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North Street School's Techsperts

Cluster Goal 1

Students are capable, creative and ethical users of ICT who use critical thinking to participate in a range of authentic learning experiences.

Cluster Goal 2

Strong leadership of eLearning

The context

Today's school students are what Prensky (2001) calls "digital natives"- or, as Tapscott (1998) terms it, the "net generation". They have grown up in a digital-rich environment in which ICT-in the form of computers, the Internet, cellphones, personal game machines and mp3 players-are as normal and natural a part of their lives as books, pencils, bicycles, or soccer balls were to the previous generation. These early experiences with ICT are assumed to be formative, in that members of the digital generation think in ways that are new and qualitatively different from those of the previous generation. An important consequence of this, the argument goes, is that we need new methods of teaching and learning: the "old" ones just aren't going to work with the digital generation. To use Prensky's words, "today's students are no longer the people our educational system was designed to teach" (Prensky, 2001, p.1). Thus, if the educational system continues to not meet the needs of the digital generation, they may simply disengage from traditional school learning. This obviously has major implications, not only for students, but for schools, public education, and society in general. 

So we looked at a method to empower our students to share their knowledge and skills with others, and asked, why not teach students how to provide basic technology support and instruction in the use of software applications or web programmes for teachers and students in classroom, collaborative learning.

The focus 

We initiated "Techsperts" peer mentoring using the strengths of students, thereby providing nearly all students with roles of being ‘in charge' - great for student leadership and digital citizenship - being a member of a community with shared values.

Our "techsperts" are trained in the use of a program or application and then go back to class and teach their peers and their teacher. It has helped build student technology literacy and gives authentic problems for student support and engagement.

The rationale

  • To create a much larger support network for ICT for teachers by using the students - they are a huge percentage of the school population after all, 92% of our schools population are students!
  • Technology Ecology - waste nothing (talent, energy, passion) - and our students have this in spades.
  • It helps us raise the bar, by not relying on the teacher being fluent in the use of a program before introducing it to her class the students are exposed to a greater range of options.
  • We also liked the idea of "grow your own" as there can be too much use of digital teachers eg. youtube, howto etc. There is authentic learning in students teaching students and teachers and a realization that we have to give students responsibility and leadership for them to learn responsibility and leadership.

What did we do? 

  • Students (two from each class) are trained up in the use of a program or application and given time and mentoring to become an "expert" in the use of it.
  • The students then go back to class and introduce that skill to their peers and teacher.
  • All students are given the time and support in class to pass on their knowledge.

What happened? 

The programme is successful with the knowledge and skills the Techsperts gained having been passed on and implemented in their classes. The real benefits though were not about the transference of knowledge but around the understandings about how to teach and the role of a leader. For example the Techsperts learned that it often required a lot of patience to teach others - especially the teacher, particularly those that had the greatest difficulty with computers. There were many things the students were so familiar with that they usually "took it for granted", but that teachers "didn't seem to get" easily.

What did we learn?  

  • Having students teach teachers and fellow students how to use ICT is one of this undertaking's least important features. Rather, the most valuable thing about the Techsperts programme was the opportunities it provided for students to have learning experiences centred on ICT that they would never otherwise have had in their normal school lives. For example: using new multi-media technologies to process and package information to answer authentic real world questions, and convey those answers to real people who need them, or taking multifarious real-world problems and working as part of a team to create and apply workable solutions to address these problems. One such problem that the students had to solve was the question of how to engage "reluctant" teachers to want to successfully learn and use new ICT skills. 
  • By being Techsperts these students learned a great deal about teaching, learning, and problem solving. They learned a lot about different teaching methods; they learned a lot about teachers as people (and how best to teach them); and they learned a lot about their own learning.
  • The real reason for doing any learning in schools is to allow students to know more about themselves as learners, as every time they learn more about the world around them they learn something more about themselves and about the way they learn, (if we give them the tools and time to do this). Therefore the ultimate learning question is always what more do I know about HOW I learn after being part of this. For our techsperts the learning they have done about how they, and others, learn will be invaluable to them.
  • The Techsperts have a blog so they can share their learning with others online.

Principal of North Street School, Craig Sharp talks about the 'Techsperts' programme