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District 192 looks within for iPad geniuses

With Farmington High School handing out iPads to all of its students this week, Farmington School District 192 likely has some technical support challenges ahead. It's looking to its students to lend a hand.

The district hopes to launch what it's calling an Inner Genius Bar - a play on Apple's own in-store Genius Bars - sometime after students return from the winter break. The idea is for students who are comfortable with the new tablet computers to help students and even faculty members with everything from account setup to Apple ID recovery to basic troubleshooting on the devices.

The idea for the student-led tech support came up as the district prepared for widespread rollout of its iPad initiative, said Charles Duarte, the district's head of instructional technology. There are similar efforts in place at other school districts, but Duarte said Farmington's is the first to tie the program to a strategic plan that puts a premium on helping students discover what they're passionate about - their spark, in district terminology -- as a way to engage them in learning. If students get excited about helping others master their tablet, the thinking goes, they'll get more excited about school.

"If that's a spark of theirs, we want to give them a chance to develop that," Duarte said.

Applications for the Inner Genius Bar are available now at FHS, and a few students have taken advantage. But the exact details of the program are a bit up in the air for now. Duarte expects to launch the Inner Genius Bar with before- and after-school help sessions a couple of days per week. Then, depending on the response, the district might start trying to work shifts into students' schedules during the day.

The district will continue to offer technical support when needed, but Duarte likes the idea of handling issues within the school.

"If you can solve (a problem) with the person who's sitting next to you, that's more efficient," he said.

All students who are accepted into the program will go through training to help get them ready.

Even without a formal program, Duarte and others in the district have already seen some of the student-led help they're looking for. Some students already have experience with iPads. Others are simply more comfortable than their peers when it comes to technology and happy to lend a hand where they're needed.

"It seems like a natural fit," Duarte said. "What we've found through the use of our Schoology platform, we've had students helping students and staff throughout the district. We anticipate that will carry on."

It could carry on beyond the high school, too. With the district expected to continue its iPad rollout to its middle and elementary schools early next year Duarte hopes to offer similar Inner Genius opportunities for students at those schools.

Farmington High School planned to hand out iPads to its high school students at three community meetings Dec. 18-20.

Nathan Hansen

Nathan Hansen has been a reporter and editor with the Farmington Independent and the Rosemount Town Pages since 1997. He is very tall.

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