Learning Curve

By divvying technology implementations into small pilots, schools can get a clear idea of costs and benefits.

Making the Most of IT Volunteers
By divvying technology implementations into small pilots, schools can get a clear idea of costs and benefits.

Loudoun County, Va., in suburban Washington, D.C., has made a serious commitment to provide robust technology education to its students. Each of its 66 schools is equipped with current information technology tools and has a technology resource teacher and assistants to facilitate the integration of technology in the curriculum.

One of the most valuable resources at any school, however, is its parent volunteer workforce. In fact, some Loudoun elementary schools average 50 tech volunteers annually. Volunteers allow students to try more challenging tech tasks, free up teachers and even help with IT-related administrative projects.

The most important trait in a volunteer is a willingness to be flexible and try something new. Helping them to feel comfortable and welcome can help develop a great working relationship.

Reach Out to Parents

Invite volunteers to work specifically with technology. Some who are tech savvy will respond enthusiastically, but many people may feel their knowledge base is inadequate to provide support in this area. Describe the type of assistance you would like early in your request for help, assuring that volunteers need not have specific tech skills.

Provide Training

Parents sometimes are intimidated by expectations of supporting skills that were not a part of the curriculum when they were in school. The short session, offered each fall, usually allays those concerns. Include practical information, such as how students log into the system, common student errors, school printing procedures and policies, how to navigate to a drive or folder for opening or saving a document, and the district's acceptable use policies.

Model Expectations

“Be specific about how much or how little help they are to offer,” says Lorri Whiteman, a technology resource teacher (TRT) at Forest Grove Elementary. “Should they help with spelling or grammar, or is this particular assignment being used as evaluation?”

Teach a Few Advanced Skills

Students feel an added sense of ownership and pride when they add little extras to their projects, says Karen Orr, TRT at Ashburn Elementary. Teach tech-savvy volunteers how to add voice narration to a PowerPoint presentation or create a Web page, so they can help students create a more robust presentation.

Offer Projects Outside The Classroom

Some IT volunteers help educators without ever setting foot in the classroom or interfacing with students. At Guilford Elementary, one teacher asked a volunteer to help categorize classroom library books according to reading level by utilizing online resources (such as Scholastic). Another volunteer downloaded online subscription material so that book orders could be placed online. At Lovettsville Elementary, one physical education teacher has parents enter running-club scores in a spreadsheet.

Take Advantage of Expertise

Shared knowledge is a powerful tool, and many volunteers are happy to share their knowledge with you and your staff, says Sharon Carpenter, TRT at Algonkian Elementary. Think graphics art skills or digital video editing.

Volunteers with research skills can be extremely valuable given the daunting task of finding information on the Internet. “Have volunteers work with students while they surf and evaluate Web-based information,” says Beth Sharrett, TRT at Little River Elementary.

Celebrate Your Volunteers!

Be grateful for the support provided by these tech-savvy angels! Student-created products, such as letters and pictures, are always an inexpensive yet priceless way to tell volunteers they are appreciated. Nancy A. Farrell is a technology resource teacher at Horizon Elementary School in Sterling, Va.

Nancy A. Farrell is a technology resource teacher at Horizon Elementary School in Sterling, Va.

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Oct 31 2006

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