With Technology, Learning from the Experts Themselves—The Students

What happens when students become the teachers, and teachers the learners?

A group of schools and community organizations around the country are swapping roles and giving kids the floor to teach technology skills to their teachers. For teachers, learning from their resident tech-experts lets them pick up new skills and really watch the way their students use devices. But, as is often the case for teachers, the student tech guides are picking up just as much from passing on their skills—confidence, enthusiasm for school, and a way to express their abilities.

During the Hive Learning Network’s Learning Aloud Geekout Series, young experts shared their skills with educators in four youth-led webinars, held as part of Connected Educator month.

In one of the webinars, fashion designer and blogger Alex from the Digital Youth Network in Chicago taught a group how to use Tumblr, a visually based blogging site that inspired him to pursue his love of fashion.

In another, Assemble intern Caroline taught teachers how to use Scratch, a programming language developed at MIT that makes it easy for kids to create and share media on the web.

“When we go into different schools and events and we’re teaching Scratch, we have our expert, who is now 14, teach Scratch for us. Because, well, why not let the expert shine?” said Assemble founder Nina Barbuto of Caroline’s teaching role during her webinar.

Students interacted with educators around the country in the Geekout Series, but around the country kids are also guiding their own teachers in symbiotic face-to-face lessons.

Students from the public schools that make up Chicago’s Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL) are instructing teachers in mini, student-led professional development events called App Speed Dating. The concept, which was adopted from Mauri Dufour and the Leverage Learning Institute in Maine, let’s students be hands-on guides for their favorite apps like Croak.it, Keynote, and Kidblog.

“It’s much more dynamic to have the student sharing and hearing it from their voices,” Jennie Magiera, the digital learning coordinator at AUSL and writer of the blog Teaching Like It’s 2999, told WBEZ. She added that learning how apps work from students can also be a lot less intimidating for teachers, who may not be familiar with the technology. (Magiera explains the whole App Speed Dating process in greater depth in this EduSlam webinar.)

On her blog last February, Magiera broke down the success of App Speed Dating after a session at Chicago Public School’s Tech Talk Conference. “[The students] spoke from a place of experience using the app, and genuinely demonstrated that yes, a 1st grader can operate it and no, a 7th grader will not be bored by its interface,” Magiera wrote. “Moreover, it empowered them to take charge and have agency in their own education.”

Interns from Fort Sam Houston Independent School District in Texas said they felt the same way. In the district’s tech intern program, students create screencast tutorials for teachers, lead professional development events and even fix technology glitches in class. “Not gonna lie, it makes me feel important,” laughed one young tech intern in a video by TechSmith..

Rob Zdrojewski, a teacher at Amherst Middle School teacher in Buffalo, created a similar program fueled by a real gap in some of the teachers’ knowledge about programs kids were already using. While Zdrojewski knew the program would provide teachers a good way to access screencast tutorials, the students’ enthusiasm surprised him.

“I didn’t think the kids would be as excited as they are to make them. I thought they [were] going to say, ‘Oh Mr. Z is having me do some work for somebody else to benefit.’ But it’s really not been the case,” he told the Hechinger Report. “The kids are excited because they know that their teachers, potentially a lot of them, are going to watch and learn from them and hear their voices.”

Teachers love what they do because passing on knowledge to others is one of the most rewarding and life-changing experiences. The teaching experience is no different for kids, who, after spending most of their days listening, suddenly command attention from those they respect most.

Published November 13, 2013