They’re used to charge, secure, store, and distribute tablets, laptops, and mobile devices—and in schools that aren’t using one-to-one take-home initiatives, they’ve become a mainstay.
Carts, those waist-high metal cabinets on wheels, often hold dozens of devices, perfect for classrooms that need technology on the go. The elementary English teacher who is using a blended learning approach in her classroom, for example, has come to rely on that cart of fully-charged iPads or Chromebooks that’s rolled into her classroom at 8 a.m., ready for a full day of tech-based instruction.
Unfortunately, a lot can go wrong between the time those devices were last used and the English teacher’s first class. A scheduling argument, a cartload of devices that didn’t charge properly, or a logistical snafu that ends with the cart situated clear across campus, can all wreak havoc on a seemingly solid technology initiative.
“Myriad challenges can come up when you’re trying to manage hundreds of devices across dozens of carts and campuses,” said Herb Haubrich, technology director at Waunakee Community School District in Waunakee, Wis. “Just managing the sheer number of devices alone can be daunting, not to mention getting the iPads or Chromebooks out into learning environment and ensuring that they’re scheduled, distributed, charged, and then prepped for the next day’s use. It’s not always easy.”
Recently, we spoke with three technology directors and one cart vendor, and asked them to share their best practices for iPad and Chromebook cart usage in the K-12 setting—from both the IT and instructional perspectives. Here’s what they had to say:
Understand the learning space
Don’t just roll a few carts into a school building and hope that they fit well in the learning space. Instead, sit down with teachers and talk to them about how they transition between subjects, activities, and classes. In a blocked scheduling environment, for example, they’ll need charging support that goes beyond just a few hours (since multiple teachers will need the carts back-to-back throughout the day). “Understand the environment that instructors are working in,” said Rob Dickson, executive director of IMS at Omaha Public Schools in Omaha, Neb., “and then develop a cart strategy based on those requirements.”
Build a schedule that works for everyone
When Waunakee CSD brought in 1,200 Chromebooks for grades four to 12 last year, Haubrich’s team built out a schedule that allowed teachers to sign out the carts as needed. “We found that only works if teachers play by the rules,” he said. For example, some science teachers decided to sign up to use the carts every week for the entire school year. “Our schedule blew up in our faces,” said Haubrich, whose team sat down and talked to the teachers about “equity and fairness,” and then developed a SQL-based scheduler that it uses to more fairly distribute the carts on campus. Anne McEntire, ed-tech specialist at Easton Independent School District in Easton, Pa., uses Google Calendar to address her district’s cart scheduling challenges. At the elementary level, for example, teachers are generally limited to using the carts for just 40 minutes (as noted on the calendar, which everyone can access) and then must relinquish them to the next person on the list. At the secondary level, instructors who teach the same class all day need extended access to the carts—an accommodation that’s also noted on Google Calendar. “This system works pretty well for us,” said McEntire.