Call out to the network! What’s the best format for a student-run help desk resource?

OK all you smart people out there, I need your help!

I have a new resource to share about creating student-run help desks in schools, something like you find in Apple stores called Genius Bars. It’s currently in draft as a PDF of about 6,000 words The Genius Bar Goes to School. I’d love for you to to take a look at it… if you promise to help me with these questions.

In the “olden days” (like last year) I would have made it into a PDF, uploaded it to the Generation YES Free Resources website section, written a blog post or two about it, tweeted a bit, and that would be that.

But times have changed and I need to know if that’s the best I can do. There are so many new formats. There are all kinds of new things happening with sharing, remixing, repurposing that could happen around the concept of student-run help desks. There could be a shared tag, a hashtag, a number of tools like, wikis, etc.

So I’m thinking out loud and asking you – what’s the best way to get the most out of this document?

So – here are my current thoughts and questions. Please help me out by adding comments or challenging my assumptions.

1. Format. It’s a PDF right now, created from a Word document. The thing I like about a PDF is that it’s a compact, nice looking format. Everyone can read it, download it, share it. It prints nicely and emails easily. It’s a pretty universal format for all computers and devices.

Assumptions: I assume that people who are interested in the subject need something like a PDF to download, print out, and share with others. Is this a valid assumption?

Questions: What IS the best format? If you are an educator and you want to walk into a meeting and share this with your colleagues, what works best? Am I right to assume this scenario actually happens? If not, what would most help a person who wants to advocate for setting up a student-led help desk at their school?

Is printing important? (Because e-books don’t print easily or nicely.)

But these days are e-books the way to go no matter about printing? Which format(s)? How many different ones do I have to do?

Should I make it a Google doc? If so, should it be editable? What if I don’t like the changes people make? Do I have to worry about spam? Is a Google doc worth doing if it’s not editable?

Should I post it as HTML? As a blog post? (It’s a bit long for a single post.)

I would appreciate input on what formats are the most useful for both reading and for sharing. Because the most important thing I want to do with this document is to help people take action.

2. Community input. I would love it if there was a way people could contribute their ideas, experiences, photos, videos, or other things. How could I facilitate this? What tools, sites, etc. are best?  On the other hand, there is nothing sadder than an empty social site begging for involvement. What if people don’t want to share or need to share? I’m assuming that there is a lot of interest in this and a need to share models – is that a valid assumption?

3. Copyright, creative commons, or what? Yes that is a copyright on the document. But I’m open to changing it. Tell me why – is the copyright preventing you from doing something with this document that would really be great? Would a creative commons license be better? Which of the creative commons flavors is right for this? (I would probably choose this one: Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0) – but do you agree?)

4. Just one big contraint — it can’t take too much time. I’m not being lazy, but I have to be realistic about this. Yes I could make it a Kindle book, an ibook, e-book, a whole new website, a podcast, videos etc, but I need to be sure it’s worth the time and effort. Nor do I want to create a headache if I have to change something, and then have to worry about 27 different versions that have to be changed. And finally, I wish I did, but I don’t have time to do anything that involves vetting or editing other people’s content, getting permissions, or things like that.

In short, I want to do the least amount of work to create the most effective, convenient resource(s) for people who want to implement student-led help desks and I need your help to figure out what that means!

Thanks in advance…


Pure genius – students run the help desk

The informal help desk model, or as Apple calls it, the Genius Bar, is a great model for tech support in schools. Like Apple figured out, putting help in the open is part of demystifying it. Your computer doesn’t disappear into a back room, instead, a friendly person, a real human being, helps you. Why shouldn’t tech support be more like asking a friend, “hey, how did you do that?” This creates a culture of collaboration where questions are encouraged and not knowing something does not require a walk of shame to the dark tech closet at the end of the hall.

So the question is, how do you staff a genius bar full time, with people who have time to answer questions, not just fix broken hardware? Answer… students.

Here’s a great example. THE Journal’s recent article, When Students Run the Help Desk, profiles Burlington High School in Massachusetts where a new 1:1 iPad initiative includes students running a help desk. Why? Because as the principal says, it’s a “no-brainer.”

Also from THE Journal a few issues back was They’re Taking Requests: Student Techs Command the Help Desk — THE Journal which profiled several other student-led tech support projects including several GenYES schools in Paradise Valley, Arizona.

