Teen techies can cover lecturers' e-modesty

5th October 2007 at 01:00

AT HOME, teenagers programme the video and teach their parents how to use the computer. Now a college is using their talents to provide a volunteer IT support service.

A group of 45 students at Oaklands College in Hertfordshire have been helping their lecturers to get to grips with everything from interactive whiteboards to new laptops.

Richard Everett, the college's director of e-learning, said: "I've got two children and they're better at using technology at home, so it occurred to me that if that's the case, why don't we use that capability of our students in the classroom?"

The scheme followed a pound;400,000 investment in new technology at the college, putting up 200 interactive whiteboards and wireless networking across the college, and giving laptops to teachers and every A-level student.

As well as quickly solving technical problems in their class, and sometimes being called out to help in other classes, the students dubbed eMentors have been able to provide feedback on any problems with the way the technology is being used.

Mr Everett said they have spotted everything from bundles of wiring that were at risk of being damaged to pointing out ways in which the college's virtual learning environment an online resource for students and teachers was being underused.

He said lecturers had quickly got over any misgivings about finding themselves learning from their own students and now found the help invaluable.

This year, the college also intends to train them in mentoring skills to help them pass on their technical know-how.

Mr Everett said: "There's something about students' mentality, They're not frightened by technology they just play with it until they know how it works."

The main incentive for students to sign up is the experience they gain and the reference the college gives to potential employers.

But Mr Everett said he was hoping to strike a deal that would allow him to hand out mobile phones with internet access and personal organiser capabilities to the volunteers.

James Belmont, a 19-year-old studying for a foundation degree in IT, was the first mentor appointed.

He said it had given him valuable experience. He hopes to become a teacher.

"I've been getting more experience by speaking and interacting with the staff and students, and I've learnt a lot from that," he said.

They include Natalie Renshaw, who studies health and social care and hopes to become a midwife.

She said: "I'm a very practical person, so if something isn't working, instead of standing there flapping, I like to meddle around and you get through it eventually."

Mark Dawe says that instead of blocking websites such as MySpace and YouTube, as some colleges have done, Oaklands dramatically increased its network capacity to allow for all the data from movies and photos, and even urges students to use the sites to post their work.

He said: "My feeling is, if we don't make the college at least as good an environment in terms of technology as the students have at home, then we are going to be turning off students."

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