Hands-On Technology Training
Students Learn and Teach at George Mason’s STAR Center
By Judi Chamberlain

From the Febraury 2002 AAHE Bulletin.


How can colleges and universities meet the new and developing state or regional requirements for basic student technology skills? What mechanisms can a school use to support students as they are introduced to, and assessed on, skills that are now essential in many job markets?

The Student Technology Assistance and Resource (STAR) Center at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, has hit upon a novel approach to dealing with the technology revolution. By combining unique facilities, an equipment checkout operation, media resources, and readily available technology training with a consulting and workshop system, the STAR Center creates a variety of positive learning experiences for students.

The STAR Center has a director (half-time), five supervisors, and two half-time technical support staff. This team oversees an evolving cadre of about 40 to 50 student mentors each semester. These mentors are generally the first point of contact for students seeking assistance with their multimedia projects.

The STAR Center is made up of four laboratory environments:

  • STAR*Lab, with 22 stations and a mini-studio, supports multimedia projects and incorporates the five elements — audio, analog and digital video editing, graphics, text, and animation — with application-based technology.
  • STAR*Training (STAR*T) is a 15-seat lab with a regular schedule of assessments and workshops in computer applications and techniques.
  • STAR*Works is an eight-seat lab for support on Microsoft Office applications and the university’s email and course management systems.
  • web*STAR is a 14-station lab for student web projects.

In addition, STAR Services (STAR*S), which is based in STAR*Lab, offers technology services (audio and video dubbing, scanning and color printing, video and editing services) to students, faculty members, and staff for minimal fees, and provides a for-hire learning environment for students studying video production arts and techniques.

The STAR*Lab and STAR*T are also used by video production and multimedia classes.

The front desk of the STAR Center operates an equipment checkout system that allows students with valid IDs to check out audio, video, and digital video technology. The Center tries to keep a set of 10 camera kits (tripods, batteries, microphones, etc.) operational and available for checkout at all times, but does experience considerable stress from the semester cycle.

The STAR Center also houses the university’s Media Resource Center, which provides alternate means of learning software applications, including books, CD-ROMS, and videos, as well as sound and graphics libraries. Students may check materials out or may use one of the two learning stations with TV/VCR combos in the library.

The STAR*T facility offers workshops on a variety of skills and software packages, including basic HTML coding, basic UNIX commands, FTP and file management, WebCT for students, beginning and intermediate PowerPoint, Photoshop, DreamWeaver, Premiere, Director, Flash, and Photoshop, among others. These workshops are offered free, first come-first served, on a walk-in basis, and are scheduled weekly throughout the semester.

These workshops, and combinations thereof, are also made available to faculty members, who can sign up online for in-class presentations, specially reserved lab sessions, of guided class tours of the facilities.

Student as Learners and Teachers
One of the most innovative aspects of the STAR Center is its use of student mentors, who must have demonstrable technology skills to staff the labs and provide peer support for students with projects. STAR mentors are interviewed and hired as part-time university employees. They are scheduled to work shifts in the various labs, which are open from 10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. weeknights and one weekend day. Mentors are required to meet the same standards as other part-time state employees and have access to university training and development opportunities. They also have after-hours privileges in the labs.

The STAR Center views student mentors as within its mission as a support-for-learning organization; mentors learn customer service skills and are encouraged to explore technology competencies outside their immediate skill areas. Mentors working for STAR*T learn to present workshops and also work with learners. STAR*S provides its student mentors with on-the-job experience in videotaping and editing. STAR*Lab, web*STAR, and STAR*Works provide just-in-time project support, which requires the development of people-skills, as well as a wide range of technology-based application savvy, and experience with fostering the creative process in peers. The mentors are carefully trained not to complete student projects, but to assist in overcoming barriers to project completion.

STAR Center staff members are focused on sustaining growth in the mentor experience. After being hired, mentors create a “plaque,” a graphic demonstration of their skills, which includes a picture and a description of the technologies and applications the student invests in the effort. Mentors must also attend an all-day orientation session that includes a discussion of policies, skills instruction, some role-playing, and customer services training. STAR buys the pizza.

The STAR Center website is an interactive site for mentor communication. Its password-protected area for the mentors includes a place to write trouble tickets about equipment in the labs, a suggestion box, and an evaluation space. The online payroll process will soon be operational.

The STAR Center offers a unique array of learning experiences. With readily available technology, training and media resources, knowledgeable and proactive mentors, and a caring staff, thousands of students (and hundreds of mentors) are developing technology skills that will help them build toward their dreams.

Judi Chamberlain is supervisor of the web*STAR lab at George Mason University. Contact her at jchambe1@gmu.edu.

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