That's according to a new study of 811 school districts, which showed that 54 percent of those surveyed rely on students to provide technical assistance. Teachers, meanwhile, are "unevenly prepared for using technology as a tool for teaching and learning," according to the National School Boards Foundation.
"With increasing pressures to improve student achievement and bridge the digital divide, school leaders need to better integrate technology into the curriculum as a major learning tool," Robin Thurman, director of the NSBF, said in remarks prepared for Tuesday's release of the survey.
That's not to say, however, that teachers will become obsolete or that schools won't need professional technical advisers, educators at a panel discussion said Wednesday.
Teachers will always be needed to provide goals, behavioral and other guidance, the experts said.
"I don't think we can just throw the teachers out," said Reggie Romaine, principal at Mount Vernon Woods Elementary School in Fairfax County, Va., a Washington suburb.
And though students appear to be putting their technical knowledge to good use in tutoring and other activities, schools should employ professionals to handle major issues like network outage problems.
"If you're just solely relying on students, there is a problem," said John Bailey, the Bush administration's director of education technology.
Directed properly, student-led technical assistance can be a "win-win" situation born of necessity, Bailey said. Many schools may not have the resources for technical support and have no choice but to rely on students. Some tutor, others run help desks and still others have earned network and software certifications.
Most Internet instruction is done in subject areas such as history, social studies and science, according to the survey. Eighty percent of school leaders say the primary instructional use of the Internet is for research that helps teachers shape lesson plans.
The foundation said new teachers are "unevenly prepared for using technology as a tool for teaching and learning."
Of the school districts surveyed, 54 percent reported that students were providing technical support for their districts. In 43 percent of districts, students troubleshoot for hardware, software and other problems, it said. Thirty-nine percent of districts said students set up equipment and wiring, and nearly as many districts report that students perform technical maintenance.
The findings were based on telephone interviews with officials who make decisions on technology in 811 school districts - including 90 of the 100 largest districts, which represent 25,000 students.