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Is a ‘Digital Champions’ Scheme a Great Way to Provide Learning Opportunities, or Just a Budget Version of Tech Support?

“We need to be cognisant of what parents might think if their child is continually being asked to interrupt their work in order to help others”

  • Is a ‘Digital Champions’ Scheme a Great Way to Provide Learning Opportunities, or Just a Budget Version of Tech Support?

These days, not many people believe in the myth of the ‘digital native’. That is, the idea that because children have been born into a technology-rich world, they are completely at home with it, just as a native-born resident is at home in their own country. Nevertheless, there is little doubt that youngsters tend to be very quick at picking things up when it comes to technology, and are just as keen to pass on their knowledge to others.

Many schools have taken advantage of these tendencies by creating a digital champions scheme. While they may have different names and a different range of duties, what such schemes have in common is that the youngsters help teachers and other children to make using education technology a smooth and enjoyable experience.

One example of such an arrangement is that of the Riders Infant and Junior Federation in Hampshire. Ian Addison, ICT leader, set up the scheme in order to give children the chance to showcase their talents, to assist around the school and to help with the delivery of the school’s ICT and computing curriculum.

At the moment, five Y6 pupils are involved in the scheme, and their duties run from relatively low-level technical support like charging up laptops, to helping teachers create multimedia presentations and write blog posts. They have even represented the school by presenting at the industry show Bett.

One school I spoke to has adopted iPads in large numbers. To help ensure the scheme’s success, the school invited the pupils to apply to become ‘iChamps’.

Their role is to provide a first level line of support by assisting pupils (and teachers!) with relatively trivial tasks like synchronising their data between devices and sorting out minor glitches.

Some schools, rather than creating a general digital champions group have opted instead to focus on e-safety. For instance, Henwick Primary School in London has signed up to the eCadets scheme (ecadet.zone).

Claire Lotriet, assistant head, explains why they went down this route:

“We started an eCadets scheme because we wanted to raise the profile of online safety and have a strong ethos of children leading on initiatives like lunchtime clubs, so getting children to help lead online safety seemed the natural next step.”

The duties of the pupils, whose ages range from Y2 to Y6, include giving assemblies and setting challenges for the other children, and even parents. Soon, they will start to write and distribute e-safety leaflets.

The benefits of schemes like eCadets and digital champions are clear: they provide extra assistance to the person in charge of education technology in the school, can provide a first line of technical support, and help to raise the profile and importance of e-safety in particular or education technology in general. But are there any downsides?

Nicholas Hughes, head of computing at Latymer Prep and part-time educational consultant at 3BM in London has some misgivings.

“I worry that children who are digital champions can become become either teaching assistants or technical support within lessons,” he says. “The teacher can learn to over-rely on them, and that doesn’t help teacher confidence.”

While acknowledging that digital champions can alleviate some of the pressure on teachers, and that giving pupils the opportunity to explain things to others can enhance their own understanding, Nicholas prefers to have a situation in which all of his pupils help each other rather than a select few.

We also need to be cognisant of what parents might think if their child is continually being asked to interrupt his or her work in order to help other kids or the teacher.

If you like the digital champions idea, where should you start? According to Ian and Claire, the eligibility criteria to take part can be quite simple: you have to be a child, and you have to be enthusiastic!

It’s tempting to launch a full-scale set-up from day one, but Ian suggests this can become unmanageable in terms of arranging to meet large numbers of pupils in a lunchtime.

He also notes, “It is better to have four busy children than 12 children with nothing to do.” It’s also important to give ‘digichamps’ a bit of status. Ian recommends badges with lanyards.

Kids tend to love to help others, and doing so definitely improves their own knowledge, skills and understanding, so why not give it a go?

Terry Freedman is an independent education technology writer and consultant. Find him at ictineducation.org and follow him on Twitter at @terryfreedman.

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