Jan 31 2008

Seeing Around The Curve

Prepare to make your notebook program a long-term success.

So you finally started your one-to-one notebook program. After months, or perhaps years, of planning, you’ve cleared the hurdles that have plagued you including sources of funding, resistant staff members, and even community and school board members who are not quite ready for the paradigm shift you are proposing.

You’ve no doubt planned carefully, but you also know that experience is the best teacher. If only you could see down the road a few years to predict what challenges you will face, you could help avoid these potential project-threatening problems.

Our school district near Houston, Texas, is nearing the completion of its fourth year since implementing a one-to-one notebook program district-wide. As we achieve this milestone, we have nevertheless developed a long list of “if only we had known” issues. Many of these could easily have been easily addressed through more carefully crafted requests for proposals, or by paying closer attention to the fine print on vendor contracts. Novices to the one-to-one arena can quickly find themselves overwhelmed with these details.

Below is a series of suggestions that I wished someone had shared with me five years ago. Following them can make your foray into the world of notebook initiatives safer:

  • In addition to adding a total protection care clause to all notebooks, purchase a separate insurance policy to cover notebook thefts. You are sure to need it. Many companies specialize in insuring electronic devices. If you charge students a small usage fee, these funds pooled together can be used to purchase the policy and make the program self-sustaining.
  • Make sure there is one full-time technician on each campus where your program is running. Software and hardware needs will increase exponentially, making the need for additional support a necessity. It’s time to take a deep breath, count to 10, and call your personnel office.
  • Anticipate a high volume of notebook damage, especially in the first year. Our repair logs range from computers destroyed in car wrecks to those damaged while sledding down a hill! Plan for at least 5 percent spare units. Use these to exchange broken units for working units to reduce student downtime. Also consider developing a schedule of fees and fines to deter damage.
  • Consider negotiating for a five-year warranty. This will ensure better long-term parts availability and reduce service costs. Otherwise, you may find yourself struggling to find after-market manufacturers, and incurring huge repair expenditures.
  • Remember that unless you specify otherwise, batteries are only under warranty for one year. Batteries don’t usually last much longer than that. Purchasing new ones each year is expensive. So do the smart thing and put the batteries under the same warranty as the notebooks.
  • Consider training your technicians to do on-site repairs. Often, manufacturers will reimburse you for your time and labor. Third-party vendors often do not provide timely service, especially if you have a high repair volume.
  • Have a plan to rotate older, out of warranty units from daily service to use in mobile labs or as teacher notebooks. Not surprisingly, teachers tend to take care of frail, aging units better than students do. Also, this type of long-range thinking will help increase community support for your initiative.
  • Make sure the remote Internet filters you use are highly dependable. Remember, parents are relying on you to make sure the students’ experience surfing the Web is a safe one. Weak filters will lead to enraged parents. More problems will arise in this area than any other.
  • Plan for the cost and procedures needed to re-image notebooks at least annually. You may need to purchase additional equipment, or budget for outsourcing.
  • Bags and backpacks may not hold up to student wear and tear. Plan on placing these under warranty protection as well. Bags purchased through a third party will only be covered for defects.
  • Establish a schedule to check notebooks regularly throughout the year. This can help you to avoid a huge influx of damaged units at the end of the year, and can help to identify student notebook misuse during the year.

One superintendent recently wrote that education is the water, and technology is just a wave. Whether or not that is true, one thing is certain, technology is a wave that will carry students farther in the learning cycle that any other single medium in use today. Notebook initiatives, when planned and executed properly, are now becoming a substantial part of this new “wave” and the suggestions above will help make it the biggest and longest lasting wave it can be.