Charging and storage platforms for K12 education

How schools are keeping devices running and saving instruction time
By: | October 17, 2018
36 DEVICES—Spectrum Industries’ Connect36 charges 15.6-inch laptops, Chromebooks and tablets. The 29-inch-wide, 25-inch-deep solution has ventilated doors to prevent overheating and numbered storage bays with plastic dividers to protect devices.

No matter how K12 institutions distribute computers, CIOs choose charging and storage solutions not just for their main functions—but also to maximize instruction time. Meanwhile, schools buying new tablets and laptops may—or may not—have to purchase new storage platforms to accommodate updated hardware.

Each case presents its own set of challenges. Here are innovative solutions from district technology officials and vendors.

Saving time without breaking anything

In southeastern Pennsylvania, Avon Grove School District has improved instruction by placing a pair of PowerGistics Towers in each classroom. The tall platform takes up less than a square foot of space and plugs into a wall outlet. One Tower has blue and red shelves, while the other has yellow and blue shelves.

“On the first day of school, teachers assign students to one of the colored shelves for every classroom” says Gary J. Mattei, Avon Grove’s director of technology. Each student now grabs their device from the designated shelf and sits down so class can start when the bell rings.

“Our teachers are impressed by how little they have to be involved with device management because the kids do it themselves” he says. “We don’t have to push or share carts anymore. There is no movement like that, which just saves a lot of time.”

 

SIDEBAR: Lockers and apps

 

But students can still damage devices when retrieving them from storage. Rich Henderson, Lenovo’s director of global education and retail solutions, recommends products with removable baskets that hold devices. This saves time because only a few students have to retrieve and set these baskets around the room so the rest of the students can pick up their devices.

Platforms with baskets, such as those in LocknCharge’s Carrier and Joey lines, cut device distribution time in half, compared with traditional cabinet-style carts. With a 30-unit cart, “we established that a school can save up to two hours of handling time per week” says CEO James Symons.

Other platforms, such as Tech Tub2 Dual Duty Teaching Easels, save time and space because they have a range of amenities from storage compartments to a dry-erase board.

 

SIDEBAR: Charging and storage capabilities: Districts at a glance

 

Last year, administrators at Salida Union School District in central California began planning a K8 1-to-1 deployment—but grades 1 and 2 posed a challenge. “These classrooms have books, beanbags and other things everywhere” says Melanie Evans, director of technology educational services. “There’s no way to roll a cart into those classrooms.”

Now, these classes use lightweight Teaching Easels, which have small footprints and various amenities. “Our teachers write on the magnetic dry-erase board, hang notepads on the book ledge, and store items in the headphone racks and pouches” says Evans. The easels also have compartments on both sides for device storage.

“Some teachers assign the role of tech helper to a student who makes sure classmates have put their devices away and that the doors are closed” Evans says. “This leads to more time when the students can stay on task and engaged.”

Don’t blow a fuse

IT teams must know how to adjust charging stations so the right amount of power is flowing to each device. Using the same amount of power to charge 10-watt iPads and 65-watt Windows devices, for example, can cause circuits to overload, says Dave See, executive vice president and CFO at Spectrum Industries, a charging station provider. Plugging three platforms into one outlet has the same effect.

Spectrum’s Power Prodigy minimizes the wattage that goes into a cart to avoid tripping a circuit. The Power Prodigy’s timer sends power to devices that need charging and blocks it from devices that don’t. This allows schools to store multiple devices in numerous charging and storage platforms at once without straining the power supply, says See.

In northwestern Alabama, Muscle Shoals City Schools chose CDI’s mobiLAB carts because the district’s mostly older buildings don’t have the electrical capacity to charge multiple computers.

 

ONLINE EXCLUSIVE: Providers on common misconceptions about their charging and storage products

 

The mobiLAB charges three rows of devices individually. “This puts less of a load on each school’s electrical system and stops circuit breakers from being tripped” says Technology Coordinator Kevin Stephenson.

Grapevine-Colleyville ISD, about 25 miles northwest of Dallas, also lacks the power to charge devices in classrooms. When the district went 1-to-1 seven years ago, Kwikboost lockers were installed in hallways, libraries and cafeterias so students could charge devices between classes and during lunch and PE. This required retrofitting buildings with circuits and power breakers.

Unfortunately, numerous facilities at Grapevine still don’t have the power capacity for charging devices, says Chief Technology Officer Kyle Berger.

But products such as Barter iTeach Power Towers—which use rechargeable batteries to power devices—may work in the district’s classrooms, Berger says.

Additionally, Grapevine classrooms don’t have the space for more furniture, but wall-mounted charging bays, such as LocknCharge’s Revolution Wall Cage, could solve this dilemma.

When you get new devices

Some vendors sell universal charging carts and stations that adapt to most devices. Still, replacing computers can have ramifications for charging and storage hardware. Central Unified School District, in the heart of California’s Central Valley, saved some money when it migrated from Android tablets to Windows-based Hewlett Packard Chromebooks for grades 3 through 12.

For preschool through grade 2, district officials chose touchscreen Chromebooks because tablets remain an effective learning tool for younger students. That meant the district could continue using some of the Ergotron charging carts it already owned, though officials also purchased new models from the company to power the HP Chromebooks.

“It saved us hundreds of thousands of dollars because we could reuse our original carts” says Jason Horsman, Central USD’s director of instructional technology.

Many schools also run into difficulties when replacing Chromebooks with Microsoft devices because Chromebooks have universal adapters while Microsoft devices don’t.

“Schools that wire a charging and storage platform for a Microsoft device can only make it work for that one model and will have to rewire the cart to accommodate others” says Glenn Collins, vice president of business development for CDI. Rewiring takes about 90 minutes.

USB-C ports could charge multiple Microsoft devices simultaneously once they no longer require a standard A/D charging port, Collins says. They could also sync content on those computers. But, he adds, “we are probably a generation away from seeing that technology become abundantly available.”

 

Steven Blackburn is associate editor of DA.


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