By Wayne Dominick
Conventional wisdom holds that when faced with a computer problem, ask a teenager. But where does the teenager go with a problem? The administrators in Carroll County wanted that question answered before they handed out MacBooks to students last August.
“We knew no matter what platform we went with, we would have issues once everyone had their computers,” said Carroll County High School Principal John Leeper. He also knew he needed a system that would give almost instant response and be readily available.
The answer to the problem was to put students on the Help Desk. Under the direction of teacher Lynn Eaglin and staffed by students, the Help Desk is available to help students with problems during every period of the school day.
Eaglin selected students to work the desk based on grades, attendance and interest in technology.
“Unfortunately, when we put this together, schedules had already been set, so some students weren’t able to be in the program.” She plans to select next year’s staff earlier in the spring and will add an interview component to the selection process.
Help Desk members spent two days training during the summer to get ready for the start of school.
One day was spent with the district technology department and the other with Mac Authority. Junior Megan Harris said the training covered a lot. “It was pretty intense. They covered a lot of stuff and told us what to expect,” she said.
To track problems, Help Desk staffers fill out an electronic “ticket” every time a student comes for help. That helps Eaglin see if there are a lot of reoccurring problems. “If we see that we’re having the same problem over and over, we know we might have a server problem,” he explained.
Senior Logan Doll said most of the problems involve connecting to the network. “Most of the time students can’t get on the Internet,” she said. “Sometimes it’s a computer problem and sometimes it’s a wrong password.”
Another reason to come to the desk is when a student is unable to access a certain website. Those requests go to Joe Bliton, lead system analyst for the district.
According to Bliton, the computers are equipped with software that blocks certain sites no matter what network the user is on. “It’s easier for us to block a whole group and then grant access on an individual basis. If a teacher gives the OK, we can unblock a specific video or article.”
With the Help Desk handling the majority of day-to-day problems, Leeper said the administration has only one more question to answer: “How do we get more computers so every student can have one?”
The district was able to fund the leasing of 300 computers using technology funds – enough for all juniors and seniors -- starting with the 2011-12 school year. The only cost to students is about $70 to cover damage insurance.
“We felt it was only fair the students have some buy-in to the program,” Leeper said. He added that the school has option for those unable to pay.
In-house tech support wasn’t the only obstacle the district had to overcome to launch the program.
Internet access was problematic. “We have some outlying places in the county that don’t have any service,” Leeper said. “Our superintendent, Lisa James, went out to the community to encourage churches, firehouses and other public places to install Wi-Fi access points.”
The community responded; in fact, Leeper said several business added Wi-Fi in an effort to get more student traffic.
Carroll County administrators also knew it would be useless to provide computers if the students and staff could not use them throughout the building. During the summer, the district technology staff updated servers and installed access points in every classroom. To make sure teachers were comfortable using computers more in their classrooms, the staff got their MacBooks in December 2010, a full semester before students.
Biology teacher Mandy Wilson said the introduction of computers hasn’t had a huge impact on her approach to teaching.
“I still do lectures the way I always have,” she said. “I’ve added a few things, but the biggest change is with the students. Instead of writing out notes, they type them in the computer. Plus, they can look things up immediately and get answers.” She added the computers also give students the ability to email her with questions when they are studying at home.
English teacher Carl Roberts said having computers has given his students more immediate access to information. “We can stop during a discussion and look something up right then. We can get to what we need right away and go on.” The first thing he told his students, however, was that not all information on the Internet is accurate. “I encourage them to check a couple of sources to make sure.”
Leeper said the biggest change he has seen is in the quality of projects done by students. “Instead of just writing a paper or doing a display, I’m seeing multimedia projects, movies and all kinds of creative things,” he said.
– Dominick is a writer from Frankfort