In most schools, laptop initiatives start with a vision of improving student achievement, supporting 21st century education, and providing new opportunities for student-centered learning. Stakeholder meetings are held with a wide array of community leaders, business people, educators, parents, and others to gain community buy-in. However in many cases, the largest stakeholder group in a district is left out — students.
In most schools, students are over 92% of the people in the system, and they are certainly the ones most affected by any change. Yet we often overlook them when we plan and implement visionary efforts like going 1:1. This does not have to be — students, if allowed to participate, can be powerful allies and evangelists for your laptop revolution.
Any school-related change, be it technological or otherwise, needs people to feel that they have a sense of control and choice in the efforts. However, students are rarely asked to participate in these changes, and worse, are often seen simply as the objects of change. Including students in the rollout of your laptop program will provide them with a sense of mission and purpose. By allowing them to participate and voice their opinions about changes taking place in their school, their passion and attitude toward the laptops will have a profound effect on their peers, parents, and community at large. Reinforcing the belief that their voice and their actions are important, necessary, and valued creates students who will become empowered, global citizens of the 21st century. Yet this can’t happen by itself. As anyone who works with youth knows, the process of learning to become a valuable team member and responsible citizen takes time. It also requires caring adults who supervise, teach, and mentor youth.
In our most recent Generation YES whitepaper, I discuss how students can be partners, allies, and powerful evangelists in any laptop initiative, and outline ways this can be achieved. I’ve collected many case studies from real schools where this is happening, from elementary, middle, and high schools. I invite you to download this PDF and share this free resource with your laptop team. Student Support of Laptop Programs (PDF)
Other free resources from Generation YES relating to youth empowerment via modern technologies can be found on our website.
For this post, I’ll share a selection of these practical tips on including students in every aspect of your laptop initiative.
There are two basic ways students can participate and contribute to the planning and implementation of a laptop program:
- Committees: Students can participate in technology planning committees, school site councils, technology security committees, or peer review committees. Adults often claim that including students in planning is risky, citing privacy concerns, lack of maturity, or difficult logistics. However, adults often forget that accommodations are made for them when they are included in such planning committees. Adults may or may not know anything about technology, they also have schedules to work around, and may not have been in an actual classroom for years if not decades.
Having students participate in committee work is not only a wonderful learning opportunity for a student but creates a direct path for student feedback and point of view that is extremely beneficial to teachers and other adults. Adult guidance is key to making this student participation successful, since otherwise students may find the meetings long and the process tedious. A great way to prepare students for collaboration with adults is through role-play. Meet with students regularly prior to and after meetings to discuss progress and get their feedback.
- Day-to-Day activities related to laptop support: Include students in various roles supporting laptop use. This can include basic technology support, teacher support, building classroom resources for teachers, or helping new users learn about their laptops. Student help can make the logistics of implementing your program run more smoothly and may also ease new users’ anxieties. Assemble a student tech team before you begin your program in order to train them on the hardware and software, as well as to familiarize them with new policies. Once the laptop initiative becomes a reality, you will have an enthusiastic, trustworthy student team raring to go.
Tips for students participating in day-to-day laptop support
- Start with a smaller group and give them limited, well-defined tasks. Take the time to get to know the students and establish two-way trust.
- Reward their hard work with recognition, of course, but also more responsibility and trust. Find ways to challenge students intellectually and creatively.
- Anticipate strong student opinions. Encourage students to share their ideas. Students who are ardent users of technology will often have very strong opinions about certain hardware, software, or operating systems. Include these students in discussions and decision-making when possible. While their strong opinions may be annoying at first, once won over, they can truly be your strongest allies!
- Create a student-centered team. As students show capability, allow them to take on leadership tasks including mentoring new students and planning. This will discourage hacking by creating ownership and understanding of rules and policies.
For more tips, ideas, and case studies of real schools where students support laptops, see the full Generation YES whitepaper, Student Support of Laptop Programs.
By Sylvia Martinez
President, Generation YES
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