Digital Leaders – Why you need them in your school? (Plus a few tips on how to get started)


Students are curious.

Without this curiosity, I don’t believe a Digital Leader programme would be so successful. Show them something they are interested in and they want to know more. If they come up against a barrier, they want to overcome it. If they can find out something no-one else knows, they want to share it. Successful Digital Leaders are the epitome of the curious student with more to offer schools than perhaps any other student body at this time. The classroom environment is changing and students and teachers need their help.


  • A guide when using technology to support learning
  • Exponent of new and existing applications
  • Trainer and supporter of school members including parental, teacher and student bodies

The example below is taken from our 1:1 iPad initiative which serves to illustrate how crucial Digital Leaders will be to the success of the rollout. It must be emphasised that the roles and responsibilities are transferable to any technology in schools. I would suggest that the process is a little easier as all students have the same device.


  • An iGenius in each class (responsible for communication with students and teachers alike)
  • Four further Digital Leaders in each class
  • Genius Bar run every lunchtime (in a very public space)
  • Training every Friday lunchtime given to Digital Leaders to support their development
  • Edmodo group for communication, sharing good practice and new ideas


  • Students submit a 30 second presentation to a panel of interviewers. The presentation can involve any application although the most common is an iMovie with different apps used to create the content
  • The panel then ask questions centred around communication and commitment. An ability to understand that skill levels are varied is key to the selection process, alongside communication skills
  • Digital Leaders chosen to meet the model requirements (with respect given to outstanding candidates above and beyond the four Digital Leaders per class)


  • First to receive information about new apps/ideas
  • Friday lunchtime training for selected Digital Leaders based on focus for the week ahead. This allows for weekend interaction and feedback amongst the group. Training includes appropriate digital communication and presentation suggestions
  • Access to key information from teaching body and IT support
  • Consistent rewards for attendance and application – in line with school achievement policy


  • The primary aim of our Digital Leader programme is to support learning in the classroom
  • The presence of four ‘experts’ in the classroom means a teacher should never have to deal with technological issues – Wifi, App use, Workflow etc. The reality is that the Digital Leaders provide a safety net without having to call a member of the IT support team. Consequently, teachers are more likely to try new applications knowing the Digital Leaders are trained to support them
  • A teacher needs to manage when the Digital Leaders can offer support and ensure it doesn’t hinder their own learning
  • Feedback and praise works very well in the iPad environment as it can be shared instantly. The Edmodo groups serve as an excellent way of highlighting contributions
  • The Genius Bar, run by an iGenius and four Digital Leaders, must serve to solve issues for any school member. It helps to have a focus that the Digital Leaders can demonstrate to encourage interaction. Set up is easy as everything is wireless!
  • The presence of four or five Digital Leaders in each class means that absence or forgetfulness is barely noticed. If in doubt, more is definitely more


  • Dropbox sign up for new students was as simple as asking the Digital Leaders to ensure all members of their class had an account (GoogleDrive will be the same)
  • A question from a teacher posted on the Edmodo ‘wall’ led to fifteen responses with answers to the query. As a result an app was ‘gifted’ to all students that hadn’t been previously used
  • A Digital Leader came up with a method of downloading any file from the internet into Goodreader that meant we had a one step process to transfer files (including from existing VLE)
  • If the Digital Leaders have an issue they communicate with each other, via Edmodo, discover the answer and thank anyone that helped for their time. As a consequence their ‘chatroom’ will be used a as a model of good practice

The reality is, I can’t see how a 1:1 programme could be properly supported without Digital Leaders in the classroom. There isn’t the funding or manpower to support all teachers and students and, if I’m honest, I think fellow students are better equipped in many situations. There is a time commitment to the process and the initial setup is crucial to success. However, I can assure you it is worth it and the payback for all the questions you don’t have to answer cannot be underestimated.


Train your Digital Leaders to be masters of workflow. Your fellow teachers will thank you.

About Daniel Edwards
Director of Innovation & Learning at the Stephen Perse Foundation schools, Cambridge, UK ( Interested in global connectivity for all and risk taking in education. Keen to discuss all aspects of learning and digital strategy. Also @syded06 on twitter.

