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Lancaster High School - Techsperts: Students as Technology Experts

The Techsperts of Lancaster High School are students who work as “tech ambassadors” to the high school and several of the elementary schools as well. They assist teachers, administrators, and other students with technology tasks small and large, from changes in passwords to Chromebook maintenance. They develop and present informational programs in the District and throughout the community, serving as day-to-day experts in technology as inquiries arise. Our program provides a unique approach to technology professional development for teachers and administrators, with the Techsperts earning the respect of the Lancaster High School community.

Technology is constantly evolving and an enduring challenge for school districts. It not only involves providing access to emerging technology, but also ensuring that students, teachers and administrators can effectively utilize the technology. The Lancaster Central School District, a suburban school district in Western New York, places great value on the expertise of both adults and students in the district. They have appointed three Tech Mentors (teachers on special assignment) to provide targeted staff development to teachers specific to technology applications in their classrooms. However, in a district the size of Lancaster (5,800 students), this task is significant. In addition, addressing the needs of more than 150 teachers in the comprehensive Lancaster High School is challenging.

Jill Santoro, one of the Tech Mentors, works much of the time in the high school’s “Hub,” a contemporary technology lab. This area is a popular gathering place for both students and teachers throughout the school day. Mrs. Santoro began to note that students and teachers would come to the Hub for assistance, and, when she was engaged in an activity or with another teacher, students would be sought out to provide support. The students, admitted technology aficionados, were more than happy to help and both teachers and students readily acknowledged their skills and knowledge. Mrs. Santoro and the students decided to formalize their work under the title of “Techsperts” (Technology/Experts), assigning them tasks not only in the Hub but throughout the school.

Their work began by assisting students and staff members with changing passwords. A centralized printing initiative in the District prompted another support task, as did the adoption of GSuite for Education. The students began to develop “Tips and Tricks” for the staff, assisting them with taking screenshots, opening and closing tabs, voice typing and shifting tabs. Google Takeout, an application that facilitates the transfer of school files to individual personal storage devices, was accompanied by a series of instructional screens which walked students through the process in a clear and concise manner. Throughout the day, Techsperts are available to assist teachers in accessing Z-space, Quizlet, and Twitter applications.

The Techsperts have taken on many maintenance and service tasks for technology hardware in the building. Chromebooks and carts are delivered to the Hub, and the Techsperts assemble them for distribution. Individual chargers are wired through the cart of 36 and the Chromebooks are then charged. Three Techsperts collaborate on the assembly which requires about 45 minutes (or a class period) for each cart. Once the carts are in service, the Techsperts deliver them to classrooms. To maximize the efficient use of the carts, teachers sign them out for a period or longer as needed. The carts are then moved from classroom to classroom throughout the day by the Techsperts and an aide. In a building the size of Lancaster High School (330,000 sq. ft.), the task is considerable. The high school began their Chromebook journey with 8 carts, and now 77 carts are housed in the Hub, with Techsperts maintaining all of these continually-accessed carts. They clean and report problems with the Chromebooks, and they also oversee regular updates. Their daily attention to these tasks has assisted in preserving the usefulness of the hardware as well as insuring the return of the carts in working order.

Special “assignments” emerge throughout the year. On a recent opening day, the freshmen could not get into the high school during their orientation due to building construction. The Techsperts commandeered banks of Chromebooks and assisted the students in securing their locker numbers and combinations. Student Union meetings, attended by more than 150 student representatives, are paperless, utilizing Chromebooks for their reporting and agenda, and Techsperts assist with technology issues as well as distribution and maintenance. Techsperts have also created and administered online surveys, supported the administrators at technology-related faculty meetings and open houses, and have edited recordings of special events in the high school. They have also presented at regional meetings held in Lancaster for principals and superintendents, showcasing their unique and collaborative work. Board of Education presentations occur annually, with students assuming full ownership in the development and staging of the material.

In the spring of 2017, the Techsperts partnered with faculty members to present Tech Tasting 2017. The event was held in lieu of a faculty meeting, and the Techspert/Teacher teams offered the faculty presentations of classroom applications for Google, Chromebooks, Wizer, Quizlet, Apps and Extensions, Twitter, and Kahoot Jumble. The students worked with the teachers in developing and posting the presentations, as well as researching additional applications for the content. The event was highly praised, with the Techsperts gaining new respect for their maturity and ability.

Above images- First: Techspert brainstorming session. Second: Techspert presenting remotely. Third: Techsperts working with Mrs. Bull, William Street School Principal, and Mrs. Marchioli, Director of Elementary Education. Below: Techsperts Learning Makey Makey.

The Techsperts have developed Internet Safety programs, and have spoken to parents and community members from the perspective of a young person interacting with technology. Often, the Techsperts present a very cautionary tale to their audiences as they readily understand the impact of social media and technology on their generation. They have also presented for the High School’s “Freshman Foundations” class. Through this presentation, a new group of Techsperts is being birthed, with students realizing that technology opportunities exist within their building.
 
Techsperts may be athletes, musicians, STEM enthusiasts or artists. Some will pursue careers in engineering, medicine, communications, music, management, computers, teaching, or finance. Techsperts are frequently members of one of the seven career academies that exist at Lancaster High School, and they use their service time as Techsperts to fulfill internship requirements for the academies. Their common interest is technology, in all forms and formats, and they love sharing this interest and expertise with others. They consider themselves “Tech Ambassadors” to Lancaster High School, mentoring students and faculty daily. In addition to serving at the High School, interning Techsperts travel to elementary buildings to assist faculty and students with technology. They are greeted with enthusiasm and respect as they offer outstanding support and innovative approaches. Dominic, a senior, considers himself a Techspert in Apple devices, Breakout EDU and Google Drive, while Hannah can explain GAFE. Nick can speak about Makey Makey and Google Cardboard, while Madlyn shines with Google Cardboard, Quizlet, and “anything else!”

There are a number of factors which contribute to the success of the Techsperts program. First and foremost, they have a creative and positive leader in Mrs. Santoro. She enthusiastically encourages the students and is always open to new ideas concerning program revision and improvement. She is also highly respected by her faculty colleagues and, thus, the program is readily embraced. Secondly, the program is an asset to the faculty and administration of the building, and the students are respected for their knowledge and energetic approach to technology. Finally, the students themselves invite inquiries from teachers and administrators, with no question being considered unreasonable or silly. They are simply eager to assist, and confident in their abilities to do so.

As the program evolves, Mrs. Santoro anticipates that Techsperts will be placed throughout the district, working with teachers on technology applications and blended learning opportunities. She expects that professional development and “Tech Tastings” will extend beyond the high school, and that staff perceptions of the roles of students as partners in technology education will continue to expand, providing more opportunities for exploration and resourcefulness in technology. The Techsperts program has a promising future in the Lancaster Schools, and the district is certainly the beneficiary of this promise.

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