creating our tech leader team, we set the following goals:

  • to develop students’ critical thinking skills through troubleshooting technology problems and evaluating current and emerging technologies for use in teaching and learning
  • to hone students’ communication skills through one-on-one interactions with teachers and students, small-group presentations, and written evaluations of resources
  • to build students’ leadership abilities by serving as technology ambassadors who speak for their peers on technology issues and model appropriate technology use and safe, thoughtful online behavior

At the beginning of this school year, many of our tech leaders had an interest in technology and knowledge about personal use of tech tools, but few had any formal training. Our primary focus for in-class training sessions during those early weeks and throughout the year has been on building their ability to question.

Developing a foundation based on seeking out, evaluating, and synthesizing information has served our students well, both in their tech leader roles and elsewhere. To support this effort, we began with the Google Apps Ninja Program. This site takes students through a series of modules and tests on Google tools. However, the program’s overall objective is not to build a set body of knowledge but rather, as its creator says, “It’s about searching and finding information.”

Additionally, students participate in “on-the-job” training, learning skills as needed to make their projects successful. Some also participate in job shadowing, partnering with our school’s computer technician as he responds to work orders from faculty members. This experience in particular provides students with valuable knowledge about the system’s infrastructure and effective methods of providing service.
 
Sharing What They Know

Referring to these students as leaders, not aides or assistants or helpers, is a deliberate choice. This may seem like an issue of semantics; however, it underscores the desire for students to take an active role in the ongoing conversation about how schools can leverage technology to ensure that classroom learning is meaningful, engaging, and relevant to students who have grown up in and will continue to learn and work in a digital world.

We have sought opportunities for students to speak out about the role of technology in their learning. Within our school, students have shared insights with community members at our school’s Tweet-In in the fall, an event in which parents, teachers, and students participated in a hashtagged Twitter chat about instructional practices.

Tech leader representatives have also participated in a technology professional learning group comprised of faculty members from area schools in order to discuss the work they do and engage in a discussion with teachers about instructional technology. Finally, this summer tech leaders will share their work during a session at the International Society for Technology in Education’s (ISTE) conference in Atlanta.  

These opportunities to participate in conversations about their learning are vital, both for students and for the educational professionals making decisions about instructional practice. In the words of one tech leader, “It’s our learning. Let us take the lead.”   

Laren Hammonds on Reading Today OnlineLaren Hammonds teaches 8th grade language arts at Rock Quarry Middle School in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Her interests include media literacy, cross-curricular collaboration, and the design of learning spaces. Connect with her on Twitter where she goes by @_clayr_, or read more at her blog, Game to Learn.
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