Device management strategies Part 2: Deployment

Having a solid plan for distributing devices, including who has ownership responsibility, is key to success.
Lenny Schad is chief information and innovation officer of District Administration.
Lenny Schad is chief information and innovation officer of District Administration, and former CIO for Houston ISD.

In Part 1 of this series I discussed the impact COVID-19 has had on every school system in the country. There is a new reality all district leaders are facing and that is: Remote instruction and learning is not a onetime reaction to the pandemic, rather, it is something every school system must embrace and adopt.

All districts had to react quickly to the pandemic and as a result, the focus was getting as many devices as possible into the hands of as many students as possible. It does not matter what the start of school scenario is put into place every student will need a device in their hands. That is why device management processes, procedures, and structures are so important.

As a reminder there are three key strategies for a successful device management program:

  1. Collection (Discussed in Part 1)
  2. Deployment
  3. Maintenance

Read: Updated: Free K-12 resources during coronavirus pandemic

Strategy 1: Deployment

To define a robust and manageable deployment strategy there is one key decision that needs to be made at the cabinet or executive leadership team level: WHO OWNS THE DEVICES?

In conversations with other districts that have successfully implemented 1:1 programs as well as my own experience, ownership of the devices was typically a technology department responsibility. This does not mean that campuses are not accountable, rather, it means that from a management and oversight perspective, the technology department is ultimately responsible for devices.

Regardless of who you designate it is highly recommended that ownership of the devices and all the support processes are overseen by a department from central administration. Campuses do not have the resources, time, or experience to take on something like this. By allowing the campuses to solely own device management and oversight you will be introducing a lot of variation and managing the expectations with this wide degree of variation is an impossible task.

The next element of this strategy is to identify how campuses will manage the devices and inventory on a day to day basis. There will need to be a designated room or location that is safe and can be secured. This location will house the campus replacement inventory, which is usually between 5-10% of the campus student enrollment. This will also be the location students can drop off devices that are not working and get a “loaner” device assigned.

Once the location is determined, identifying the campus staff members responsible for managing the room is next. These individuals, and I recommend identifying at least 2 campus staff members, will be responsible for day to day operations. These include simple triage, student loaner assignment and campus inventory management. The final step will be providing professional development (PD) for the campus staff who are responsible for the computer inventory rooms. This PD should include:

  • Basic Device Triage
  • Asset Management System Training
  • Asset Management Process & Procedure
  • Lost/Stolen Process & Procedure

Read: How online learning is unmasking disparities

The next step is to create the cross-functional team responsible for campus deployments. Since every school system has different titles and organizational structures, I will simply focus on the roles and responsibilities of this group.

  1. Onsite Technical Support
    1. This group will provide assistance to students logging in, password resets, wireless connection, access, and security.
    2. This can be in-house resources or could be provided by the district’s computer service provider.
  2. Check-Out
    1. This will include the campus inventory room staff who will be responsible for the assignment of devices to students as well as ensure that information is in the asset tracking system.
  3. PD
    1. There should be some type of quick training session for the students on basic care and feeding the device, instructions for accessing outside wireless networks and basic navigation of the device and systems. There should also be printed material provided to each student related to the PD they received.

Once the roles and responsibilities associated with the deployment team are established the next item is defining WHERE will the deployments occur? Given the uncertainty of what the start of school will look like, it is my recommendation the campuses be the hub for all deployments regardless if the school is face to face or virtual.

Campuses are the most logical location as they will house working inventory and provide replacements for broken devices. This is a decision that should involve principal input as well as taking into consideration the uniqueness and challenges surrounding elementary, middle, and high school campuses.

If the decision is to conduct the deployments from the campus there are some key questions that need to be addressed and will be exclusive for each campus:

  1. When will the devices be delivered to the campus?
  2. Where will the devices be stored on campus prior to the deployment?
    1. The computer inventory room typically is not large enough.
  3. What type of security can be provided to the location?

One of the hardest elements of the deployment strategy is figuring out WHEN the devices will be handed out. The goal for every campus deployment should be to create a deployment schedule that has the least amount of disruption to the instruction day. To create a deployment schedule each campus principal must have input. With input from the principal there might be opportunities to leverage student gatherings that are occurring prior to school or after school, which will help minimize instructional day disruption. The non-negotiable is involving each campus principal. In determining the WHEN, there are some questions that need to be part of the scheduling process:

  1. When and Who will unbox the devices?
  2. How far away from the student check-out location is this storage location?
  3. How will the devices be delivered from the storage location to the check-out location?

Finally, the last step in the deployment strategy is to identify your communication plan. The quickest way for deployments to be a disaster is poor communication. The cross-functional team and the cabinet need to agree on a communication plan and schedule. The plan should identify:

  1. Who will provide the communication
  2. What will be communicated
  3. When will it be communicated
  4. How will it be communicated
    1. Website
    2. Newsletter
    3. Email
    4. Hard Copy
    5. Robo Calls

One final thought related to deployments: I often get asked about student device fees. At Houston ISD we charged a $25 device fee each year. We understood that some students could not pay this amount and therefore, let the principals determine a plan of action on a case-by-case basis. In my opinion, I think students should have some accountability into the care of the devices. Without some type of program that enables this, breakage, lost and stolen numbers will be higher.

Next week we will wrap up device management with Part 3: Maintenance, the day to day operational aspects of managing devices in the hands of every student.

Lenny Schad is chief information and innovation officer of District Administration, and former CIO for Houston ISD.

DA’s coronavirus page offers complete coverage of the impacts on K-12.

Lenny Schad
Lenny Schad
Lenny Schad, one of the most prominent voices in K-12 technology leadership, is District Administration's chief information and innovation officer and technology editor-at-large.

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