Student Led Help Desk: Non-negotiable in a Technology Enriched Environment

I had the honor of spending last Thursday and Friday in Burlington, MA learning from the amazing tech team at Burlington Public Schools. I was accompanied by the Randi Harris, Campus Technologist, and Sabrina Hyden, Librarian, of one of our high schools. The purpose of the trip was to gain first hand knowledge of how a successful student help desk can be implemented in a school setting.

In my district, Leander ISD, we are in the beginning stages of deploying 1:1 in our middle and high schools and a 3:1 in our elementary schools. There are 5 high (with another opening in a year), 8 middle, and 24 elementary schools (with another opening next school year). We have a team of 8 instructional technologists and while the environment of our schools are about to drastically change, the budget constraints are not permitting us to hire any more support staff. So you can imagine the dilemma that we are facing. 

Jenn Scheffer, the Technology Integration Specialist/Mobile Learning Coach for Burlington High School (BHS), has gained global recognition regarding her student help desk program, also referred to as the student led genius bar. We were honored that Jenn and the Burlington Tech Team allowed us to come  spend some time with them.

Jenn Scheffer and her 2014-2015 Student Geniuses
Our trip was packed with information. In fact, we have 13 pages of notes from our two days there. While they have a student help desk program on a volunteer basis at the elementary and middle school level, this blog is going to highlight what I learned from Jenn, her high school students, and the Burlington tech team. 

Structure of the program
The students are enrolled in a Technology Innovation and Integration course where they spend one 45-minute period a day troubleshooting, fixing issues, writing blog posts, and creating resources to share. 

Jenn has a strong belief in allowing the students to bring their passion into the program, so 20% of the time is dedicated to genius hour. This allows the students to work on a project they are passionate about. 

The students are graded on their blog posts and tangible products (screencasts, videos, talk show, digital prints, etc). 

Student Selection
Any sophomore, junior or senior can apply to take the course. After the application has been reviewed the students are contacted for an interview. Jenn is looking for students from a wide range of strengths; fixers, problem solvers, speakers, creators, innovators, curators, writers, designers, etc. The students must be self motivated and have a willingness to learn. When students come to ask her how to do something she simply responds, "I don't know, go figure it out, and when you do come back, teach me."  

The Help Desk is located in a room off of the library. There is a main desk to welcome people as they arrive, an area with comfortable chairs for visitors to wait, an area for team collaboration, and a workstation with Mac desktops.

Help Desk Marketing
The students first project for the year is to create promotional material to market themselves to the staff and students. The students are put into teams and allowed to choose the material they would like to create. Some options are business cards, commercial, promotional video, digital print ad, or touchcast. There is also a student who is put in charge of the Help Desk's Twitter account. Everything is laid out in the Help Desk Promotion Campaign guidelines

Customer Service
The program demands a high level of customer service. One of the first assignments is for the students to do a critical analysis of a customer service experience. She believes that students can't give good customer service until they experience what that means first hand. Jenn has also created W.I.R.E.D - 5 Steps to Great Customer Service that the students must abide by.

Student Online Presence
Each student must have a blog, through Blogger, and YouTube channel. The students are responsible for authoring a weekly blog post to demonstrate their learning and share resources created. The students blogs are all linked from the main Burlington High School Help Desk site

Jenn is a strong component of students building a positive digital footprint. All of her students must create and maintain a professional online presence via LinkedIn, About Me, and Re.Vu. She coaches the students and must approve everything they submit.

She wants her students to be recognized for their hard work and build a social presence they will be proud to share with future employers and colleges.

Student Geniuses
Speaking to the students was one of the best parts of the trip. I was amazed by the maturity of the students and the products they were creating. These are 10th-12th graders who travel around presenting at conferences, blogging for CEOs, giving interviews with media companies, and so much more. The course is designed to truly create student leaders, ones who have the passion to make a difference in the world. 

While all the students we spoke to were all amazing, I want to highlight a couple students that I found extraordinary. 

Siddhartha Srivastava
Sid, a junior, is one of those people who truly has a passion for helping people. I was blown away from my conversation with him. He took his passion for computer languages and started an after-school club, where he teaches 18-20 students how to code. 

He has also recently developed a strong passion for educating people on the dangers of cyberbullying. This passion came to him from seeing how people criticize others online instead of using it to communicate. He would to start a club and inspire other schools to follow suite. He has his club proposal and is awaiting a club sponsor. 

Check out Sid's blog and YouTube channel.

Cat Hoyt
Cat, a senior, is a very well spoken young lady. She speaks in front of the BHS staff and students, presents at conferences, and has her own TED talk. Here are a couple things she has produced. 

Burlington Help Desk Promotional Video

No Excuses: A Distracted Driving PSA Video
(check out blog post about the project)

Check out Cat's blog and YouTube channel.

Insight from the Director
Dennis Villano, Director of Technology Integration, gave us some insight on his take of the program and his vision for the future. He believes the reason the district is so successful is because of the student online presence via blogs and YouTube. A district can send out newsletters to highlight student work, but it doesn't have the same impact as a student showcasing their work. For this reason, Burlington Public Schools encourages the students to blog, upload videos, and share their work for the world to see. They want the students telling the district's story, not the district telling stories about the students. 

In the future, he envisions one help desk for the entire district. A place where all students contribute to that one site. He feels there are too many blogs out there and it is hard for people to find the resources they need. Next year, they are looking to create a Help Desk Facebook page to reach more parents.  

He would also like to see the students take a digital literacy online course prior to getting the device. The course would required the students to watch videos and answer questions. 

Huge Thank You!
I want to thank Jenn Scheffer, Dennis Villano, and the students in the Help Desk for opening up your doors and educating us on what needs to be done to develop a successful student led help desk program. 

Check out the Burlington High School Help Desk website for more information on this amazing program. 

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