Student-run help desk introduces teens to Linux

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Leveraging 21st-century education with open source

I was the first young woman to join the Penn Manor High School Student Help Desk, an independent study course where we learn about software, hardware, technical support, and customer service skills.

Every day, we help our classmates when they have issues with their school laptops. I joined in the spring of 2015, but I feel like I've been here forever.

Getting started

From a young age, I was interested in technology. Thanks to my older brothers, my curiosity was encouraged and sometimes satisfied by their answers. Sometimes not. They might say I was the annoying little sister who asked "why?" a lot, but it was a good thing that helped my love for technology grow.

Every student at Penn Manor receives a laptop at the beginning of the school year, and I first learned about the help desk program when I visited the tech room because mine wasn't charging properly. The small room was crowded with computer stations, and student helpers were huddled around a table working on a project.

I was greeted by a friendly voice saying "Hi, how are you? What problems are you having with your laptop?" That one phrase ignited a spark in me that would lead me down a path that has taught me so much and prepared me for my future career.

A day in the life

I'm a people person, and I cannot imagine a more perfect day than one spent repairing laptops and solving software issues at the help desk. But being a student help desk apprentice is both an honor and a challenge.

In a typical day, I collaborate with my classmates when they have technical problems and repair our school laptops. Being a tech apprentice is serious. We must update the help desk software dashboard when a problem occurs.

Inventory is important. We keep track of every one of our 1,700 student laptops. In addition to the day-to-day work, we help train students or assist teachers in the classroom. Recently, I visited classrooms to teach a lesson about how to install DRC, a mandatory testing software program Pennsylvania students must use. We presented instructions for the students to see and hear, and walked around the room to help them type commands like sudo apt-get install drc-insight into the terminal. I enjoyed interacting with the students and teaching them something new about open source software that they wouldn't typically learn in a classroom.

When new students start at Penn Manor, we give them a pep talk and tell them to explore their laptops. Some make and edit videos for a class; others create flyers to put up around our school, or just use their laptop for homework. Our students, many times on their own, find new ways to use open source applications and resources to improve their classroom productivity.

We encourage our students to explore all of the pre-installed software on the laptops. For many of us, it was and our first contact with open source programs and the open source concept. With Linux and programs like KdenliveKazam, and Audacity, Penn Manor students have improved their education.

Together with Penn Manor technology staff, we have created customized help desk software too. One example is our imaging station, where we can wipe a laptop clean, restore the default image, and prepare it for student use. Another example is our use of AdBlockPlus. We pre-downloaded this browser extension into our laptop image so our students don't get pesky ads and can stay away from dangerous sites that contain malware.

A valuable experience

I think of our help desk room not as a class, but as a family. We motivate and teach each other, but we also have a few good laughs. We make memories daily and I don't have to hide who I am in this class. Nobody dares to judge one another, and we become closer by our differences.

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Susan Black is currently a senior at Penn Manor High School, and a member of the Penn Manor Student Technology Team. She loves music, video games, tea, and technology.  


Great article Susan! Thanks for sharing your story. I've shared this far and wide with my edtech friends and especially with those who enjoy reading stories about young ladies in technology. Thanks to you I've now installed AdBlock on my Chromium browser. Have a great day!

Looks like you school has a healthy stimulating environment Susan! Great!

The Penn Manor High School Help Desk is what I have to thank. Positive learning environment leads to positive thinking students that do well.

In reply to by YY

The quality of the writing in this blog post speaks volumes about the character and talents of the student who wrote this. If I were an employer, I'd hire Susan Black in a heartbeat. For those interested in seeing more of this kind of thing in schools, search Twitter for the hashtag #PBL -- which stands for "Project Based Learning." Also, read the book Who Owns the Learning? by Alan November. View Alan November's TED talks on YouTube. And follow Gary Stager and the Maker Education Initiative on Twitter. Thanks are owed to Charlie Reisinger (@charlie3) and the other leaders of the Penn Manor School District. They're not only educating students. They're teaching the rest of us what we need to know.

Thank you Phil! Also, I am looking into the TEDTalks, Twitters, and YouTube names mentioned above. Thank you for sharing those.

In reply to by pshapiro

This is a very well-written and informational article. Thanks for sharing, Susan! I've been following the awesome progress at Penn Manor High School and was thrilled to be able to read a student's perspective.

Well, I am very happy that you enjoyed the article. Hopefully more to come!

In reply to by Jessie Tuscano (not verified)

Fantastic article Susan! You have proven to us once again that this is why we have this structure and the 1:1 Student Help Desk course. What a role model for your peers!

Thanks so much for such a thoughtful piece. My students benefited so much from the glimpse into all that you do. Your work serves as a model for school districts around the country to follow. Thank you for taking the time to write it out so that all of us can read about your work and learn from it.

Thank you for reading it! I am glad that students are being benefited by my article. :)

In reply to by Laura Fleming (not verified)

Nice article. Student led help desks are a great idea.

You should investigate the differences between AdBlockPlus and uBlock Origin. The amount of computer resources consumed is one advantage...

i am a student and i use Linux mint i would recommend it

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