K-12 School Computer Networking/Chapter 22
 Effectively Using Volunteers
Volunteers are anyone who is helping you that isn’t being paid. They can include students, teachers, parents, administrators and community members. Volunteers may exist informally (i.e. a student who gives up recess), or formally in the shape of a not-for-profit organization (i.e. the MOUSE project). Volunteer programs can be either an indispensible asset or an uncompromising consumer of your time. The key is to maintain control, adapt to the situation, and, as in all other aspects of teaching, plan ahead.
Advantages to Organizing Volunteers
There are many advantages to hiring volunteers, and most of them are obvious. For technology coordinators time is a precious commodity. Volunteers can be trained to complete jobs that require little training, yet command an inordinate amount of time.
For example, you have just ordered a whole lab license for of your favorite webpage designing software. It could take a whole day of work to load the program into thirty desktops (presuming you can’t push the application out from a central server). Or, you could train one intelligent child to load the software, enter the serial number, and register the copy online. In fact, you could train one child; then, he/she could train three friends at lunch. Surprisingly, the task that took you a whole day to complete can be handled by five school children in less than an hour
Often the solution to your colleague’s technical problem is mindlessly simple, and, children relish the opportunity to play teacher to adults. Therefore, teaching a responsible child to troubleshoot saves you time, and it builds the child’s self esteem in addition to her/his technical skills. Furthermore, by cultivating students’ problem solving skills, troubleshooting helps students become better analytical thinkers.
Select and Train Volunteers--
Although starting a volunteer program may seem like the panacea to many of your problems, there are some subtle nuances to starting a program. First, you have to select potential candidates. These students must be somewhat self-governing. Despite the degree of intelligence, a child you can not trust to walk the halls alone is not a good candidate. Remember—most of the tasks the volunteer will be doing are simple. So, a moderately good student who is extremely trustworthy is a better volunteer than a genius with a record.
Next, you will have to find the time to train these children. Human nature dictates that we appreciate more things that we must sacrifice to attain. Hence, children who are willing to sacrifice their recess time or are willing to come to school early will appreciate their position more. Additionally, you know those are children who really want the job. Let’s face it…if you’re the technology coordinator, your are probably at school working before the day starts anyway. If you invest that time to train several students, your investment can pay you back exponentially.
Training your volunteer staff can be as simple or as complicated as the tasks you want the volunteer to be able to complete. Never assume a child just knows how to do something. Actually, make them prove to you by demonstrating. If you simply ask, the child will tell you “yes” because he/she feels embarrassed. Most likely, the students that volunteer for service in the computer lab will be bright; therefore, they will be uncomfortable not knowing answers when confronted by a teacher. If they are not trained properly, inevitably, they will end up costing you time instead of saving you time.
When in doubt remember-- there is an old Slovenian saying that translates to, “the lazy man works twice.” Always thoroughly train your volunteers before assigning them tasks. Or, you’ll end up spending twice as much time cleaning up the mess or putting out the fire they accidently created.
Finally, you must carefully consider scheduling. Make sure your volunteers’ schedule doesn’t conflict with their important academic subjects. If your volunteer fails a math test because she/he missed a class while fixing a teacher’s I-tunes, you may find yourself confronted by a host of angry parents, teachers, and administrators. Explain to your volunteers that they can’t miss key subjects to volunteer, and randomly spot check to ensure they are telling the truth.
It is a good idea to stick to your schedule. Don’t allow students to “no show” without an explanation or a good reason. Truly, consider the time you use to train your volunteers as an investment. If they aren’t there when you need them, you’ve wasted your investment in time.
Disadvantages of Volunteer Tech Assistance
Volunteers are supposed to make your job easier. If the volunteer program you are utilizing is costing you unnecessary time and (or) creating more work than tit resolves, consider disbanding the program. Frequently, volunteer programs can result in the technology coordinator being responsible for supervising more children. Of course, some children will attempt to abuse their privileges. If your trusted student is running amuck through the halls while he/she is supposed to be working, don’t take it personally. Inevitably, children try to test boundaries. Take swift disciplinary action to resolve the issue expediently.
Unfortunately, children are not the only culprits. Some teachers will attempt to abuse your good intentioned attempt at efficiency by sending their worst behaved students to volunteer in the computer lab. Notwithstanding, volunteerism can be an excellent means to remediate the behavior of a wayward child. Additionally, teachers may attempt to abuse the program by sending flocks of children when they are insufficiently prepared to teach. The technology coordinator must ALWAYS control who participates in the program. Programs where there is a clearly defined set of guidelines, and open lines of communication among teachers succeed most frequently.
A token economy or a hierarchy of responsibility can be a great way of applying ensuring the degree of seriousness with which your student volunteers approach their responsibilities. For example, in a hierarch of responsibility a computer lab black belt might have permission to assemble new systems, and a white belt may only be aloud to calibrate SMART boards. In regards to a toke economy, students earn tokens for each day of responsible action. Earning one token would allow the student to shelve laptops, earning five permits him/her to install new software. Forcing students to earn their responsibilities will, in effect, ensure you have best workers doing the more complicated work. Furthermore, from the student’s perspective, applies a degree of cognitive dissonance; thus, they will appreciate their jobs more.