How to set up a Successful Device Lending Program
Before you start distributing devices to your students, you should decide how those devices will be used, managed, repaired, and more.
There are four main groups of things to consider when setting up a device lending program. We call them the 4 P’s:
- Big “P” Policies
- Little “p” policies
- Professional development
BIG “P” POLICIES
Big “P” policies can be grouped into five main areas:
It may not be enough to know which families have no devices at home. There is a spectrum of device availability ranging from nothing to a parent’s smartphone to a home computer or more. But even having a home computer connected to the Internet doesn’t mean that students will have adequate access, especially if parents and siblings are also working from home.
Most school districts already have data privacy policies. With school-issued devices going home with students, and teachers searching for new ways to engage and support students, you will want to review your data privacy policies to make sure they adequately address home use.
Be vigilant about which tools you make available or recommend, and work with vendors to make necessary changes. Many vendors are now offering products and services that were not designed for K-12. As a result there may be features and default configurations you will want to change.
Most importantly, communicate with students’ families frequently, transparently, and in plain language — especially with primary caregivers who may be required to provide permission or supervision for learners under age 13.
This is traditionally outlined in your Acceptable Use Policy, but you will want to review it in light of home use. What does “for academic purposes only” mean? If a student wants to read an eBook that was not assigned or an article about a topic of personal interest, is that allowed? Is it OK for the student and/or family to use the device to connect to a video chat with other family or friends? Remember that the loaned computer can help students and families maintain important social connections.
- Your district owns (or leases) these devices, so you’ll need to consider, within the context of other Policies, who pays for accidental damage, theft, or loss.
- Requiring a family to pay for an accidentally damaged device may save your school money in the short-term, but it also reduces the family’s capacity to pay taxes/tuition and could negatively affect the support you may need to pass a tax/tuition increase.
- Remember that, for public schools, the fundamental requirement to provide a free and universal education is the foundation on which all Policy is constructed. For independent schools, your families selected your school, but you also chose the family by accepting the student.
- No matter what decisions are made and ultimately approved by your school board, your Policy should address accidental damage, theft, and loss. Intentional damage is likely already covered in your Policies. Look to existing Policy for how the school handles vandalism.
1 | Fees are a way to raise funds to mitigate the financial risk presented by loss or non-warranty damage to devices. Fundamentally, a fee is a user tax designed to fund an account that covers “unexpected expenses” that stem from accidental damage, loss, or theft.
2 | Insurance is a proactive attempt to recognize these “unexpected expenses.” In some instances, schools purchase insurance from their budgets. In others, they pass this cost on to families, or give families the option to purchase insurance.
For public schools, remember the foundational Policy of “free and universal education.” Also consider pay-to-play laws in your state, and how your taxpayers or tuition payers will perceive fees when they have already paid taxes or tuition.
When considering commercial insurance, remember that the “unexpected expenses” associated with accidental damage, loss, and theft have been calculated and are expected by the insurance company’s actuarial team. It is how they determine your insurance premium.
Regardless of how your school funds the cost of an insurance premium, remember that you are pre-paying for not only the cost of repair and replacement, but the assurance of coverage, which is more than simply the cost of repair and replacement. If you can afford the premium, then you can, in all likelihood, afford to simply pay for repairs and replacements as they occur.
LITTLE “p” POLICIES
Little “p” policies are all the practices and procedures that allow for the Big “P” policies to be maintained, managed, and/or mitigated. These do not need to be approved at the school board level. Asking for school board approval will likely impede progress and implementation because your IT team needs to be able to make adjustments on the fly to best support your students and teachers.
Here are the most important little “p” policy questions and considerations for schools districts:
In an ideal computing environment, at least from a technician’s perspective, you control everything because it is the best way to guarantee functionality. But with loaned devices, you can no longer predict the home network environment nor the user’s environment.
Some questions you’ll need to answer:
- Will your content filters operate outside of your school network environment?
- Can you push device configurations, updates, and installations effectively over the Internet and to a home network?
- In some instances, you will have students operating on wireless hotspot-based networks that may have limitations on bandwidth use. Will your technical management and monitoring significantly impact data usage?
Sooner or later, users – students, caregivers, and teachers – will need technical support. Many standard troubleshooting routines and processes that work well in school environments won’t work so well in a home environment.
