This post first appeared on Jen’s blog.

The next talk I’m attending is the “DIY Genius Bar: Embracing Student Leadership” by Sara ChaiAlicia Johal, and Marielle Venturino. I have seen some versions of student help desks in action and am always excited about the potential of getting more students involved in educational technology and investing in their school’s resources.

The first thing that Sara, Alicia, and Marielle do is demonstrate their DIY Genius Bar Website. They plan to do their whole presentation from the website itself. Cool! So what is the Genius Bar? They rolled out iPads to students and staff with very little training and support. The biggest problems that they were having were “tier 1″ support: passwords, how to open a document, etc.

Apple Genius Bar, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Apple Genius Bar, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Sara states that she knew she had a lot of students and not a lot of support staff. So she began to look towards the students for help. They modeled their Genius Bar after the Apple model. The students work at the “Genius Bar” during lunchtime, usually about a shift a week. There is a dedicated time in the school day as well as a dedicated location. They are also assigned a staff member to connect with to help one on one if they need it.

In their role as “geniuses,” students help teachers to get acquainted and familiar with their new devices and equipment. The students serve as an extra resource to the faculty. They provided the students handbooks and even “branded” them with t-shirts. I love the idea of letting them team up in a community! They also brought with them some students to talk about hwy the Genius Bar is so important to their school! I love hearing about the value from students themselves.

Sergio shared that he felt that the Genius Bar was helpful for teachers and students to use the iPad. He generally gets requests for password resets (been there!). Sergio also uses screen casting apps (like Educreations) to make videos that demonstrate how to do various tasks on their iPads. Dang it, I think he’s stealing my Flipped PD idea! Another student shared the fact that he is consistently asked for help with resetting passwords or how to do various tasks on the iPad. In addition to hands on support, sometimes they make videos to help people understand how to use their passwords.

The ladies tell us that this is still a work in process for them, they have learned from some mistakes and moving forward. Next year, they anticipate it will be an optional advisory for students. Space and funding are the primary concerns for moving forward with this project.

This does change the relationship between student and teacher – especially if and when students are better at technology than you are! They are building this project in conjunction with an iPad program building in the classroom. They also hope that this project will help students to get internships and jobs as they have already demonstrated hands-on leadership in their school.

They also highlighted the fact that what they did at their school would not necessarily work on all campuses. You must make it fit in your environment. To get stated, they held info sessions and reached out to students they felt were responsible and would be able to reach out to the community. What was awesome is that they chose students who may not necessarily have had “great grades” (they required a 2.5+ GPA) and even had a few that did not have solid english skills. However, they knew that this experience would help them to build their social and communications kills (including language).

After they selected the students, they worked to get the students into their advisories. Students would then work with teachers in a 1:1 environment to provide them the highest level of support. They began with about 50 students per campus. The initial start was a bit rocky as not all of the students had the proper tools and they struggled in finding a place and time to meet. However, as they got into a rhythm, the program began to pick up momentum and they have more students and more individuals seeking help. The students are in charge of managing their own teams (for creating “tip sheets” and videos). So the students themselves have to take ownership and responsibility of their position. Here’s a great video that the students drafted to advertise a room change:

And another great one that a student made to emphasize proper care for the iPad:

Sara finishes up by talking about how much she learned from her students in this project and experience. The students, staff, and teachers use them as a consistent resource to help them with their iPads.

Students learn leadership and customer service skills in this project. They build confidence and invest in their school community. They teach one another and their teachers! They feel empowered and invested in their own community and their educational environment.