Getting started in open source through a high school student help desk

Student-run help desk introduces teens to Linux

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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.

About the author

Susan Black - 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.