Everyone benefits with this solution – more support for teachers and students using technology, students learn great life skills like listening to others and troubleshooting, and the school puts forward a model that everyone is part of the problem-solving community. It’s better than win-win, it’s win-win-win-win.

In other words, pure genius!


Back to School 2011 – Empowering students starts today

Here are a number of “back to school” posts collected in one place!

What tech vision will you share?
What message does your Acceptable Use Policy send when it goes home with students for them and their parents to sign? Try reading it with fresh eyes and change overly complex, negative language to language that celebrates the potential of technology – and students.

Games for collaboration and teamwork
Want to create a more collaborative, constructivist classroom? Instead of traditional icebreakers, try these games that encourage collaboration and teamwork.

What do students want from teachers?
Listen to what students say they really want from teachers. And no, it’s not “more recess.”

Student technology leadership teams for laptop schools
Are you getting more devices this year? Laptops, iPads, iTouches, netbooks or going 1:1? Do you have enough tech support? Enough support for teachers using new technology? Enough support for students? No? Well then learn how students can be a great resource in laptop schools to ease the burden on overworked teachers and IT staff – and mentor other students. Genius bar, anyone?

Student-led conferences
Traditional parent-teacher conferences leave the most important person in the learning equation out in the cold. Find out how schools around the world are using student-led conferences to put the learner back in the loop.

Ten commandments of tech support
Ten ideas for making technology support more learner-centered and less network-centered.

Start the year off with hands on
Think you need to wait for kids to settle down and learn the basics before you let them do projects and hands-on work? Not according to this expert teacher.

Last but by far not least, if you are looking for some inspiration to post on your wall, here’s 8 Big Ideas of the Constructionist Learning Lab. These eight ideas give actionable advice to create opportunities for deep learning for all.

Happy back to school!


Students raising funds and technology awareness in Maine

(via Media Release) – More than 1,000 students and teachers will fight hunger this Thursday by correctly answering vocabulary, math and other curriculum area questions on their state-issued laptops. This is part of the largest Maine Learning Technology Initiative (MLTI)  annual student conference ever, held at the University of Maine, Orono.

The conference is partnering with the United Nations’ World Food Programme to host the students and teachers on a specially-developed version of, a web site where users make donations of rice to feed hungry people by answering core curriculum questions around vocabulary, mathematics, geography, science and more.

Maine’s laptop program is the first to work with to create a localized effort to raise food for the hungry. A customized version of the site will be available to challenge Maine students, along with invitees from around the world, to raise as much food as they can.

The project showcases how technology can help make learning relevant and engaging for students by allowing them to address a real world problem via a social network while learning.

There is also a local hunger connection – students have been encouraged to bring canned foods to donate to the Good Shepherd Food Bank, Maine’s largest food bank.

The project also presented a technological challenge for network technicians at the University of Maine System, who are busy finalizing a wireless network that will host more than 1,000 wireless laptops simultaneously in the 1400 seat Hutchins Concert Hall in the Collins Center for the Arts.

A representative of from the World Food Programme will address students via video conference to kick off the event.

There will also be student-led workshops all day, such as:

  • “I came, I saw, iPod!” (Mary C. McCarthy & Students from Middle School of the Kennebunks)
  • News is Now, News is Complex, News is Us, News is Important! (Nicole Poulin & Students from Messalonskee Middle School)
  • Get Your Geek On! Starting a High School Tech Team (Shana Goodall & Students from Orono High School)

This sounds like a great idea to raise funds and awareness of what students are doing with technology! You can participate too – pass it on!


Student Support of Laptop Programs


I’m happy to announce a new resource for laptop schools – or schools planning a laptop implementation. Student Support of Laptop Programs (PDF) covers all aspects of creating a highly effective student support team for your laptop program. Research, planning tips, case studies, and practical suggestions are packed into 16 pages.

  • Student tech support teams in a laptop school
  • Student support for teachers and students using laptops in classrooms
  • How (and why) to include students on planning committees
  • Students as trainers and mentors for new users
  • How students can make a laptop rollout go smoother
  • How to train and sustain a student technology team in support of laptops

This is a great resource to share with your laptop implementation team. I hope you enjoy it and share it widely!

