Reprinted from the September Issue of THE Journal
Programs such as Generation YES and Mouse Squad put students at the helm of IT support and classroom technology integration.
In these belt-tightening times, some might say that Varun Kumar, the technology coordinator at William Cullen Bryant High School in Queens, NY, has it good. With a team of 12 capable technicians on standby, he's able to quickly and efficiently handle almost any request for tech support that comes his way. Networking new laptops? Piece of cake. Troubleshooting a temperamental printer? He's got someone for that. A frustrated teacher needs a refresher on Smart Boards? Done. Any one of his techs can be dispatched to sit down with the teacher for as long as it takes for the teacher to get it.
That is, if the teacher gets it before the end of the tech's class period.
The rub is that Kumar's workforce consists of Bryant High students, members of the Mouse Squad, a student-based IT support program. The program is the ultimate everybody-wins solution: Schools have at their disposal a team of eager troubleshooters who work for cheap (course credit, for the most part), and students acquire a foundation of technology skills that has academic and real-world benefits. "When they don't know how to fix an issue, they refer to online resources," Kumar says. "This allows them to practice their research skills and enhance their IT knowledge."
The intention is that the knowledge the students acquire will have far-reaching effects. "Our hope is we're empowering students with the skills that will help them be successful as they continue their academic careers and move into their future professional careers," says Susan Schwartz, director of communications for Mouse, the New York City-based nonprofit organization that developed the Mouse Squad program to aid schools that lacked the funding necessary to support and maintain technology in their classrooms. Since its inception in 2000, the program has spawned affiliates nationwide.
There are 60 Mouse Squad schools in the five boroughs of New York City, and 190 regional Mouse Squad programs scattered throughout schools in Chicago, Texas, California, and Connecticut. Mouse Squad staff sit down with each school's program coordinator to analyze the best way of organizing the program to suit the specific needs of the school and its students. As a result, implementations differ. Bryant High School, for example, offers the program as an elective course. Meanwhile, at Bea Fuller Rodgers School, a New York City middle school, the team of Mouse Squad techs meets with its adviser after school from Monday through Thursday.
Regardless of the nature of the implementation, every participating Mouse Squad school has access to a collaborative hub of support on the program's Web site, including a case-tracking tool that allows
users to receive, assign, and monitor tech support tickets. Also on the site is a 10-module course that drills students in the skills they need to manage a help desk and carry out troubleshooting requests. Completion of the course earns the student formal Mouse Squad certification. Additional training is done in two-day workshops that bring Mouse Squads together from throughout the local area, supplementing hands-on technical learning with attention given to leadership and team-building skills.