Student Tech Teams: 5 Tips for Having Students Work and Learn on the Job

student tech teams
(Image credit: Photo by Christina @ on Unsplash)

There is nothing quite like on-the-job training, which is why many schools have launched student tech teams that allow young IT enthusiasts work alongside district IT professionals. 

These student tech supporters have different functions at different schools but many help with everything from tier one troubleshooting to more advanced hardware deconstruction and reconstruction. Participating students gain valuable work skills and, in return, can help take the strain off districts that might be struggling with staffing. 

“It really decreases the burden on the district IT, and the school IT, to have a student provide that tier one troubleshooting,” says Michael Mades, technical project director at Digital Promise. Mades helps oversee the Verizon Innovative Learning Schools program, which is a collaboration between Verizon and Digital Promise that seeks to equip every student and teacher at select middle and high schools across America with a device and internet access. Participating schools are also encouraged to develop these student tech teams. 

Mades has experience mentoring students in these teams as a former district IT leader and has also worked with many districts in his current role to help launch similar student tech teams across the country. As such, he's gained valuable insight for undertaking such an effort.

1. Treat It Like a Real Job 

“We really encourage [student tech team facilitators] to treat this like a job for these kids,” Mades says. “So have them apply, have them get letters of recommendation, have them do an interview, provide them with training so that at the end of the day the students have a real-life experience here that will give them skills that they can then take and potentially advance into a tech career down the road.”  

2. Remember: The Program Doesn’t Have to Cost Anything 

Students who participate in the program don’t need to get paid. Instead, their participation can be part of a work studies program. This is how the program worked when Mades was a district IT director. 

“The 'pay' the students were getting was the credit, and they were also getting knowledge and skill,” he says. However, Mades still required his students to take their positions seriously. “They showed up every day, they had expectations, they had jobs and tasks they had to get done. And they left  with employability skills after high school, they could become a tech anywhere because they had that foundation,” he says.  

3. Recruit Students Who May Be Overlooked 

Student tech teams provide an opportunity to encourage success for a student who may not have been successful in other school programs. 

“We say, don't take those rock star kids that are in everything. Find those students in your school who haven't found a place yet, those students who need a place to shine,” Mades says. 

The program can be an opportunity for students who have creativity but haven’t found the right outlet for it yet. “In some of our schools, they do promotional videos, they do training videos, they do teacher workshops and parent workshops," Mades says. 

4. Seek Out the Hackers  

“Find those hackers, those kids who are causing trouble in your network and bring them on board, because when they find out their job is now to protect the network, they're now working with you and supporting you, and there'll be your eyes and ears in the schools,” Mades says. “They'll actually work for you and make you better, once you've earned their trust.”  

5. Make the Work Meaningful  

Tech teams that Mades works with through the Verizon Innovative Learning Schools program have different makeups and different approaches based on their school and district needs. However, he says the successful ones all provide challenging and fulfilling work opportunities for the students. 

“It isn't just coming in and wiping off the computers in the computer lab once a week, it has to be something that's going to provide the students a chance of feeling like they've accomplished something," he says. The work should make students feel fulfilled, help them gain skills, and show them they have the potential for growth at the school.

Erik Ofgang

Erik Ofgang is Tech & Learning's senior staff writer. A journalist, author and educator, his work has appeared in the Washington Post, The Atlantic, and Associated Press. He currently teaches at Western Connecticut State University’s MFA program. While a staff writer at Connecticut Magazine he won a Society of Professional Journalism Award for his education reporting. He is interested in how humans learn and how technology can make that more effective.