Let Students Be Your Tech Support

Student technology assistant programs are among the few approaches to supporting the improvement of teaching and learning with information technology that are both cost-effective and educationally sound.

A few colleges and universities have begunusing their own students as one of their most valuable assets for providing more varied and complex technology-related support services for faculty and other students.

Such programs can enable you to use one of your institution’s most valuable and often-overlooked unique resources— your students—to deal with a support service crisis. In return, students gain important job skills by learning to interact with both faculty and other students in a professional manner; they also have the opportunity to hone their technology skills.

There are many reasons for using information technology to improve teaching and learning. However, most of those efforts increase overall costs and increase the demand for support services in the areas of tech support, library services, professional development, and first-year student orientation. But using students as technology assistants or consultants shows the most promise for holding down costs while providing support services.

Expectations for improving teaching and learning with technology continue to accelerate, and the demand for services is outstripping budgets. In addition, a shortage of qualified staff makes it difficult to fill existing support positions. Part of your solution can be a large-scale program for training and using students to provide technology support for faculty, students, and staff.

Hundreds of colleges and universities are already using students to "supervise" computer labs—that is, to make sure no one steals the computers while they do their own homework and to occasionally answer questions. But a few institutions have begun using their own students to provide more varied and complex technology-related support services for faculty and other students.

In the most successful programs, students learn how to be effective consultants, master many new technology skills, and have opportunities to train and supervise other students. In some cases, studentseven help introduce new instructional applications for technology to faculty members who are interested in expanding their teaching options.

In some programs, the structure enables a few professional staff members to supervise hundreds of student assistants because some of the students can provide much of the necessary leadership themselves. However, I have never heard of a staff position being replaced by the use of student consultants; instead, student helpers reduce the magnitude of the local workforce shortage.

Such programs exploit students in the most positive sense. Many participating students report that the jobs provide an excellent learning experience, good preparation for careers, more advanced academic work, and good opportunities to get to know faculty members more personally. The institutions gain good technical support at a cost lower than any other option.

About the Author

Steven Gilbert is President of the TLT Group and moderates the Internet listserv TLT-SWG.

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