Keeping Focused on the True Goal

How sustainable technology improves the classroom experience.

GUEST COLUMN | by Peter Robinson

1-to-1 technology deployment is the goal for just about every school district. Parents and educators alike agree that the ability to leverage technology in the classroom is crucial for equipping students to succeed in higher education and in the workforce.

However, sometimes school districts try so hard to maintain a 1-to-1 technology environment that classroom learning suffers. This is the situation we found ourselves in at Auburn School Department until we implemented a sustainable technology approach aimed at improving the classroom experience, even if that meant that not all grades offered one device per student.

Auburn School Department is the district in Auburn, Maine responsible for the education of 3,600 students in 10 schools covering pre-K through 12th grade. Auburn schools have approximately 2,700 devices, including 1,200 iPads used in grades K-6, and 1,500 MacBook Airs acquired through the state’s 1-to-1 initiative for grades 7-12.

“…the overall classroom experience has improved dramatically. Students in each classroom now use reliable devices that are all the same generation, teachers are able to use the latest software and applications…”

In 2011, Auburn schools began offering 1-to-1 iPads to the current kindergarten class. Our goal was to build our 1-to-1 program beginning in kindergarten, so we funded 1-to-1 for each subsequent kindergarten class until the budget ran out in 2014.

At that time we started buying the devices at the end of the lease, and using them until they stopped working. When devices couldn’t be used anymore, we used them for parts.

Cascading Issues

While we were able to offer 1-to-1 in grades K-3, grades 4-6 were sharing iPads at a ratio of one per four students. One reason for this poor ratio was budget, which caused us to hang onto devices well past their useful lifespan.

As individual devices failed, students were given replacements. While this was disruptive enough for students, we soon found ourselves in a situation where classrooms were using devices with various operating systems. This meant that teachers no longer could count on using specific teaching tools and applications because not every student’s device could accommodate the technology.

In one classroom, a teacher had to stop using Google Docs, one of our key learning applications, because Google no longer supported some of the browsers on our devices. In addition, other applications couldn’t get the latest updates and were unusable in the classroom.

Outside the classroom, our efforts to manage and repair devices were getting out of hand. At one time we were managing five fleets of devices all with various lease start and end dates, and some were different generations of the same device. Our staff increased just to keep up with the demands of managing and repairing our devices. (See chart)

It became clear to us that the overall goal of providing the best technology-enabled teaching environment wasn’t being reached.

A Change in Mindset

Our history of using devices until they were worthless, and then recycling them for pennies apiece, wasn’t sustainable. We needed a different model that would provide our students reliable and updated technology for the best learning environment, and a streamlined approach to make managing the technology easier.

We adopted a sustainable approach where a single fleet of 1,170 iPads would be leased for grades K-6 for four years and then sold to an Apple buyback company for cash. We knew that Apple devices maintained their value so we devised a timeline to trade in devices when they still have significant residual value and demand for these devices is high on the secondary market. Our plan is to resell our current devices after three years, which should deliver proceeds that will be enough to roll into a new three-year lease.

To do this, we solicited information and quotes from five different buyback companies, and selected Second Life Mac because they were able to send a buyback expert out to do a pre-assessment of our schools’ devices, and give us a realistic quote based on their actual condition.

The process was very simple. They sent Auburn School Department all the packing materials we needed, along with shipping labels. My team simply removed the “Find my iPad” information and activation lock from each device, slipped them into the protective packaging and sealed the boxes. They also arranged for pick up of the devices and we received a check soon after.

Quality over Quantity

Today we are managing just one lease, and by maximizing the money we received on our buyback, we are able to keep our classroom technology current.

While simplifying our technology meant that our lower grades had two students per iPad, the overall classroom experience has improved dramatically. Students in each classroom now use reliable devices that are all the same generation, teachers are able to use the latest software and applications, and professional development has been streamlined.

When it comes to classroom technology, quality should always trump quantity.

Peter K. E. Robinson is Technology Director at Auburn School Department in Auburn, Maine.


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