I’ve been working with several states and districts to help them develop student help desk programs. No, I still can’t fix your computer; although, I can probably do more than before. I’m working with them from the curriculum and instruction perspective in order to help high school students become prepared to take industry-level certifications. The following is cross-posted with Advanced Learning Partnerships, a consulting group from North Carolina that I work with.
“The solution to your workforce problem is in your classrooms!” Or so says Caroline Sullivan. And why should you believe Caroline? As the Executive Director for the North Carolina Business Committee for Education (NCBCE) in the Office of the Governor for that state, workforce issues are at the forefront of her mind, and her daily work. Plus she knows about schools. She’s led numerous successful initiatives within her state that connect what teachers and students are doing in classrooms to address the needs in business and industry. One of the most recent of these, providing support for schools and districts to develop their own Student Help Desks, addresses an area of high need in schools and beyond.
A Growing Need for Help Desk Support
In 2020, as schools grappled with addressing the needs of students through remote learning, many strove to provide as many students as possible with their own computing device. This immediate need for devices was matched with funding—lots of funding! Thousands upon thousands of devices began showing up in districts and found their way into students’ hands to keep the learning going. The catch? Much of the funding could be used to purchase equipment, but unfortunately, not to hire personnel. School districts that were seeing a few thousand to 50,000 or more new devices now had to find a way to support them and keep them running, because technology is great…when? When it works!
Most school districts are already strapped for sufficient tech support. Schools have long been a setting where each tech staff member routinely supports 1,000 to 3,000 devices or more, as compared to a range of 50 to 100 in many corporate settings. As districts across the nation brought in from a few hundred to tens of thousands of new devices in the span of a few weeks or months, the need for additional tech staff multiplied exponentially. Even by the conservative estimate of 1,000 devices per support position, district tech staffing positions should have expanded anywhere from a handful to dozens of employees. The reality was that few new staff were hired.
Seeing the rapidly growing need for tech support and realizing funds were coming into the state, Caroline Sullivan led NCBCE’s efforts for a more homespun strategy that built capacity within local schools and districts—Student Help Desk programs. Working with Advanced Learning Partnerships and supported by a network of industry leaders, consultants at ALP developed models and created resources that could be used by teachers throughout North Carolina, teachers like Tiffany Taylor from Halifax County.
Halifax County recruited Tiffany for the new adventure of creating a Student Help Desk and preparing students with both the technical as well as inter- and intrapersonal skills required to provide customer service on the devices they and their fellow students now had in hand. They also were being prepared to service the devices teachers, administrators, and other staff relied on every day. Up for the challenge, Tiffany just needed a little help.
That help came in the form of coaching and curriculum design support from Advanced Learning Partnerships. Halifax County chose a class-based model to prepare their students to run the Help Desk. As a consultant with ALP, I worked with Tiffany to develop a simulated workplace environment in her new classroom that incorporated a problem-based approach to help students develop new skills. The curriculum was sequenced to prepare students to not only operate the Help Desk but to earn valuable industry-standard certifications, as well. Students who completed the first course would be prepared to take the certification exam for CompTIA’s IT Fundamentals+ while completing the full three-course sequence would prepare them for CompTIA’s A+ certification, widely recognized as the gateway to many IT careers.
Students developed teamwork and communication skills by creating work teams with their own norms and roles. They better understood standard Help Desk processes aligned to a service delivery model by using and updating their own Help Desk knowledge base. They developed technology skills not only with their teacher, Tiffany, but also with collaboration from IT support staff who were able to share common problems of practice from their own help desk experiences. Halifax outsourced some of its tech support to YCM Solutions, a local IT company. YCM staff created videos and, when possible, conducted hands-on labs with students focused on skills such as setting up and configuring a desktop computer, creating a wired or wireless network, and troubleshooting common issues.
Help Desk Options
ALP is replicating the Help Desk model and customizing it in additional school districts and states across the country. The need for IT support for schools can be found in districts large and small and ALP understands this need. The models piloted in North Carolina include the course-based setting as well as options for creating an afterschool club or incorporating Help Desk duties into a paid or unpaid internship. Schools can determine which of these three options best fit depending on their current course offerings as well as the skill levels of available student participants.
Afterschool programs provide the fewest number of contact hours but can be a great way to build student interest and provide opportunities for students to develop some basic skills if they don’t have the opportunity to take a structured class. Internships rely on students with more deeply developed technical skills but then allow students to apply those in real settings while they learn about the procedures and tools used to support a Help Desk service delivery model. Many states have Career and Technical Education programs that provide guidance on student intern programs that can easily support a Student Help Desk.
Are you interested in a Student Help Desk?
One of the most enticing aspects of a student Help Desk is its flexibility. Yes, students can be provided the opportunity to earn course credit along with industry certifications, but different programs vary their focus areas to address a variety of certifications and courses, including cybersecurity, networking, and many popular hardware and software certifications. Some Help Desk programs can include aspects of training or professional development where students actually help teachers and other staff understand how to use resources provided by the district.
Of course, schools and districts are also seeing the benefit of increasing the number of qualified personnel who can provide tech support. Sometimes these students move from interns to paid support staff, whether within their own school districts or in local area businesses that need them, like hospitals, libraries, or anywhere computers can be found.
Are you interested in establishing a Student Help Desk program in your state, district, or school? Reach out to the experienced consultants of Advanced Learning Partnerships to schedule a discovery session today. Those computers aren’t going to fix themselves! Reach out and let ALP get you started on a program that rewards both you and your students.