As schools increasingly incorporate technology into their classrooms, student tech teams become invaluable resources in supporting both students and teachers. They can assist with device management, troubleshoot technical issues and ensure that technology is effectively integrated into the learning process. These tech teams offer a unique opportunity for students to take on leadership roles and develop valuable skills like problem-solving, teamwork, communication and critical thinking, in addition to increasing their technical know-how. By actively managing technology resources, students gain real-world experience that prepares them for future careers and responsibilities.
Recently, EdSurge spoke to Maria Montero, the assistant principal at Mater Academy Charter School, a Verizon Innovative Learning School in South Florida. For the past decade, Verizon has collaborated with Digital Promise to get internet-connected devices into the hands of students and to enhance how teachers use technology in the classroom. Montero offers insights into building an effective student tech team responsible for managing thousands of devices while supporting the faculty and student body with a variety of tech-related services.
EdSurge: What role does the student tech team play at your school?
Montero: Before Mater Academy became a Verizon Innovative Learning School, our IT person already had a lot on his plate, with 135 teachers and 300 different classrooms. When the middle school became a Verizon Innovative Learning School, that meant adding 1,200 extra iPads to the list of devices. And when the high school joined the one-to-one setup, there were an additional 1,800 devices. That meant 3,000 extra devices needed to be maintained! It just wasn’t practical for our one IT person to be solely responsible. This is what makes the student tech team so vital.
In the beginning, our Genius Squad — what the students named their tech team — included 13 students. We have now grown that team to nearly 100 students spread across eight class periods. Our Genius Squad is coached by two faculty: the Verizon Innovative Learning Schools coach and the Demonstration School liaison (roles that support the Verizon Innovative Learning Schools program implementation in the school). The tech team and coaches also collaborate with the IT person. But it is the Genius Squad that serves as the boots on the ground.
At the start of the year, the Genius Squad is all about device preparation and rollout. Because we have been a part of the Verizon Innovative Learning program for several years, all of our students are familiar with the one-to-one device setup. As the school year comes to a close, we collect devices from seniors and eighth graders. The Genius Squad assists with collecting devices, checking for all components, and cataloging them. All through the summer, at least 10 Genius Squad students work each day to clean all the collected devices and update software as needed. Since our sixth-grade students are new to Verizon Innovative Learning, we do a device rollout specifically for them. The Genius Squad gives mini-lessons about the devices and handles distribution.
Another role that proved very helpful during the pandemic was creating help videos. The Genius Squad created a bank of videos — over four dozen — covering topics such as how to care for a device, pay school fees, register for the SAT or check your schedule. They created a website to host all of the videos. The team constantly updates the content. The Genius Squad also made videos for faculty on topics such as training new teachers on our LMS and classroom devices. In addition, the students — since Genius Squad is actually an elective on their schedule — are responsible for hosting student or staff training at least once a month.
Beyond the scheduled training, Genius Squad students are zoned to be responsible for a set of classrooms on campus. Teachers can email with tech questions or requests. The students build relationships with their zoned classrooms and teachers. And the teachers appreciate having someone available to call on for all their tech issues.
How is the student tech team selected, and how do you encourage representation that reflects the student body?
At Mater Academy, the Genius Squad is an elective class. Any middle through high school student can sign up. We are mindful of our student tech team being a diverse group of students. The classes are definitely mixed with all ages, which fosters some important dynamics between younger and older students.
Our school is about 95 percent Hispanic and 5 percent Black. So our students are the ones we love to see engaged in technology; it will just open more doors for them in the future. One thing we monitor is the balance of gender. We were worried that we would not have enough female students sign up for the Genius Squad. But interestingly enough, some of our most vocal advocates who take leadership roles on the team are females.
What do students gain from participating in the student tech team?
The student tech team offers a fantastic balance of tech skills and soft skills. We take our team on a field trip to the Apple store each year. We ask the Apple staff questions such as What is the protocol for customer service when someone walks into the store? and What types of questions do you ask to pinpoint the technology problem? We have a help desk set up in our media center, and we want the Genius Squad to mimic that Apple customer experience. Students are learning skills in communication, patience and understanding. And they are growing in confidence with their technology skills and their ability to problem solve.
What advice would you give to other schools that are considering creating a student tech team?
First, find a fantastic leader. I’m currently working on a dissertation about student tech teams, and the research shows that the linchpin for student tech teams is the quality of the instructor. That coach needs to support the students through a student-led process. They can’t micromanage the team; they need to understand that it is a messy and rolling process. The role can be unpredictable, just like a day in the world of technology is unpredictable. This is not a job for everyone, but it is a job for someone special.