Kansas High Schoolers Provide Tech Service

Students who provide IT support to their peers learn basic computer troubleshooting and also hone customer service skills.

by Michael Strand, The Salina Journal / December 8, 2015

(TNS) — Providing tech support involves dealing with technology, but students who provide support to their peers at Salina Central and Salina South high schools say they’ve also found it helps to be good with people.

“When people come in and their Chromebook isn’t working, instead of being angry at the Chromebook, they’re angry at us,” said Ritchie Rosas, a junior at South and one of about two dozen high school students who serve as the first level of tech support at their schools.

Rosas is in his second year of providing tech support. He said things are going much more smoothly this year than last year, as students and teachers have become more used to the technology and students have gotten better at remembering to bring the computers with them each day fully charged.

In the 2013-2014 school year, the Salina School District started giving each high school student one of the small notebook computers, called Chromebooks because they use Google’s Chrome operating system.

The most common problems students have, according to Rosas, Layne Lloyd, another junior at South, and Angel Salgado a senior at Central, is that they leave their computer at home or the battery runs down, so they need a “loaner.” Each school has 32 spares that can be loaned out.

Mondays are the busiest days, Salgado said. At one point Monday morning, he had four students waiting to get one of the school’s spare Chromebooks.

He also helped one student who had run into trouble resetting a password and another student whose protective case had been damaged and the hinged jammed.

“I think someone stepped on it,” freshman Avery Loucks told Salgado.

It had been in her book bag under a seat on a bus when she went to a basketball game Friday, she said.

Replacing the protective case with a new one would cost $30, but a used one was available for free.

“You can give me the used one if it’s free,” Loucks said.

Within a matter of minutes, Salgado had replaced the broken hinge part and the case and Loucks was on her way back to class.

“That was fast,” she said.

“Another satisfied customer,” Salgado said, as Loucks left.

Magic fix? Turn it off

Replacing broken screens is another fairly routine task the students can handle, but there are the occasional odd issues.

“One student brought theirs in and said it had quit working,” Lloyd recalled. “I started to look at it and it was full of water.”

“There was one that had been dropped down a flight of stairs,” Rosas said.

“One student brought theirs in. It kept beeping, and they said they were scared,” Salgado said.

Spills, involving liquids such as coffee or water, also happen occasionally.

“The stories are all a little different. The details are different, but usually it’s somebody else who actually spilled,” Rosas said.

A whole host of problems are solved by simply turning the Chromebook off, waiting a few minutes, and turning it back on, Rosas said.

Problems such as replacing a screen are usually handled by the students, while more severe problems, such as computers soaked with water or coffee, or dropped down stairs, are handed off to the district’s management information systems department.

Social skills a must

Technically, tech support is a class the students take for credit. Students have to apply and be accepted, said Janet Sauber, the curriculum technologist at South who oversees the class there. Katy Vinson is the curriculum technologist and supervises the studentsat Central.

In deciding who can be in the class, she said, she looks for students who are able to follow directions, are trustworthy and have good social skills.

“Social skills, being able to work with people, is very important,” Sauber said.

Rosas agreed.

“This job is more dealing with people than computers,” Rosas said. “You have to get them to tell you what’s wrong — more than just, ‘It doesn’t work.’ ”

“Sometimes people are really mad and don’t want to talk to you,” Salgado said. “You’ve got to calm them down and find out what the problem is.”

As part of the class, Sauber and Vinson said, students are supposed to be able to replace a screen in five minutes or less.

“I’m not that fast yet, but I’m pretty good,” Lloyd said. “I’m getting faster.”

“The fact that Layne hasn’t had a lot of practice is a good thing,” Sauber said. She said that one of her tech support students very recently still hadn’t had anyone come in needing a screen replacement.

“We can’t break one so they can fix it,” Sauber said. “When one came in broken, we had to hold on to it so that student could fix it.”

Always on call

While their shifts in tech support are during specific class periods, all said they’re relied on throughout the school day.

“I’ll be in the lunchroom and people come up and say something’s wrong with their Chromebook,” Salgado said. “I’ll take a look at it. I feel like if I have the skills and can help, I should.”

Rosas and Lloyd said they, too, are asked for help throughout the school day.

They’ve also taken on the role of encouraging the the use of Chromebooks more in class.

“Using the Chromebooks is more efficient, and some teachers have gotten rid of paper entirely,” Rosas said.

In one recent class, he said, he showed a teacher how to send a PowerPoint presentation to every student’s Chromebook, so students could refer to it later.

A lot of students are using their Chromebooks to take notes in class, Rosas said. However, some use their smartphones for note-taking, as a pair of thumbs trained by years of texting are faster than fingers on a keyboard.

The yellow letter

Though the problem of students either leaving their computers at home or not bringing them to school fully charged is diminishing, Lloyd and Rosas say there are a handful of “repeat offenders.”

“We had one, we loaned them one, and then they take it home and forget it there, too, so now they have two at home,” Lloyd said. Loaners are supposed to be returned at the end of the school day.

Many students are embarrassed enough at having a loaner, Rosas said, as the loaners have a bright yellow sheet of paper under the transparent protective cover clearly stating it’s a loaner.

Sauber recalls one student who had a loaner for several days because of a problem with the battery, and pleaded to have the yellow “Loaner” tag removed so people wouldn’t think she had forgotten to bring her computer several days in a row.

Others just don’t seem to learn.

“With some of the repeat offenders, we’ll give them one of the old laptops instead,” Rosas said. “They hate hauling that heavy thing around.”

©2015 The Salina Journal (Salina, Kan.), Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.