Voices in Tech: Student IT team revamps tech repairs

Q&A with Brian Zimmer, director of educational technology at Webster Central School District in New York
By: | Issue: May, 2019
April 18, 2019

When students help maintain and restore instructional devices, district IT departments see increased efficiency and better allocation of resources. This practice can also prepare students for college and careers, says Brian Zimmer, director of educational technology for Webster Central School District in New York. 

Zimmer and his team created the Webster Technical Internship in 2016, alongside the district’s 1-to-1 initiative. More than 100 students help manage and repair about 9,300 Chromebooks and tablets across 11 school buildings. 

“We didn’t have enough IT staff to support 9,300 devices,” Zimmer says. “Without student workers, that would have pushed us over the edge.”  

Zimmer recently presented at the 2019 Future of Education Technology Conference. The next conference will be January 14-17, 2020, in Miami.

What types of repairs do student interns undertake?

Every student during their first year is required to pass Dell’s free, online technology certification. 

During the first year of our program, they laser-engraved each device with the district logo, tested each one to make sure that they all worked on our Wi-Fi network, and repacked them in boxes. 

Among their current duties are fixing everything from broken computer screens to bad motherboards and network cards. They also repair copiers, including replacing toners and clearing jams. We have kids who can totally strip down a Chromebook and replace every part on it in about 15 minutes because they’ve gotten so good at it. 

Has anything about launching this program surprised you?

While we do have a set curriculum, it is really tailored to where the kids want to go. What I also love about it is that the kids are taking risks, and they’re trying things that are beyond the scope of what an average classroom can offer. One of our biggest challenges, however, is that there are few girls in the program. For this reason, we’re going out to specifically recruit more girls.

Read: Voices in Tech: Flexible classroom designs aid STEM learning

How do you attract girls to the program? 

We’ve been encouraging the girls who are now in the program to go and get their friends. That seems to be working. We’ve done some invite-a-friend events, too. We’re also leveraging students’ success stories and having community members speak to students to show them what career possibilities are available in this field. This ramps up excitement as well.

How does the program impact your budget and cost savings?

Every time a student fixes a Dell device, we get reimbursed by Dell about $30 per device because the student is a Dell-certified technician. We take that money and put it back into the program. 

What advice do you have for other districts?

Trust the kids because they’re native technology users. Don’t hesitate in doing this—just jump right in with one or two kids, and then grow it from there. 

Our biggest hurdle was that we wanted to move faster, but we needed to slow down. We wanted to start the program before the Chromebooks arrived, but it didn’t align with the high school schedule. So we took time to build the program over the summer and to make sure that it grew the right way. Then, we hit the ground running.

Interested in edtech? Keep up with the Future of Education Technology Conference®.

Interested in edtech? Keep up with DA's Future of Education Technology Conference®.