Leveraging Learning Opportunities: Student Support In A 1:1 Environment

By Zach Vander Veen, vice preisdent and co-founder, Abre.io.

When schools embrace a one device to one student program, they inherit concerns on keeping devices functional and lasting. What is the best way to provide support for occasional breaks, wear and tear, and the grime of daily use? Most school tech teams operate on shoestring budgets. They’re limited in their monetary and staffing resources.

Fortunately, students have the unique opportunity to support the infrastructure while partaking in a class that covers a wide variety of topics relating to technology. Around the country, schools that embrace 1:1 initiatives are learning to leverage learning opportunities for their students. We’re going to look into how Hamilton City School District supports 11,000 Chromebooks with students who participate in the Technology Support and Innovation class.

The class begins with a study checklist. Each small group of students has an objective and job broken into geographical regions of the school. One group heads down the hall to Mr. Becket’s class with a substitute cart of Chromebooks. They return a few minutes later with his classroom cart complete with several devices with cracked screens. The checklist comes out and they begin to walk through procedures. They clean, they repair, and they inspect all the while laughing and cracking occasional pop-culture jokes.

“Students are an untapped resource, and we use their talents and abilities to contribute to protecting the assets of the district, says Tricia Smith, Tech Director at Hamilton City Schools.  “Students are interested in learning Chromebook repair skills.  With the correct training and nurturing of 21st-century skills, our students have become an integral part of protecting and maintaining our student devices.”

The Framework

Hamilton approached having a student Technology Support Team with a few objectives.

  1. Support the district’s 1:1 program.
  2. Provide learning opportunities for students.
  3. Maintain an expect cost structure.

A robust framework was crucial to the success of implementing a 1:1 program supported by students. While it took some refining, the district settled on a structure that consisted of five key components.

Pick the Right Device

Not all Chromebooks are the same. They feature different sizes, capacities, and cases. They range in price and durability. When deciding on a device that will be repaired and maintained in-house, it’s crucial to pick a make and model that disassembles and reassembles with relative ease.

For Hamilton, this meant picking a device that students could repair with relative ease. Chromebooks typically break in a few areas: the keyboard, the screen, and the trackpad. When purchasing a make and model, it was essential to get the price list of replacement parts and do a breakdown and repair on a test model. This way the district could better understand the Total Cost of Ownership.

Invest Money

Some money was set aside for purchasing cleaning and maintenance supplies. Each student support team needed a healthy number of items such as cleaning cloths, rubbing alcohol, compressed air, and tools. The district maintained a small stock of replacement screens, keyboards, and touchpads. The amount of replacement part stock was tweaked every year based on tracked breakage rates.

Relative to the cost of Chromebooks, this investment was nominal. Every summer, the Technology Director ordered a few cases of supplies off Amazon and distributed them accordingly.

Cleaning Chromebooks is supercritical to device maintenance. With heavy use comes grime. Districts that send Chromebooks home with their students typically put “check-in” days on their calendar where an extensive cleaning can be completed. Cleaning adds months and years to the device. It also provides an opportunity for a brief inspection of the equipment to see if any additional maintenance is required.

Have a Good Ticketing System

Ticketing systems are key to addressing breaks. Hamilton used a two-tier ticketing system. Students and teachers had the ability to submit a ticket to the Student Technology Support Team. The student team would investigate and, if possible, solve the issue. If the issue required advance support, the team would route it into the official ticketing support system where adult technicians would address the issue.

Train Students

With the help of friendly neighboring districts, Hamilton developed a full semester course that covered a wide variety of topics involving Chromebook maintenance and repair, customer support, GSuite training, and resume building. The purpose of the course was to have students walk away with employable skills. It accumulated in an ePortfolio students could show to potential employers.

Define All the Procedures

Process was the critical component in providing a quality service to the school. Hamilton created well-defined procedures for the following:

  1. Cleaning every classroom cart on a bi-weekly basis.
  2. Repairing broken Chromebooks. Sub-procedures included how to repair screens, keyboards, and trackpads.
  3. Training teachers and fellow students on instructional technology (one of the more creative procedures).

These procedures covered a wide variety of possibilities from the pragmatically odd (e.g. “how do I clean for bed bugs?”) to the creatively fun (e.g. “the motherboard still works, let’s turn this into a Halloween costume”).

The Results

Keeping in mind the district’s objectives, the program is quite successful. Students regularly rate the class as educational and helpful. Teachers love the support. The district’s technology staff can focus on higher-order technology issues such as networking and server applications. Breakage rates are low and repair times quick. Costs remain nominal, well under the budgeted scenarios.

“By using the student team, we are able to identify issues with Chromebooks quickly to get them back in circulation for instruction to continue while the students are learning how to provide a service with appropriate customer service skills that can help them in their future endeavors,” says Smith.  “Watching the process, the students take to identify issues and then research the ‘how-to’ is extremely satisfying to see.  The students use various skills to examine the Chromebook to determine the problem, then brainstorm and research ways to repair the Chromebook.  If the repair is beyond their scope of practice, they are able to escalate the ticket and learn from the IT department to broaden their scope.”

As with any learning experience, Hamilton refined the process over the years. Having a Student Tech Support Team is critical to the success of Hamilton’s 1:1 program.

Our Take-Aways from the student helpdesk:

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