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.
Next page: Read this before buying carts
Make the library a central cart hub
Dickson sees the school library as a central hub for media services and digital citizenship. With this in mind, he said the library can serve as the perfect, centralized location for cart management, storage, and scheduling. “From a logistics standpoint, libraries have become a focal point for schools in this digital age,” said Dickson. “If the library can oversee the movement and orchestration of the carts, you can gain a lot of leverage while at the same time enhancing the library’s already-important position on the K-12 campus.”
Do your homework before buying
Rob Fox, national sales manager at Bretford Manufacturing, said schools should factor in some key considerations before purchasing their carts. For example, the entire dimension of the mobile device—including spacing for the power adapter when plugged into the device—is an important point. Make sure there are external outlets for peripherals (i.e. printers, projectors, access point, laptop on top, etc.), he said, and factor class sizes into your actual plan for deploying/utilizing the mobile devices and carts. “Carts come in a wide variety of capacity sizes,” Fox said, “so ensure the capacity size meets the needs of the usage model.”
Learn the difference between timer charging and smart charging
Timer charging essentially rotates through “power banks” in pre-set time increments. Smart charging intelligently measures power demand and delivers power when and where it is needed. Another important differentiator between the two: Timer charging is less expensive than smart charging. When considering which carts to select, “It’s important to understand which power management system works best for a school’s specific needs,” said Fox.
Give teachers and students support in small bites
McEntire avoids overwhelming teachers with dozens of new mobile apps or usage tips for their devices, but she does want to help them get the most out of their cart-based iPads, Chromebooks, and laptops. To achieve this balance, she sends out a short list of “app recommendations” every Tuesday. “We’re a 9,000-student district with limited time for professional development, so it’s hard for our teachers to see all of the cool, new, fun apps that are out there,” said McEntire, who also works with students in the classroom, showing them how to use larger applications like Google Classroom, which the district started using in 2016. “That was a big transition for us this year, so I got in there and helped everyone adjust to it and start using it,” said McEntire. “I find that between the information sharing and the time spent in the classroom, we’re able to leverage our investment in carts and devices pretty well.”
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