Should schools accept donated devices for online learning?

Some experts say only if the equipment is not ‘at end of life’ and doesn't create inequities or increase costs
By: | June 25, 2020
School donations are on the rise as businesses continue to send used devices so every student can access online learning but district leaders need to determine whether or not to accept donated equipment such as laptop donations.Getty Images/Image Source

School leaders are under pressure to provide every student with a device for online learning in the fall as many districts plan to adopt some form of blended learning even if campuses reopen. This pressure extends to whether or not to accept donated devices from local businesses and organizations to address that need. But complications can arise if these school donations differ from current fleets.

“Districts are trying to standardize their equipment, and if you start to introduce variations, it will likely increase manpower and maintenance costs,” says Lenny Schad, chief information and innovation officer of District Administration. “For example, the time to repair damaged devices can be delayed, so students could potentially be without a device for longer than they would have been originally.”

Accepting laptop donations, for example, could also introduce inequities if the incoming models are older than district equipment. “Many devices that are donated are at end of life, and you want to ensure that what’s in the hands of your students are fundamentally the same,” says Schad who is also a former CIO for Houston ISD. “You don’t want some students to get brand-new devices while their peers who are the same age and grade level receive donated devices that are four years old.”

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The equity issue might not be a concern if donated equipment is two years old or newer, but that’s rarely the case, he adds.

Meanwhile, some experts encourage schools to use donated devices determined by their value instead of age. “Each school should identify the necessary programs for each student as well as how many times an asset requires service or repair,” says Founder and CEO Barbara Rembiesa of the International Association of IT Asset Managers, a global organization that serves the education sector. “Often called trouble tickets, this is an important metric when determining the value of an asset refresh cycle and whether an asset is still generating value by being in the environment.”

What to do if you are or not using school donations

School leaders who decide to accept donated devices need to know what has or hasn’t been done in terms of asset management maturity. So IT officials must have an accurate understanding of the hardware and software that exists in their environment and of the usage rights associated with the software, says Rembiesa. “Especially from an educational sense, some licenses are specialized in what they do and do not allow.”

School leaders who decide not to use laptop donations and are approached by business leaders who are offering to donate must handle the situation carefully. “It’s a very nice gesture and you don’t want to turn down offers,” says Schad, “but if schools are approached with the opportunity, they need to have conversations about how the school donations are appreciated but that financial donations would make more of a positive impact since they would provide more flexibility for the district to buy new devices outright or repair devices in fleets that are out of warranty.”

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