California's Modesto City Schools Site Technician Manager Anthony Luna (left) and CTO Russ Selken plan for every possibility to ensure student devices stay ready for learning.

Sep 28 2023

How Schools Make Sure Dead Devices Don’t Tank Learning

Charging technologies play essential roles in keeping learning on track.

Like most schools, educators at Modesto City Schools in Stanislaus County, Calif., expect their students to come to school prepared to learn. Still, for a variety of reasons, some students arrive with their laptops low on power, which can lead to classroom interruptions and missed lessons.

Modesto City Schools CTO Russ Selken says he was concerned when 30,000 students returned to the classroom after the pandemic, all equipped with devices.

“We moved 10 years ahead in technology integration with COVID, and if we don’t have the devices ready in the classroom, we’re going to take steps backward,” he says. “So, what obstacles do we need to overcome to have those devices fully charged?”

At Modesto and other districts across the United States, school leaders are solving this modern classroom problem by providing education on device care and a variety of charging technologies.

Previously, when students showed up with dead devices, “the first thing the kids would do is go to the classroom outlet and plug in,” says Anthony Luna, the district’s site technician manager.

But allowing students to crowd around one outlet in a classroom leads to learning interruptions. One 2020 study found that there are about 15 interruptions each day in the average classroom. In an ASCD blog post, one of the study’s researchers notes that “small interruptions and the disruptions they cause can add up to a considerable amount of lost learning time.”

A small 2023 survey of 171 teachers confirmed this idea. About 63 percent reported that students without working devices lost time during lessons.

As more teachers and IT staff collaborate to integrate technology into learning, student device readiness becomes even more essential.

So, schools hunted for a solution. Jason Bailey, director of innovation and design at the State Educational Technology Directors Association, notes that students coming to class unprepared is not a new problem.

“I’d encourage people to think about how they solved the problems they had before technology,” he says. “You had to deal with forgotten, lost or damaged textbooks, pencils and notebooks before. How would you deal with that? By sharing a book, lending supplies. It’s the same concept.”

RELATED: Here are 5 tips for optimizing K–12 storage and charging carts.

Charging Solutions Keep Students Ready to Learn

The Modesto City Schools IT team has worked to create modern solutions to the issue. Before the pandemic, Modesto used computer carts for grades K through 6, which were rolled from classroom to classroom as teachers needed them.

However, the district quickly discovered it needed to incorporate a wider set of solutions to ensure devices were ready for learning.

“Every site is a little different, but the concept is the same overall,” Selken says.  “And that’s about ensuring that technology does not interfere with educational minutes, because they quickly add up.”

First, IT made sure that each school has at least one charging cart with fully charged Chromebooks so that students in need of devices can check them out for the day.

“We call them ‘hot and ready,’” Luna says.

Students charging devices during class
At Modesto (Calif.) City Schools, students charge their devices during class without interrupting the learning experience.

 

IT also looked for charging carts with a smaller footprint, ultimately choosing AVer carts.

For better in-class device management, the IT team distributed JAR Systems Active Charge power banks to all classrooms in the district. These portable chargers keep students from crouching on the floor by outlets or stretching cords across their classrooms.

“They can be charging their devices at their desks, and there’s no tripping hazard,” Luna says.

Luna sees another advantage to JAR chargers.

“All units are modular in the sense that they can be configured to charge either devices or other portable chargers,” he says.

All classrooms also have JAR Systems power docks, where students can charge their devices when they’re not in use. The school office has lockable versions of these docks where substitute teachers can borrow laptops.

Outside of the classroom, the district offers students other options for charging and safeguarding their devices.

“We use LocknCharge FUYL Towers in open areas such as libraries, cafeterias and multipurpose rooms,” Luna says. “The idea is to allow students to put their devices in a secure locker during breakfast, lunch or after school. Once they’re ready to use them, they unlock their locker slots to retrieve their devices.”

DISCOVER: Learn how K–12 schools can overcome common one-to-one device hurdles.

Source: Consortium for School Networking, 2022 EdTech Leadership Survey Report, April 2022

Providing More Resources Solves Student Device Woes

In Kanawha County Schools in West Virginia, David LaMaster, an assistant principal at West Side Middle School in Charleston, has been working to make the transition to one-to-one devices as smooth as possible. Investing in extra devices and charging technology has been vital to his device management strategy.

“Every student has a device; it’s just like bringing a pencil,” LaMaster says. “Charging stations have been a lifesaver. Now, if students don’t bring their tablets or Chromebooks charged, they can still learn that day.”

Classrooms at the middle school have 10-port Unitek charging stations at tables, and students can sit there and charge their devices. The stations are outfitted with long, braided cables that are difficult to twist and break and that allow students to work without crowding one another.

The school uses larger charging carts to house extra tablets and laptops for students who have forgotten, lost or damaged devices. LaMaster also has about 100 additional devices for the 400-student school that students can check out as needed.

Charging carts also play a critical role in high-stakes online testing.

“It’s very important that all the tablets are updated,” LaMaster says. “So, we’ll collect all of them and put them in the cart the night before the test so they’re updated and ready to go the next day.”

For this, the school uses Anywhere Carts, which have two locking doors: one to access the devices and the other to access the cords.

LaMaster acknowledges that these processes didn’t happen overnight.

“These are things that we’ve learned over time,” he says. “Just like anything, there will always be new problems to solve. But the more support we gave students, such as more resources and charging options, the fewer problems we had. And more of them started bringing their devices back to school charged.”

UP NEXT: Strong lifecycle management plans support one-to-one programs.

Photography by Robert Houser
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