The proliferation of 1:1 device initiatives can be a double-edged sword; we know that dedicated device access enables improved educational outcomes for students, but the time commitment required to plan, implement, and manage a 1:1 program can cripple productivity and burn through a budget if left unchecked. As demands on tech teams grow, it often requires additional manpower and a reduced budget for other important school initiatives.

The Lafayette Catholic School System (LCSS) is relatively small, with 1,100 students in preK–12. The technology department manages four school buildings, two parish offices, and one central office, with a mix of MacBooks, iPads, and a small sampling of other desktop devices. In 2016, we planned to add grades preK–6 to put the entire school on the 1:1 device program.

Ahead of the rollout that would double the number of managed devices in the system, a strategy was needed to control ballooning costs. For help with endpoint management, we turned to the FileWave platform for help. We knew remote management of devices would be necessary to manage the more than 1,300 devices across five campuses, but this alone would not be enough.

Empowering Students: Initial Launch

In researching what would be the most cost-effective approach (making sure our team was still able to function at full capacity while ensuring all student device needs were met), we considered creating a new position, which would require a $40,000 annual salary, plus benefits. We estimated that we would also likely require additional funds for temporary staff to assist in unboxing, configuring, and deploying the new devices over the summer months. These scenarios weren’t ideal, as we’d have to make sacrifices in learning programs to allocate the funds.

Instead, we had to creatively rethink how to meet the increased demands on our technology department; we decided to take a risk by creating a student-led tech team. By utilizing the skills of the digital natives, our goal was to drastically reduce all Tier 1 support work by our core team. Preparing for the initial 1:1 iPad rollout over the summer of 2016 presented the perfect opportunity to develop our team.

I was able to secure funding for four paid summer internships for students who would take part in our initial tech support push. Over the summer months, we worked to familiarize the student team members with our work processes by utilizing our endpoint management software to configure all iPads and other devices in the schools. Our students also rostered our learning programs, created app packages using FileWave Filesets for specific teachers and classes, installed projectors, and led tech skills camps for incoming students and staff who were unfamiliar with Apple devices.

While granting students access to the district’s endpoint management requires a lot of trust, the potential benefits to the team’s reduced workload, efficiency, and student learning opportunities were astounding. We implemented measures to safeguard our system and users through multiple FileWave functions, such as role-based administration. We also knew FileWave allowed us to revert any mistakes or inappropriate actions made by students.

The process included a lot of trial and error—we had to learn to “embrace the redo.” For example, imaging devices took three attempts, but the students proved to us they were resilient and had the grit it would take to transform the way we staffed for technology support in LCSS. In the end, we weren’t frustrated—we were inspired!

Building Support Into the School Day

The next step was to create an IT “tech support class” at the high school level, similar to the Apple Genius Bar. We had one student available during each class period for Tier 1 device support. This move drastically reduced the number of students the adult support team was assisting on a daily basis.

Developing this solution did require new security measures as well as a pedagogical commitment: We implemented frequent and rapid admin password changes, as well as security audits, and we developed a tech team code of ethics. We also committed to using homeroom time to build skills with students enrolled in the IT tech class.

This step can be a powerful one in districts without the access to additional funding we were able to secure; structuring tech support as a classroom credit precludes the need to financially compensate students for their time. More importantly, incorporating support at the classroom level creates opportunities for skill-building and discovery for students and reduces the time committed to Tier 1 support by the administration.

As we have continued to develop and refine these processes, we have utilized required service hours to weed out potential bad actors. Students have to fulfill a set amount of unpaid service hours before they become eligible for the paid internships available.

We also found the use of checklists to be essential for communication. Tools such as Trello became invaluable for us to ensure tech team members were completing additional projects if Tier 1 support was not needed during their shift.

Looking forward to our continual refinement of this team, we are seeking ways to embrace student talents in tech support. We’ve expanded to six paid summer internships and have increased the variety and complexity of tasks they will be completing. Expanding permissions access for more experienced students means they can remedy issues commensurate with their skill level. This is a structure designed to ultimately benefit our students and prepare them for professional work in this challenging field.

Student Challenges

Implementing a student-led tech team is not without its roadblocks; an undertaking like this requires a lot of trust and acceptance of some risks from key stakeholders in your district. No solution is perfect, but we can revert any damage potentially done and revoke admin access privileges should a team member make a mistake or go rogue. Thankfully, we’ve found that the students on our team take great pride in this work and consistently perform at a high level.

Funding can be another stumbling block. Our utilization of paid internships has become key to completing large projects over summer months, such as imaging the entire district’s devices. Grants and funding can be hard to come by—if they are not available, seek alternative solutions, such as the IT tech support course.

Benefits to Team Members

The benefits of this program extend beyond the professional tech team to the students leading the charge. While I enjoy being able to focus on bigger-picture projects, it’s amazing to see our tech students learn and grow by providing Tier 1 support. They have the opportunity to explore their passions and interests, earn some money, and gain access to software and processes most people do not see until their first professional jobs.

Creating this team has opened many doors for our students. In the fall of 2018, three students accompanied me to FileWave’s annual Alliance Conference to give a presentation on our solution. While there, they interacted with IT system administrators, directors of technology, and the FileWave team members whose product helps make our team possible.

Recent graduates of our program have joined tech departments at their universities, secured prestigious full-ride scholarships, and pursued careers in the IT field. We’ve seen students turn around their academic performance through their work on our tech team, which is the type of transformation that makes our work worth it.

Still not convinced? Our tech department has come in under budget for the last three years while accomplishing expanded projects and tech pushes for students and faculty alike.

For LCSS, this is an arrangement that benefits students, faculty, and administration—something that is a rarity in educational structures today. Districts seeking innovative ways to reduce costs should explore ways to empower a student-led tech team.

Jeff Botteron is director of learning design and technology for Lafayette Catholic School System in Indiana.