Problem-Laptops Carts

I want to address the fact that aside from BYOD and 1-to-1 programs, there is another model out there that many schools use. This is a purely shared resource model that revolves around shared carts. Usually laptop carts, but sometimes other devices are also “carted” and shared. On the surface the model seems ok. Here is the basic reasoning for doing it:

  1. It is cost effective to share laptops owned by the school.
  2. It is easy to manage laptops owned by the school that stay at school.
  3. Students do not use laptops for every class or even all the time in technology intensive classes. Therefore, having laptops on demand is suitable.
  4. Most students have a computer at home so they do not need to carry one back and forth.
  5. Teachers will have an easier time because all the students will always have the same equipment and same configuration.

The reality of this model is much different. The first problem is how many devices are enough? When planning for carts, which I have done numerous times, the school looks at the amount of current IT use. From there they determine which teachers are most likely to reserve a cart and how often. Then they try to predict if the demand will increase, and if so, when and where.

This does not work. It does not work at all. Unless you have one laptop available per student, you will always have entire classes of students who need equipment and cannot access it. To support even a small number of laptops, you need wireless internet access (WIFI). At some point, students will say, “If I have my own laptop, can I please use it?”  Most schools will consider this and eventually say “YES”. At that moment, laptop carts are doomed.

The reason for this demise is because you cannot split a cart. All the laptops go with the cart, and return with it. School equipment is checked out to a teacher and they have to be responsible for the set they check out. So now you might have thirty laptops on a cart, but actually only need fifteen of them. Yet, you have to take all thirty. This is an inefficient use of resources.

The myth that carts are easy to manage must stem from computers that I have never used. Students are generally hard on school owned equipment. They damage it regularly. It does not matter if they are accountable. The fact is it takes a person time to process all the damaged items. It takes time to get those items sent for repair, and it takes time to repair them.

One year, I had to deal with forty-five damaged laptops out of a group of sixty or thirty laptops for two carts. The teachers were not being responsible and reporting issues on time. The assigned IT technician was ignoring the problem because too many were damaged. The repair center refused to fix them because the damage was physical and they did not want to warranty any of the repairs.

Damaged equipment takes resources away from learning, and you might have five spare units per sixty units but that would be about it. If a teacher reserves a cart for twenty-six students, and four laptops are damaged, then four students do not get equipment. Again, loss of opportunity and a negative impact on teaching and learning occur.

The other main problem with the cart system is that the students can only use the equipment during class time. In my experience many students do not work very diligently during class time, despite a teacher’s best efforts. They wait until study hall or other times when they are ready to work. Some schools do have individual device check-out for students, but many do not, and especially not for young students.

Even with an individual check-out type of system, how many laptops or devices do you allow to be checked out? Inevitably, someone will always be left out. A BYOD program prevents this inequality if it is planned correctly.