Jul 27 2021

Three Laptop Charging Cart Challenges and How to Solve Them

Device charging solutions are engineered to help educators and IT leaders, and planning can maximize their efficiency in school buildings.

In the days before K–12 one-to-one device programs, device carts served as a mobile computer lab. Devices could be brought to classrooms when tech-savvy teachers had online lessons for students. Schools might have had enough laptops for one class.

Now, many schools operate under a one-to-one model, with a device for every student and, likely, a number of backup machines. To support these programs, tablet, Chromebook and computer carts have evolved to serve the needs of today’s K–12 districts. Frequently, they are used as charging stations for laptops and tablets.

As many students return to classrooms around the nation this fall, educators should prepare to make the best use of these technology carts for their schools’ one-to-one devices. Here are three potential challenges facing districts, and how to solve them:

1. Educators Don’t Have a Plan for Students’ Laptops

Time is a valuable commodity in K–12 classrooms. Optimizing time when using a device charging cart should be a high priority for educators and IT leaders alike.

“What is going to be the class flow for your students?” asks James Varlack, digital learning specialist for McAllen (Texas) Independent School District and K–12 IT influencer. “How are they going to get the device? Do we use it every day? Do I have specific parts of the lesson that I need it for?”

Educators should think about all of these questions when it comes to their lessons and the devices in students’ hands. Having a plan in place will allow devices to stay charged and ready while optimizing the online experience for students in classrooms.

IT leaders should work with educators to ensure they know the proper procedures for using charging carts and their devices. “If a device is damaged, educators should know how quickly that device will get repaired,” Varlack says. “If you have a classroom of 30 students and 30 devices, that means someone — for a time — is going to be without a device. Should they to go another cart and borrow from that, or contact the librarian?”

James Varlack profile photo
If a device is damaged, educators should know how quickly that device will get repaired. If you have a classroom of 30 students and 30 devices, that means someone — for a time — is going to be without a device.”

James Varlack Digital Learning Specialist, McAllen Independent School District

School districts with limited IT staff can also save time by using charging lockers. While they don’t have the mobility of a cart, these solutions create a simplified system for repairing student devices.

“The lockers are cloud-based,” says Rob Fox, director of sales for education at Bretford. “The IT guy can send a text or an email to a particular student saying, ‘put it in this locker in bay three,’ give them a code or an RFID strip, and they can go and put it in. Then, at their convenience, the IT guys can go, grab it and work on it. Vice versa, you can also redeploy very easily.”

Allowing a district with a limited IT staff to collect and return the devices on their own schedule keeps workflow moving efficiently. It solves logistical challenges for the staff, the educators and the students.

MORE ON EDTECH: Support understaffed IT teams with these tips.

2. Laptop Charging Carts and Stations Create Physical Touchpoints

Though many students are returning to classrooms this fall, concerns surrounding COVID-19 still remain, particularly in communities where variants of the virus are spreading. Children under 12 can’t be vaccinated yet, and a one-to-one model in which students are sharing devices is in itself a challenge.

Some tech cart companies have begun putting sanitizing UV lights in their carts and lockers. This joint charging and sanitation solution works well for schools where students leave their devices overnight. However, time again becomes a factor for UV sanitation.

“It takes eight minutes, which sounds fast, but a big concern is classroom time,” Fox says. “So, how much time are you taking away from actual instruction?”

He suggests that districts include device cleaning as part of their regular building sanitation process. “Most districts have built most of that into their facilities budget,” he says. This allows devices to be cleaned regularly when a UV solution would take too much time.

DIVE DEEPER: Sanitation solutions allow districts to protect students when reopening.

3. Wiring in Laptop Charging Stations Causes Frustration

Cord management and adaptors can also cause headaches for educators and IT staff when it comes to device charging carts.

Device manufacturers are already working toward a solution in one way. “There’s been a convergence on USB-C,” Fox says. “GoogleDell and HP have all funneled into having USB-C as their charging methodology.”

With fewer adapters needed in new devices, IT leaders have one fewer piece to keep track of.

Additionally, many charging carts now are designed with cord management solutions, such as Bretford’s prewired carts. This saves IT teams time, as they don’t have to manually wire the carts upon receipt. Having the built-in wiring also saves educators and students time, as they aren’t fighting to untangle chargers when taking or replacing their devices.

As long as students have devices, they will need a way to charge them. Tech carts have continually evolved to meet the needs of the K–12 students and educators who use them. With one-to-one models in full swing in many districts, the need for tech carts in classrooms “is established like fries with the burger — the burger being the device,” says Fox.

David Tran/Getty Images