33 Responses to Digital Leaders – Why you need them in your school? (Plus a few tips on how to get started)

  1. Pingback: Digital Leaders – Why you need them in your school? (Plus a few tips on how to get started) | Education technology info |

  2. Pingback: Digital Leaders – Why you need them in your school? (Plus a few tips on how to get started) | iPad in Education! |

    • Funding the Digital Leader programme.
      Following a conversation with the ever helpful Mark Anderson @ICTEvangelist it is pertinent to describe the structure behind our DL programme. We are committed to operating 4 DLs per class which will mean a total of over 100 Digital Leaders in our school by the end of our rollout. This is possible for us as we are rolling out our iPads year by year so training is manageable. We are also fortunate to be able to release staff for training as this is part of our budget for the year. As Mark has stated this model may not be suitable for all schools and budgets, so a trial is well worthwhile. Please do get in touch to discuss how Digital Leader programmes can vary from school to school or contact Mark to see how his school do it.

  3. Pingback: Digital Leaders – Why you need them in your school? (Plus a few tips on how to get started) | Utbildning på nätet |

  4. Pingback: Digital Leaders – Why you need them in your school? (Plus a few tips on how to get started) | Skolbiblioteket och lärande |

  5. buistbunch says:

    We’re in the process of purchasing a bunch of iOS stuff and a massive iMac for a smallish multimedia studio at our school. I know that I will continue to be the digital leader at my school. However, with our Joint Venture purchase I hope to involve more colleagues so that we can create a set of digital experts.

  6. Pingback: We’re Getting a Mac Lab or Yup, I’m Bragging « The Buist Babble

  7. Pingback: Digital Leaders – Why you need them in your school? (Plus a few tips on how to get started) « syded « TSD Technology Toolbox

  8. Interested to why you would train pupils to train teachers? Why not train the teachers? I fully agree with having Digital Leaders to provide peer-to-peer support and aspiration, but not as a replacement for IT Support for teachers who should be digitally literate for today’s world.

    • Lisa Gurthie says:

      I can think of several reasons why training the student is a superior idea. First, it is time efficient, taking less time and resources to train students than teachers, some of whom would be starting far behind the students this program would target. Also, it gives students an opportunity to practice maturity and communication along with honing their technical skills. Many teachers plates are full yet kids are looking for ways to feel needed. This is the kind of thing that can keep a disaffected student from dropping out and/or raise the social standing of a child who does not normally get to showcase their skill. It also reminds the other students they can take a part in making their own class run smoothly. Finally, having a digital leaders program frees the teacher to fully focus on the instruction and the students, not the equipment. This is an immense help. Teachers who feel comfortable troubleshooting may underestimate the negative effect malfunctions can have on tech-shy teacher’s classroom climate and on that teacher’s own stress level. The teachers who don’t need it could still contribute by talking aloud as they fix their own class problems so digital leaders can bring that expertise into the neighboring rooms as they move through their day.

      • Really appreciate you taking the time to comment Lisa. I tend to agree with the sentiment that the teachers are already overloaded and Digital Leaders can really help. Thank you.

      • There’s a danger to accepting that teachers do not need the same digital skills as pupils – would you accept lesser abilities in English? Being Digital Literate is a core skill required to understand and be creative in today’s world. I fully agree with the benefits to pupils, and for their involvement in peer-to-peer learning – its a super initiative for this. My argument is that there should be no “tech-shy” teachers or digital illiterate teachers given the amount of inset and other training time that can be dedicated to delivering basic skills.

    • Thanks for taking the time to comment. We feel that having 4 leaders in each classroom allows the teacher to get on with guiding learning. Tricky to find time to train all the teachers.

  9. Pingback: Scratch (ing) the surface and digital leaders | I used to know

  10. Pingback: Digital Leaders – Why you need them in your school? (Plus a few tips on how to get started) | Dragon E-learning

  11. Brian Cullen says:

    My school is looking at setting up a digital leaders program as we are rapidly moving to a 1:1 program. I like the ideas in your post but the one about having 4 DLs in each class has me confused. Given that students are in different sets for different subjects how can you arrange this?

