You’ve probably seen the headlines about students hacking into their school computers or networks, wanting to change grades or dodge school work. Some accessed sensitive information, such as students’ GPAs and SAT scores. And those are just a few examples from recent months.
Such misbehavior is not new. But there are options for districts that want to foster students’ digital skills and steer them away from more mischievous or devious outlets for their hacking.
Offer Real-World Work Experiences and Professional Credentials
There are a growing number of ways to help students push their technology interests further by earning industry-recognized certifications or using their digital schools for community service projects. Administrators should learn more about original equipment manufacturers’ certifications and self-maintainer policies.
Companies such as Dell, Microsoft, Acer and Google offer programs to help students get certified to repair devices or manage collaboration platforms. Some programs offer discounted exam rates for students or college credit.
For example, Temple (Texas) Independent School District participates in Acer’s Repair Certification eLearning Program. Temple students learn to make basic hardware repairs for their district’s Acer devices — skills that not only reinforce instruction in science, technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM), but also are attractive to would-be employers. The district benefits, too, by having students who are trained to assist its IT team with repairs.
Encourage Hacking with a (Positive) Purpose
Some schools encourage students to think like hackers as a way to help with cybersecurity efforts. Students work to discover vulnerabilities in websites and networks — valuable information for closing any gaps. Hackathons are also a good way to create productive outlets for students’ interest in technology. For example, Rhode Island high school students gathered in November for a hackathon focused on environmental issues, specifically ways to mitigate pollution.
Tap Students to Serve as IT Support
Student-run help desks are well-established options benefit students and free up school or district IT teams to focus on more complex tasks. In 2011, Bethlehem (N.Y.) Central School District recruited students to the Bethlehem High help desk to handle low-level IT needs such as helping students and faculty with passwords, software installation and navigating G Suite.
Even earlier than that, about 10 years ago, Burlington High School in Massachusetts created the BHS Help Desk, which trained students to help with the one-to-one deployment of tablet computers. Now, the help desk has evolved. During slow periods, Teacher LeRoy Wong says, students explore other tech-related interests such as game design, programming or video production.
Supporting this type of exploration by students in a structured environment also provides time to reinforce leadership skills as well as digital citizenship.
Stay Focused on What Students Need
It’s logical for schools and districts to harness students’ tech knowledge, particularly for Generation Z students, the oldest of whom are in their early 20s. This generation grew up with mobile technology, and many received their first mobile phone as preteens. A 2018 survey conducted for Dell Technologies indicates most of these young people use technology as part of their formal education, and they want to work with technology. But simply coming of age in a world where mobile technology and other digital tools are relevant doesn’t mean students understand innately how to use those skills in productive, professional ways.
Districts that develop programs and create opportunities to better prepare students for success in an increasingly global world find that these skills often align with district goals to help students learn and grow, preparing them for life after graduation. It’s good to start small, working out any kinks through pilot programs before attempting to expand on a larger scale.
Hackathons and help desks may not deter all student hackers, but they are a valuable way to encourage students to explore and develop in-demand skills while helping to close gaps in district IT needs.
This article is part of the "Connect IT: Bridging the Gap Between Education and Technology" series. Please join the discussion on Twitter by using the #ConnectIT hashtag.