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Teachers find creative ways to give students hands-on learning opportunities
March 2004

RALEIGH , NC -- Giving students hands-on experience is a key component of the ExplorNet approach to teaching Computer Engineering or Networking. And sometimes, the extra help handling technical glitches can be a real boon to school administrators who are struggling with limited resources and staff.

Bennett Jones of Clayton High school in Johnston County, NC, found his school administration tremendously supportive. And students have benefited.

"My (Level 2 Computer Engineering) students are performing technical support throughout Clayton High School," he says.  "We have drafted a repair request form for staff members and we fill work orders as we receive them."

Jones says his students have filled out dozens of work orders already, and are in the process of completing a maintenance schedule in which students will perform routine cleaning and maintenance on all of the schools computers.  The technicians record all of their activities, not only for a grade, but also to show potential employers the amount of work experience they have gained in school.

"Our school and administration have been extremely supportive in our efforts," Jones says. "In fact, our principal would like for our class to build another computer lab to be run and maintained by the CET classes! I believe that the students have really benefited from these experiences outside of the ( Computer Engineering) classroom."

Chris Atkins of Trinity High School in Randolph County, NC reports that his students "work on our builds. and units that are out of warranty with the manufacturer."

Robin Migliorato of New Bern High School in Craven County, NC is also fortunate to have supportive administrators and skillful students. Her Computer Engineering classes perform technical support for the school in addition to building machines from kits for computer labs, teachers, and support staff. They have a systematic approach, with work orders and solid documentation of what is needed and what students do. The system works nicely.

"Most of the computers purchased through NBHS are kits built and supported by CET," she says. "Our principal is 100% supportive of our technical support. The LEA Technology Center is happy to have much less repair to do at our school than others in the system."

But sometimes providing hands-on experience on classroom computers is easier said than done. School technology staff sometimes frown on the idea of students touching their infrastructure.

"My students do not perform official repair and maintenance at our school," says John Mills of the West Campus Tech Center in Fayetteville, AR. "The district has a team of repair technicians who handle repair requests."

However, Mills has found that barrier isn't as absolute as it may sound due to the fact that tech staff are sometimes overloaded. "My students often diagnose and repair problems for teachers who are either waiting on the technician to arrive or have lost faith in the district process due to the slow response time," he says. "In short, we have a cult following among teachers in our building who want fast, accurate diagnosis and fixes."

And Diane Cadavid of Green Hope High in Cary, NC found ways around what seemed like strong system-wide worries about students doing work on classroom computers.

"I have developed a friendship with our Network Administrator who is responsible for keeping our equipment up and running," she says. "We have an arrangement that any school computer that is no longer under warranty will go to CET classes to troubleshoot and repair."

Cadavid and the network administrator developed a procedure where Green Hope teachers fill out a work order form and send it to the network administrators, who then lets Cadavid know what systems need work. Cadavid then contacts the teacher who reported the problem and lets them know a student will pick up the system that needs work and take it back to the Computer Engineering classroom. Students do the work, complete work orders on what they did, and return the computer to the "customer."

"This is a wonderful experience for the students," says Cadavid. "They get an opportunity to utilize their technical skills and abilities in 'real world' setting and they also are utilizing their 'soft skills.'"


For more information, contact Robin Fred via e-mail at or call him at 888.507.3800.

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