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Deploying Students as Tech Mentors

Image by flickr user kandyjaxx. (CC-licensed)

One of the common concerns that faculty have when thinking about using digital technologies in the classroom is how much time they would need to spend in training an entire classroom of students on the same tool.  This task can be made more complicated given the varying student levels of technical expertise and comfort level with digital tools.  Should you walk students through every step of the process of setting up and formatting a blog, perhaps giving up valuable class time in doing so, and knowing that some students already have those skills and may be turned off by that handholding?  Or should you just give a broad overview to the class, hoping that students can figure things out on their own?  And how do you deal with the 40th question about how to change a blog theme, or format a wiki entry, or add an image to a visual presentation?

Rather than seeing varied student skill and comfort level as an obstacle, why not leverage that expertise in your classroom?  Identify those students who have previous experience with the technology in question (blogs, wikis, video editing, etc.), or those who are just generally comfortable with learning and using digital tools, and ask them to serve as “tech mentors” for the rest of the class.   If they agree, let the rest of the class know who their tech mentors are.  When students have a technical question, they go to the tech mentors first.  Only if they don’t know the answer would they need to come to you.

There are real advantages to this process for students and faculty alike:

  • Students may prefer to ask a fellow student a seemingly obvious question than the person responsible for evaluating them.
  • Student mentors might be available (read “awake”) at midnight, when the faculty member is not reachable.
  • Less time needs to be taken from class reviewing basic functions.
  • You can learn quite a bit from the mentors about how well the technology is working in the class.

Assuming you’ve been convinced, there are a few items to think about before implementing:

  • Be sure to clarify that the tech mentors are there to address questions of technology, not answer questions about how the project/assignment is done.  Those questions should still go to you.  [We’re not talking about using students as Teaching Assistants here.]
  • Have conversations with the tech mentors at various points throughout the course.  If they’re running into the same problem over and over, a class-wide review of that issue might be in order.
  • Consider how you might reward tech mentors for their time and effort on behalf of their fellow classmates (and I don’t mean money).  In my experience, you don’t necessarily have to offer anything formal.  Most students are flattered to be asked and eager to share their expertise.  Still, you might offer extra credit or work it into your syllabus as an additional grade.  It is also the kind of stand-out experience that I try to work into recommendations for students.

Anyone else deploy their students as fellow teachers in the educational technology process? [Image by flickr user kandyjaxx. (CC-licensed)]

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