    Also as another poster mentioned, assuming this could be worked out, that would mean a very large number of digital leaders – definitely more than 100 for us. I’m curious how you’d arrange training for that many! Any advice on this?

    • Thanks for commenting. The 4 students are in each form so if they are in sets then it will be luck if they have 2 or 7 in a class! We are rolling out our iPads by year group so training happens for 20 at a time alongside the rollout.
      Hope that helps.

  12. Lisa Gurthie says:

    Since reading this article, I started developing a tech leader program. I just turned over a video production chore to some students during their recess and they are learning so much more than if I had done it myself. The recent comments made me remember this article – it is ok to eschew tech today as a teacher?

  13. Pingback: Digital Leaders – Why you need them in your school? (Plus a few tips on how to get started) » Digital Leader Network

  14. Steve Waters says:

    Daniel, an inspiring article. I am a Secondary English and Literacy consultant and have promoted Literacy Leaders in schools, following the excellent example set by Graham Tyrer, Headteacher at Chenderit School. I am also a Social Digital coach and very interested in harnessing the inherent skills of young people to promote digital learning and to use iPads in the classroom.

    I think the way in which you have drawn on pupils’ leadership skills in the social digital aspects of learning in your school is an excellent example of using pupils as a resource to lead development and support teachers in the classroom. I am most interested in keeping in touch with you and possibly working together at some point.

    Steve Waters

  15. Pingback: Digital Citizenship | Annotary

  16. largerama says:

    People, is waiting for you all and especially your Digital Leaders. While I am loving the fact the enthusiasm and commitment to making DLs and integral part of education, I urge you to come together and form a network. This is what I am offering via ozdls. Please blog and get your DLs to blog, share your ideas in one place and then we can really get this to snowball in Australia. However, it is heart warming to find that I am not banging my head against a brick wall here :)

  17. Silvia Martinez is doing some great work with and worth getting in touch about how her group could help you. I also notice that Ian Addison is doing this with his school Keep up the great work and thank you for the share :-)

    • Hi all,
      Roland pointed me here – there are indeed quite a few resources on the website. Look at the “Free resources” section for articles on student “genius bars”, support for laptops, and more. All these articles represent the collective wisdom of thousands of GenYES schools across the US, and even some in Australia! In the US, Generation YES is a not-for-profit organization with the mission of improving education with modern technology by including students as leaders, allies, and advocates.

      To answer the question about teacher training – I would answer that Digital Leaders (we call them Student Technology Leaders, or STLs) should complement, not replace, what teachers are expected to learn and do. It’s synergistic, teaching students what we expect from digital devices and software helps build a collaborative learning community where everyone is a learner, everyone can be a teacher, and everyone simply expects to use digital technology in every aspect of learning. It communicates a shared value that if you don’t know something, you and the people around you can figure it out, no matter what their ages.

      A change process only works if all stakeholders are included. Students are the most important stakeholder in education, yet the most often forgotten. We simply cannot expect to integrate technology into education if we ignore 90% of the people we expect to jump on board with our lovely visions.

      There are lots of successful ways schools can incorporate students in the implementation of their technology plans, but the primary goal is the same as we all want for lifetime learning – to create students who are agents of change rather than objects of change.

      Hope to meet some schools who use Digital Leaders in Australia while I’m here (through June) and again when I’m keynoting the ELH conference in August 2013.

    • Thanks Roland, I’ll take a look.

    • Steve Waters says:

      Hi Daniel. Thanks for your suggestions re helpful contacts.

  18. Chris Mayoh says:

    A really great post! Full of very useful tips based on your experiences. Thank you for sharing.

  19. Pingback: Using New Technologies to Enhance Learning | Flying My Geek Flag

  20. Kent says:

    Great write up. I’m curious as to what age you used this leadership approach to e-learning with? I come from a primary school, and it is something we have considered.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 20,771 other followers

%d bloggers like this: