Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Student Helpdesk - Growing Gains

Early last year I was inspired by Burlington High School and their amazing student helpdesk program. Many years ago, the school I now call home, had a student helpdesk, but the program faded as our last graduate of the program became a school employee. Now, with inspiration from Burlington, I have set out on an adventure to start up a new student helpdesk at my school. The result? The Ashland High School Student Technology Assist Team (S.T.A.T.) So far, it is a resounding success. 

Our steps to success began around the middle of last school year when I wrote down my ideas and shared them with a few stakeholders.
  1. Develop a solid plan that demonstrated a purpose not only for the school, but also for the students
  2. Create a needs list and apply for grants to help fund those needs
  3. Recruit students to participate in the program
  4. Develop a real curriculum so that learning is not solely dependent upon broken computers
The results to date are as good as I could have hoped for and maybe a step better. While at times I feel that managing the student helpdesk course adds a little more chaos to my schedule, I can already feel the results are benefiting the students and the school in ways I could only imagine six months ago. 

  1. Students are actively engaged in troubleshooting technical issues on a daily basis and growing their own set of technical skills
  2. Students are working on writing skills for two different blogs for the course (one of which will be public within the next few weeks)
  3. Students are helping other students and teachers make better use of their time in school
  4. Students are coming back for more, often forgoing their studies to be working on the helpdesk!
The Program
  • Currently there are 13 students in the program who were each chosen and/or vetted
  • Two to three students work the helpdesk each period of the day 
  • Students are also expected to do a significant amount of writing for this course. This includes blog posts on how-to, product reviews, product comparisons, and personal reflections.
  • Students are becoming familiar with multiple platforms and devices. Having received over $5000 in grants from our local education foundation and the BAA, we have created a collection of tools that allow the students to work efficiently and that help mimic what they expect to see in the field. Devices we currently own include: iPad, iPod touch, Nexus 7, iMac, HP laptop, Chromebook, and a MacBook Air.
  • Students are expected to study a programming language of their choice. This independent study portion of the program will culminate in a presentation to the other team members and key stakeholders in the program at the end of each semester.

Today marks our fourteenth day of classes. The students are already running the helpdesk with efficiency in turn-around time, and they are creating the team feeling I was imagining months ago. Students stop by during studies just to see if there is more they can do, and often I have to kick them out so they get to their next class on time.

While it is still early in our school year, I am optimistic that the abilities of my students will continue to grow as they are challenged by the troubleshooting tasks as well as the projects they take on as part of this course. I expect there will be bumps along the way and look forward to seeing the program grow as we consider a possible 1:1 implementation in the future.

If you are considering a student helpdesk in your school, or simply have questions, please leave comments below or contact me directly via Twitter or email.

Chad McGowan is a high school technology teacher and professional development specialist in educational technology. Over the past 16 years, Chad has taught a variety of math and computer courses for grades 7-12. Since 2000, Chad has been guiding other professionals, pre-k-12, in educational technology. Follow Chad on Twitter @ahstechteacher,, and through this blog.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Wiki or Website: Clarifying for Teachers

Many years ago, when the World Wide Web was still a toddler, the wiki was invented. What set the wiki website apart from other websites, was the intended use of the site. It was meant to be collaborative. In this case a programmer named Ward Cunningham wanted to create a space where programmers of a certain language could share their ideas and work together. He coined the term 'wiki' and the rest is history. (source)

It wasn't until several years later that the world's most popular wiki, Wikipedia, would be born. Wikipedia put wikis on the map. However, while many people understand the general concept, there can still be confusion about what a wiki is and how it differs from just having a website. Why is there such confusion? Quite possibly it is that the end result of a true wiki will be the appearance of a website that just looks like content. Another leading reason may be that tools such as Wikispaces and Google Sites allow people to create and manage their website on their own or collaboratively and the name doesn't actually matter. In other words, the term is being used, but the definition, and purpose behind the wiki is not being fully realized. For teachers going through professional development, you may run into this dilemma yourself. 

How do you know if you are creating a wiki or a general website? First, ask yourself these questions. The answers will, in most cases, clarify what you are doing and then we can help you get to what you want to be doing.

1. Is the website content created, maintained, edited and managed strictly by the teacher?
If 'yes', then you have a general website. There is nothing wrong with this and it is the most popular form of website on the Internet, especially for classroom teachers. Even if you have used a tool called wiki-something, that alone doesn't make your website a wiki. Even if you had students create accounts to access your website, that does not make it a wiki. Keep going...
2. Is the website content created, maintained, and edited by the teacher, but allows students to click through to interactive websites?
This is still a general website. Providing easy access for students to interact with other websites' content is a good step forward in how you are taking advantage of the Internet, but your website does not yet have the features of a wiki.
3. Is the website content created, maintained, and edited by multiple teachers? There are two possibilities here.
A: The teachers are sharing responsibility for a classroom general website intended for student use. While this is demonstrating good collaboration between professionals, the full intent for a wiki may not be realized here. 
B: The teachers are creating a resource in which they share curriculum, best practices, project ideas, and more. The goal is for the teachers to collaborate and to become better at teaching. This is not a site intended for student use. It is an example of wiki! 
4. Is the website content created, maintained, and edited by teachers and students? Two possibilities:
 A: The teacher is providing a website with some interactive space in the website. This could be a blog, student discussion spaces, or other specifically purposed pages for students to edit. This is close to a wiki. In the true sense, it is not open to the extent of a wiki (for example, the teacher content pages may not be open for student editing), but it is providing a clear interactive platform for students and teachers. For those diving into wikis for the first time, this might be the perfect place to start.
B: The teacher is providing a website space in which students are equal partners in developing and editing content placed throughout the website. Perhaps it is a study guide for a semester of calculus, or perhaps it place to aggregate resources for reading 1984. Whatever the purpose of the collaboration, the end result is a true wiki. Certainly, some level of control can be maintained by the owner of the site, but giving as much openness as possible, encourages the full participation in site management by students and teachers alike.
So, what do you want? What will it take for you to get there? In today's age of content consumption and creation, it is important to look for ways to encourage students to be creators. Even if the purpose of a wiki for your classroom eludes you, bring the quest to your students, find out what they think. The next time you are on another educational website that appears to be managed by a teacher, ask yourself it is actually being managed by just one teacher, or perhaps by several, or even a classroom of students.

From Google:


A Web site developed collaboratively by a community of users, allowing any user to add and edit content.

Chad McGowan is a high school technology teacher and professional development specialist in educational technology. Over the past 16 years, Chad has taught a variety of math and computer courses for grades 7-12. Since 2000, Chad has been guiding other professionals, pre-k-12, in educational technology. Follow Chad on Twitter @ahstechteacher and through this blog.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Hosting HTML, CSS, and Flash websites in Google Drive

Earlier this year I discovered a hidden gem in Google Drive. Using a few steps, it is now possible to host a website within Google Drive. As a web design teacher, this is a great feature for my students. Now, with Google Drive, students can upload completed products and provide a link for their live website to anyone. And, using a tool like, they can create a website alias that is easy to share.

So far we have found that this service works best with HTML and CSS pages. It can also work with embedded javascript, though we occasionally have some problems when trying to use tools such as jquery. One feature I love is that it can store and properly load Flash files. A free host for Flash! Bonus!! Just follow the steps below...

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Educator Evaluation Evidence Collection & Google Drive

Though this post refers to a program in Massachusetts, the evidence collection method outlined will likely be pertinent to many school districts across the country in the coming years.

In 2012, as part of Race to the Top, my school district in Ashland, Massachusetts was one of a handful chosen to pilot the new educator evaluation system devised by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE). As a pilot school we had the opportunity to be at the forefront of this new venture. My colleague, Scott Smith, and I spent a significant amount of time this past fall and spring working on our digital solution for one of the key components of the new evaluation tool: collecting evidence (aka - artifacts). We also employed support from our IT department to work out some kinks. Below are three things for you to learn from our experience:
  • The easy stuff
  • The tough lessons
  • An outline of our process

Monday, April 15, 2013

Rejection: The First Step to Success

Get ready to make a difference.

I want to challenge you to find a request that will result in a no. I want you to find a request that is valuable to you, that you think would make a difference if it was a yes, but you are certain would be a no. How far do you have to reach to get to that question? Does the idea of actually making the ask strike a little fear in you?

How certain are you that your request would make a difference in the world? Do you have evidence to support your assertions? Now, here is the challenge... go to the first person that would have to approve your request and make the ask. Go now, before it’s too late. This article will be here when you get back.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Practicing What I Preach

Originally published in my 21st Century Classroom Blog on 3/17/13

Teaching other educational professionals how to use technology tools is actually a bit daunting. With the rapid change of technology and how educators across the globe are integrating technology, the role of being the technology instructor, or integration specialist is about staying current, flexible, and participatory. In some regards I am a preacher, and in order to have a meaningful connection with my 'students', I need to know what I'm talking about.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Professional Development using Schoology

Last year I wrote an article about using Edmodo for professional development. It was well received and continues to be well read. As the times continue to change and the technology at my fingertips gets stronger, my choices in technology continue to evolve. This past Fall I piloted Schoology and then fully adopted it for my high school classes in January. Now I am doing the same for my professional development courses.

Two weeks ago I began teaching my second PD course via Schoology. As with my high school courses, I am thoroughly sold on the quality and value of using Schoology. Three important factors in delivering quality online professional development have led me to share my interest in Schoology: seamless communication between participants and the instructor; participants can easily find materials provided; the instructor can provide quality, timely feedback to help participants understand their progress.