Schools have the luxury of not only controlling their network environment, but there are typically many other devices nearby to use as “control” devices to troubleshoot what’s going on. Further, when a device’s connectivity is the issue in school, there’s always another computer nearby to report to online ticketing systems that both aid with notification, triage, and tracking. If the school’s network is down, your technical team knows immediately, and so individual device connectivity issues are easily ruled out as the problem.
Schools will now need to figure out how to provide remote technical support. This isn’t new to the technology world, but it is new to your technology team just as remote teaching and learning are to your staff and students. Telephone support is a tried and true method in the technology industry, but most schools don’t have call centers to manage incoming calls.
Some questions you will need to answer:
- How will technical support staff interface with users?
- If connectivity is the issue, online ticketing systems won’t help, and students can’t just drop by the tech office. Will staff maintain school hours or extended day hours?
- If a device needs physical repair or attention, how will devices be safely collected, triaged, and repaired?
- If you use a third-party repair service, are they still maintaining regular hours and staffing? How do you interface with them? For all interactions that include an exchange of physical equipment, additional precautions must be taken to ensure the safety and well-being of both the student, district personnel, and third-party vendor partners.
Existing 1:1 programs typically require that devices are returned to the school at the end of the school year. Routines have been established to manage inventory and verification of receipt of loaned equipment, working status of that equipment, and how any costs associated with missing or broken equipment are billed appropriately. Current social distancing practices introduce a new wrinkle to these routines on top of inventory-related outcomes.
You may want to explore some alternative routes based on new circumstances. For example, will students need the devices for summer learning? If current remote learning efforts have hampered progress toward learning targets, or as a matter of maintaining some sort of “new normal” routine for families, you may be considering summer sessions for all students.
Can traditional summer maintenance efforts for the devices be managed remotely to allow students to maintain possession of the devices through the summer and then into the start of the next year? While there are certainly many moving parts and challenges embedded in such an effort, schools may wish to consider this path as an alternate route to a more traditional year-end collection, summer maintenance, and fall redistribution model.
PREPARATION AND PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT
None of these devices do anything without real people: Your staff, students, and parents will need support and guidance. Supporting the human side of a device lending program is as important to its success as the Policies and policies that govern and implement it.
While the current social distancing measures are forcing schools, teachers, and families into a remote learning environment, not only do teachers need to consider how they will facilitate teaching and learning, but districts must do the same for our teachers who are learners too. Their needs are no less important nor less tangible than those of our students.
While many schools already use online learning management systems at some level, their universal classroom use, especially at the younger grade levels, is not common. Teachers, students, parents, and technical support will need support and training in both the mechanical and practical use of the tools. These needs span the spectrum from logging into platforms and accessing content to uploading assignments and communicating with teachers. Add to this a new challenge related to the configuration and set up of synchronous video sessions to the need for parent understanding of how noise carries through a home, is heard by a microphone, and across a virtual environment.
How can you provide ongoing support and training for teachers, students, and parents? Some large-scale training efforts are better suited to online delivery. You can also use tools like videoconferencing to help parents and primary caregivers understand how to support students’ learning.
Digital literacy and citizenship has always been critical to any digital learning efforts, but now the aftermath of a lack of digital literacy and citizenship learning programs will be magnified. Effective digital literacy and citizenship programs need to include students, parents, and teachers. Each group’s needs differ, and while some efforts can be done jointly to ensure common understanding, teachers will need support in how to teach the skills, and parents well need support in how to reinforce and model the skills at home.
In a remote learning environment, teacher professional development can potentially be offered daily in an on-going manner with the right mix of online tools, staffing, and creative scheduling. Professional development delivery and coaching can be redesigned because “coverage” for students and physical space are no longer issues for your school. You might be able to leverage these changes in time and virtual learning spaces to provide more frequent, although likely shorter, professional support.
Clearly, there are many challenges for schools to effectively implement a device lending program on short notice. It isn’t easy, but fortunately, other districts and states have paved this road with 1:1 programs dating back as far as the early 1990s. We can learn from others, and apply what we have learned to our current situation.
Over the weeks to come, we will continue to share more information, best practices, and examples from schools that have been able to implement similar programs. Schools with new programs can use these examples and best practices to guide their efforts while experienced schools can both share their successes with us to help others while reviewing their own existing 4Ps to further refine and improve their efforts in support of their students, staff, and communities.