6 strategies for preventing lost and broken technology
In some districts, keeping track of all the laptops and Wi-Fi hotspots distributed urgently to students was yet another of COVID’s myriad challenges.
How big a challenge that continues to be in the coming school year depends on a range of factors, says Lenny Schad, CIO of District Administration.
“The million-dollar question for school systems is are they going to rubber band back to the way they taught in 2019, pre-pandemic, where devices weren’t that critical?” Schad says. “If so, then devices in the hands of kids is not that important.”
With that outcome unlikely, however, administrators committed to continued digital transformation in 2021-22 will need to focus on asset management strategies that reduce the number of laptops, tablets and Wi-Fi hotspots that are damaged, lost or stolen, Schad says.
Districts with established 1-to-1 programs when the pandemic began were better positioned to keep track of their devices. Still, 1-to-1 districts anticipate about a 5% to 7% loss each year, Schad says.
And when COVID struck, many districts, in the scramble to get devices to students, did not prioritize asset management, he added.
Here, two prominent tech leaders—Wake County Public School System’s Chief Technology Officer Marlo Gaddis and San Antonio ISD Chief Information Technology Officer Kenneth J. Thompson—share strategies to help superintendents and district tech leaders track student devices:
1. Guidance for parents. At the beginning of 2020-21, educators in North Carolina’s Wake County Public School System prioritized providing more formal support to parents and families for maintaining devices, Gaddis says. That effort included adding an English and Spanish technology guide to the district’s website and a “more robust” student-parent agreement about caring for devices, Gaddis says.
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That agreement covers aspects of digital citizenship such as not cyberbullying or sharing passwords. And while district filters restrict laptop use in school buildings, Gaddis says the district is relying on parents to monitor use at home.
All students also get cases to add another layer of protection for their Chromebooks.
“It’s really about being more explicit with expectations and accountability—making sure we’re accountable, making sure parents and students are accountable, teachers and principals, we’re all accountable for different parts of our digital device programs.”
2. Summer tune-ups. San Antonio ISD had a three-year plan to go 1-to-1. When COVID struck, it accomplished the goal within three months, Thompson says.
“We have not had any students report that they did not have a device or connectivity,” Thompson says.
Now, Thompson and his team are asking students to bring all devices in for a summer tune-up of sorts. Tech advisors in each school are coordinating efforts in every building, with school set to start on July 19.
3. Expanded tech support. To provide more robust tech support, San Antonio ISD implemented “Teletech,” which Thompson compares to telemedicine. If a student’s or teacher’s tech issues can’t be resolved during a routine help desk call, they can schedule a Zoom call with an IT technician, who can take over the computer and deal with the problem.
During the pandemic, the district also began offering help desk support on weekends.
4. Digital learning coordinators. Wake County Public School System employs a team of 19 digital learning coordinators who support teachers across the district, particularly with instruction in digital citizenship, Gaddis says.
5. Better software. A disconnected collection of dozens of spreadsheets will not be sufficient, particularly in big districts. Administrators should consider investing in more robust asset management systems, Schad says.
Administrators will also have to clearly designate which staff is responsible for inventory management and define their specific roles. More broadly, data generated by the inventory management systems must be reviewed regularly by principals, IT staff and the cabinet to ensure districts are keeping losses to a minimum.
6. Eliminate mobile hotspots. San Antonio ISD is working with the state of Texas to develop its own LTE network. This would go some way in reducing the number of hotspots the district has to distribute in the future. “Those hotspots are small and easy to lose,” Thompson says.
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