A special thank you to the fabulous teachers who shared stories about their wonderful students:

  • Ann Powers at Tongue River Middle School – Ranchester, WY
  • Debbie Kosvedy at Shadow Mountain HS – Paradise Valley, AZ
  • Steve Spaeth at Mt. Ararat Middle School – Topsham, ME
  • Don Kinslow at Parkview Elementary – Chico, CA
  • Cherilyn Ziemer at Northland Christian School – Houston, TX


Magazines for the (technology) classroom bookshelf

source: stock.xchngSome of the best resources for a technology-using classroom are not found online! Technology projects need support and ideas from outside sources, and books and magazines can be terrific for that. Plus they come in a convenient format that is easy to carry, share, and sits neatly on the desk while doing the real work on the computer.

Magazines can inspire, inform, and offer fresh ideas. And they shouldn’t just be stuck in the back bookshelf, these resources can be used in whole class lessons, be resources for projects, and be part of an always up to date classroom library.

Many Borders and Barnes & Nobles have expanded their magazine sections to include magazines you may never have seen before. Browse these racks with an eye open for articles and visuals that can teach about design, media literacy, art and photography, do it yourself projects, and provide inspiration.

If you find a magazine you really like – consider getting a subscription. And yes, I know, it’s not free, but subscriptions are always a good thing to ask parents to purchase! Look for deals, these magazines are often discounted heavily with special offers for additional books or CDs. And don’t worry about them disappearing, because they will; just think of it as making room for new stuff. So if you find an article that is the basis for a really good project or lesson, be sure to make a high quality copy of it and tuck it away somewhere!

Magazines and their accompanying online resources are a great way to get inexpensive, up-to-date ideas and resources into the classroom. In this case, more is better because you never know where inspiration will come from and which student will resonate with an idea. Of course, with any materials not specifically written for the classroom, it’s up to you to be the ultimate judge about appropriateness!

Here’s a couple of magazines to consider:

Craft and Make – These two magazines are new, but have become instant classics. They celebrate the inventor in all of us, and show you how to do it with a decided techno beat. Every issue is packed with do-able, make-able projects that can be adapted for classroom use. The photos show how real people have constructed these projects, which makes them very real and accessible. The websites are also treasure troves of videos, podcasts, blogs and forums.

Before & After: How to Design Cool Stuff – this is a beautifully designed magazine about design. Some of your secondary students may be enthralled by the notion that every object that humans make is speaking a secret language that can be better understood. Color, placement, symmetry, use of fonts and typeface, and more are all dissected in clear language and beautiful pictures. The magazine is available in print, or even less for individual articles or in PDF form. There is also a blog that dissects design found in everyday objects. This latest post analyzes the new Pepsi logo design from a historical perspective, as a consumer brand, and as design. It’s fascinating!

Photography, Video, Audio magazines – There are quite a few magazines on these subjects, however, you have to be careful that the magazine is not all product reviews of stuff you frustratingly can’t afford – you may want to just pick up an issue on the newsstand now and then when you see a great article. Books are the better bargain here, and I promise to do a book roundup soon.

Computer specific magazines – if you have Macs and/or PCs, why not get magazines that cater to those platforms? They are fun reads, full of reviews, tips and tricks of the hardware that some kids will just soak up like sponges.

I recommend buying a month or two on the newsstand first. Some of these magazines (not the ones below) are simply advertisements disguised as magazines and not worth the money. Here are some of the tried and true:

Mac Life or MacWorld – C’mon, for less than $20 a year you get either of these great magazines with reviews, news, projects and access to a website full of videos and blogs. They are similar, but Mac Life has a bit of “attitude” while MacWorld is a bit more sober — so try them both and pick which works best for you and your students.

ICreate – For Macs, based in the UK. This one is a litter harder to find, but worth it. Gorgeous, with amazing ideas for creative projects.

PC World and PC Magazine – Again, two main choices with slightly different viewpoints.

Tech support and troubleshooting – if you have students helping with tech support, the magazines above are a great addition to the technical library. There is one online magazine that might be a real hit with older tech-savvy students – TechRepublic. Their emailed newsletters are full of tips and resources for network administrators and tech support professionals. This is going to be over the head of most students, but for some of those who are heading for technical professions, it’s a snapshot into the world of an IT career.

Last but not least – Wired magazine. This one is not project oriented, but explores the high tech frontier of all fields from around the world. The articles are well written and dense, but if we want students to learn how to be citizens of the 21st century, we should be sure that they at least get a glimpse of it.

