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Royse City ISD creates sustainable tech-support program for Chromebook and Google Workspace for Education users, building student skills for the digital world

About Royse City Independent School District

Royse City ISD is a rapidly growing Texas school district servicing about 9,700 students, and is growing by 1,000 students yearly. The district’s 10 schools are located in a rural agricultural area 30 miles east of Dallas.

Bringing tech support in-house while training up digital leaders

Many schools have created digital learning programs to equip students with 21st-century skills and improve digital equity. Royse City ISD’s “Connected for Learning” (C4L) program, launched in 2014, became the foundation for “Chrome Squad,” the district’s tech support and Chromebook repair program. But Royse City ISD students went further, also creating a digital badging program for teachers, tech support videos, and a Chromebook support page for parents.

The inspiration for C4L’s innovative programming came largely from students, with Cody Holt, the district’s ex-director of learning technologies, leading the way. Once the district went to a 1:1 Chromebook program, integrating Chromebooks and Google for Education tools throughout lesson plans, the experimentation began—resulting in Chrome Squad, a homegrown way to provide customer service, a help desk, and tech support to the Royse City ISD community. The training program also helps the district improve its sustainability goals by extending device lifespan and keeping device parts out of landfills.

The shift toward student-centered teaching

Driving the C4L plan was the goal of giving students the skills needed by tomorrow’s industries, like critical and creative thinking, collaboration, and communication. To meet this goal, students needed to extend their learning beyond the regular classroom instruction. Beginning in 2015, ASUS Chromebooks were rolled out first to students and teachers at Royse City High School, then the district’s middle and elementary schools (the district switched to Dell Chromebooks in 2017).

“We saw this huge pendulum shift away from a very traditional, lecture-based teaching to student-centered education,” Holt says. “Teachers and students really dove into the tools, because they were easy to use and they could see the benefit from it immediately. And as we moved the devices down to lower grades, the same thing has happened every time.”

Holt, previously an English teacher, took on the role of providing ongoing professional development for teachers. That left tech support to be staffed. When the district’s chief technology officer suggested having students take on hardware and software repairs and general tech support, Holt liked the concept.

“I’d already developed the business plan for how I wanted an in-house tech support service to function, and there was no reason why I couldn’t use high school students to do it,” Holt says. A business plan is a must, he adds, for any school district looking to create a Chrome Squad-style organization: “You’re building that organization to be healthy before you’re even thinking about the educational implications.”

Business plans set up tech support programs for success

One of the very first steps in creating a student-run tech support program, Holt advises, is settling on core values for participants. “I wanted kids with integrity, that gave respect and had respect,” he says. “I wanted kids that were critical thinkers, creative, and teachable—quick learners and curious.” With these qualities in mind, Holt “headhunted” 18 students, soliciting recommendations from teachers for the first Chrome Squad team.

Holt’s business plan also outlined which services would be provided and where, and who could access them:

  • Help desks: In the Royse City high school and the two middle schools, the Chrome Squads have dedicated spaces for help desks. The help desks are where teachers and students get answers to questions about using their Chromebooks and apps like Google Classroom and Docs, or help with password resets.

  • Tech support: In the high school and middle schools, Chrome Squad students respond to trouble tickets, submitted by email, and visit classrooms to help students and teachers on site.

  • Break/fix support: Students deal with repairs such as cracked screens and dropped Chromebooks, and guide other students in doing Powerwashes (resets) for their devices.

  • Chrome Ambassadors: In the district’s seven elementary schools, students in third through fifth grades can become Chrome Ambassadors, who get training to become in-classroom experts on basic Chromebook and Google apps.

    “That can be anything from helping to keep Chromebook carts and cables organized and tidy, to helping a teacher with Google Slides,” Holt says. “They’re also a liaison to the Chrome Squad—if they don’t know the answer to a question, they can email the Innovative Learning Specialists team, which can then follow up.”

The district’s Innovative Learning Specialists still use the original headhunting process to find likely Chrome Squad interns, followed by a vetting process that includes checking discipline, attendance, and grades, and then a final interview. Students receive training in tech support and device repair from the Innovative Learning Specialists at each school—and experienced students also train newcomers.

Chrome Squad sparks ideas for badging, videos, and parent support

In the early months of working with the “Chromies,” as student participants were nicknamed, “we focused on doing our core tasks well, and having consistent interactions with teachers and students,” Holt says. But as students and teachers became more expert with their Chromebooks and Google apps, the high school Chromies found they had time on their hands.

“I told students to do anything they wanted, as long as it had something to do with helping the school or the Chrome Squad,” Holt says. The students rose to the challenge, coming up with ideas that turned into full-fledged services.

Several years on from the Chrome Squad’s launch, the ideas the students developed have all become part of the core services of the high school teams, and in some cases are trickling down to the middle-school Chrome Squads:

Teacher badging. The Chromies created badges, also known as micro-credentialing, for teachers demonstrating skills such as adopting student-centered learning. To help teachers show off their achievements, students decided against a classroom door poster (most teachers travel along rooms and schools) in favor of stickers on a special water bottle—something just about everyone carries during the school day.

“We do about 1,500 hours of professional development a year just through the micro-credentialing system,” Holt says. “It’s our number-one producer of PD in the district.”

Tech TV: Students created how-to videos about common questions like how to use split screens on Chromebooks.

Parent support: The Connected for Learning website now includes a Parent Help page, with tutorials for parents and guardians who want to know the ins and outs of Chromebooks and Google Workspace for Education

A customer service program that supports sustainability and leadership

In addition to keeping students and teachers productive, the Chrome Squad helps Royse City ISD boost sustainability.

“We tend to keep devices in circulation with students and teachers for about four years,” Holt says. “At the end of that time, the Chromebooks will become loaners or testing devices. We’ll even use them to salvage parts for repairs.”

When outdated Chrome devices are salvaged in this manner, nothing ends up in a landfill, Holt explains. “We can sell old devices to parts resellers, or just work out an agreement with another district that’s short on machines,” he says. “With the process of taking the device out of circulation, putting it into secondary use like a loaner, and then re-selling or recycling it, we’re able to keep them for as long as six to eight years.”

The district’s 1:1 Chromebook program is playing a part in keeping devices running for longer periods of time, and also, reducing repairs. Students feel a greater sense of responsibility for their take-home devices, Holt explains. It’s easier to hold students accountable because there is a single user of each device.

“Also, it takes fewer devices to run a 1:1 model versus a shared model,” Holt says. “In our case, it takes 20% fewer computers. Fewer computers means a smaller number of repairs.”

As students learn how to make the most of the district’s Chromebooks, they’re also learning valuable lessons in leadership and entrepreneurship.

“We show students what it’s like to be a leader, and tell them that they can become leaders too,” Holt says. “We sometimes think, ‘kids can’t do that,’ but then we give them the opportunities—and we see that they really can lead and be creative.”

What they wanted to do

  • Create a tech support and repair program
  • Ensure longevity and sustainability of devices
  • Give students real-world experience in digital and customer service skills

What they did

  • Created the Chrome Squad program, including customized programs for middle and elementary schools
  • Expanded to teacher badging programs, support videos, and parent guides

What happened

  • Offered fast, attentive service for students and teachers seeking tech support
  • Extended the lifespan of devices to as long as eight years
  • Improved hardware recycling to reduce tech waste
  • Provided valuable leadership opportunities for students

“We show students what it’s like to be a leader, and tell them that they can become leaders too. We sometimes think, ‘kids can’t do that,’ but then we give them the opportunities—and we see that they really can lead and be creative.”

Cody Holt, Ex-director of Learning Technologies, Royse City Independent School District

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