When it comes to using the new iPads at Cathedral High in Indianapolis, “the adults definitely need a lot more help than the kids,” says 16-year old sophomore Jimmy Kacius.
“They were so used to using a Windows computer that figuring out how to use a touch screen and how to do different gestures on your iPad was a very big change for them,” said Kacius. “Students tend to be a little more tech-savvy.”
Hence the creation of iSquad.
ISquad is a team of 25 students that provides on-the-spot tech support to teachers and students at their school. They also run a help desk at Cathedral, the oldest and largest private Catholic school in Indiana. And Kacius, a slight boy with the helpful, knowledgeable manner of a veteran Genius Bar worker, leads iSquad’s video production wing, overseeing the creation of a library of online tutorials on everything from how students should back up their class notes to how teachers can print directly from their iPads.
“It’s actually quite simple, once you know how to set up everything,” he said.
Along with Cathedral chief information officer Raul Landeros, Kacius presented the iSquad model on Tuesday to a steady stream of interested educators on the showcase floor at the 2013 ISTE conference.
Landeros said the idea is to take the concept of the “flipped classroom” and give it a new twist.
With easy access to the video library, “Teachers don’t have to go down to a professional development lab at a specified time,” he said. “They can learn these technology lessons on their own time, and it’s the students in the classroom that are teaching the teachers. “
But the key to making iSquad work, Landeros said, is that the tech support team isn’t primarily about technology.
“The students are already talented with tech,” he said. “We help them to become better listeners and communicators. We help them to become more service-oriented. We help them become leaders.”
At its best, said Landeros, the result is a deepening and strengthening of the student-teacher relationships at the school by giving grateful teachers a safe, comfortable way to learn things that aren’t comfortable for them.
He cited as an example the Cathedral English Department’s early attempt to use Pages, a word-processing app for mobile devices. Teachers were frustrated because they couldn’t figure out how to create documents in MLA format.
“So we went to the iSquad and said, ‘How can we make this work?’” said Landeros."They made a video, showed it the English department, and within two days, all the English teachers started showing the students how to use the app.”
Of course, it helps being a private school that charges $12,300 a year in tuition.
Cathedral has technology resources that many schools can only dream about. The school has impressive bandwidth; next month, the school will upgrade from a 100mb fiberoptic connection to a 1 gigabyte connection.
When Cathedral decided to undertake its own 1:1 device initiative, school officials didn’t think twice about requiring students’ families to buy their own iPads on top of that tuition bill.
And most of the students, including Kacius, enter the school already quite familiar with the latest digital devices.
“My dad is really into technology,” he said. “I already had a smartphone and a laptop.”
But Landeros said it’s the development of Kacius’ social and leadership skills, not his growing knowledge of technology, that has been most impressive.
At first, said Landeros, “he was very quiet. He would never respond to something unless directly asked.”
But when students’ enthusiasm for the iSquad initiative began to flag mid-year, Kacius sprang into surprising action.
“He started sending out announcements via Facebook and Twitter saying, ‘I’m going to be here after school to show you how to make videos,’” said Landeros. “He was really trying to galvanize the team, because he didn’t want it to go away.”
Now, Kacius says he’s already looking forward to expanding iSquad next year.
It’s not just that it’s fun to play with the expensive video and HDMI capture equipment, he explained.
“It feels really good to say, ‘I made this, this is my work, and people are actually benefiting from it.’”
A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.