Wired does have a “how to wiki” – and this could be a great source of project ideas. Featured today is an article on recycling e-waste. What a great project for a student or group of students! Does your school recycle computers, printers, and batteries? Could students form a committee to investigate this and propose a plan? All the facts are here to support this cause.


11-year old network administrator

Via Steve Hargadon:

When Victory Baptist School, a small private school in Millbrook, Ala., was struggling to keep its computer network together last year, an 11-year-old student named Jon Penn stepped in as network manager.

Eleven? Yes, eleven.

Jon not only runs the network, he fixed the virus and filtering problems, upgraded the computers to run faster and better, and helped write the school’s web policy.

The lesson here is not that Jon is a one-of-a-kind special kid. Of course he is. But he’s not THAT uncommon. The uncommon thing is that someone let him have this opportunity. Many, many schools have students with this potential. Given the opportunity, students can provide reliable, thoughtful help with school technology.

Suffering with a school network that lacks resources? The answer may literally be right under your nose.


Preteen steps in to install security gateway, grudgingly agrees to MySpace blocking.

Jon Penn

When Victory Baptist School, a small private school in Sherwood, Ark., was struggling to keep its computer network together last year, an 11-year-old student named Jon Penn stepped in as network manager.

Slideshow: He’s 11…and it’s his network!

Penn did it to help his mother, Paula, the school librarian who had computer support added to her workload a week before the school year started when the existing IT systems overseer suddenly departed. For Jon — who says his favorite reading material is computer trade magazines — it’s been the experience of a lifetime, even getting to select and install a gateway security appliance largely by himself.

“This is kind of a small school, and I’m known as the computer whiz,” the sixth grader says.  “We spent $2,158,” says young Penn, describing how he picked out the McAfee Secure Internet Gateway Appliance after evaluating it in a 30-day trial. He also looked at the Barracuda box — a tad more costly — and tried the Untangle open source product, which he said didn’t meet the school’s needs as well.

His school needed a gateway to protect against attacks, filter viruses and spam, and block inappropriate sites. Keeping costs down is important since the school is operating on a shoestring budget to keep its 60 aging computers, a donation from years ago, working for the roughly 200 students permitted to use them, along with the teachers.

The first thing Jon found as he leapt into the role of network manager was that he had to map out the network to find out what was on it. He bought some tools for this at CompUSA and realized there was an ungodly amount of computer viruses and spam, so he pressed the school to invest in filtering and antivirus protection.

“These computers are so old they don’t support all antivirus programs,” Penn says. The school took advantage of a Microsoft effort called Fresh Start that offers free software upgrades for schools with donated computers, switching from Windows 98 to Windows 2000.

One reason to do this was the hope of one day centrally managing the school’s computers so Jon doesn’t have to change them individually. To install Windows 2000, he removed obsolete network interface cards, Ethernet, video, print and sound drivers with the intent of having a better computer base by next fall.

While Jon says he spent some time evaluating antivirus products — he admires Kaspersky Lab’s software especially because it’s “lightweight running.” In the end the decision was made to get a gateway appliance to filter and block viruses and spam.

For his technical recommendations, Jon has had to present his suggestions to the school’s management for approval (“Because he’s not an adult, I’ve been hovering around,” his mother says.)

Along with school staff, the younger Penn has gotten involved in contributing to school policy on Web access. While blocking access to social networking sites such as MySpace wasn’t popular with many fellow students, he had to agree the school really didn’t need it.

Penn is now the technical support much of the time on everything from printer jams to setting up an external drive to backing up the school’s most important server. He was allowed to give a few lessons to his class about basic computers, having his classmates pull out a few components from old machines.

His father, Dave, a civil engineer, says: “I knew when Jon was three and could boot up my laptop, sign in and open Paint, that he had a knack for computers. But I never dreamed he’d be a network administrator at the age of 11.”

Penn’s parents both believe that technical people must have “integrity and character,” and should use their skills for beneficial, not malicious purposes.

Her son is precocious when it comes to computers but Paula says in the final analysis she hopes the experience with the school’s network helps him realize, “It’s his job to fight the bad guys.”

As for Jon, he says he loves testing virtualization software like VMware and wants to obtain “A+ certification” by passing the computer-technician exam by that name developed by trade group CompTIA. “Hopefully, I can do that this summer,” he says.