Technology Integration

Maintaining Classroom Devices for Effective Learning

A short check-in at the beginning and end of class can help teachers and students ensure that devices are functioning optimally.

August 2, 2023
Drazen Zigic / iStock

Imagine a science classroom on lab day. The materials have been painstakingly prepared. Students listen to whole group instruction about the objective but are given the materials without any explicit directives about usage and precautions. They manage to go through the steps of the lab using the materials provided, and when the bell rings, they are dismissed with no directives on returning the lab to its original state.

What would that classroom look like for the next group of students? What would it look like over time? How much loss in materials and time would be incurred?

Preserving Chromebooks Is Vital to 1:1 Learning

Since Covid-19 helped usher in the era of digital 1:1 learning, students have been entering the classroom daily, using materials, and then exiting—often without any device care and management protocols. That kind of mishandling would be unthinkable in a science lab, and it leaves campuses open to unsustainable yearly losses. 

Obviously, factors like death dates and lack of repairability aren’t within a school’s locus of control. EducationWeek cites the fact that getting students to take care of Chromebooks is one of the biggest ways schools can impact this number. Further, according to a study by the US Public Interest Research Group Education Fund, “Longer lasting Chromebooks could save taxpayers $1.8 billion dollars across all K–12 students.” It sounds like a simple solution, but when there’s barely enough time to go through the whole lesson and get the exit ticket done, leaving Chromebooks on desks (or wherever) becomes the new routine.

So, what can be done, especially when administrative mandates often require that instruction happens “from bell to bell”?

Make Adjustments to Pace and Provide Training

First, districts need to revise the definition of “bell to bell” teaching and adjust pacing guides to reflect those changes. Just as no one would require a science teacher to start and end lab instruction without proper setup, breakdown, and cleanup as a part of the instructional block, similar protocols are vital for teachers who now essentially provide daily instruction in computer labs.

It’s important that the new bell-to-bell teaching includes five to seven minutes at both the beginning and end of class for device management. Teaching students how to inspect and manage devices and their classrooms is not an add-on. It’s fundamental instruction that builds character, citizenship, and a sense of fiscal responsibility.

Next, at district-wide trainings, teachers need to be given explicit instruction on how to manage classroom devices and how to integrate student device inspection into the instructional block. In an elementary school where devices stay in classrooms as class sets, this might mean morning and end of day, or morning and each time students switch classes. In schools where students take devices home, this might mean three or four times a week, depending on your own campus damage and loss rates.

Further, at the campus level, the value of taking care of devices needs to be overcommunicated in newsletters and at parent events. Teachers also need reminders to check devices for damage regularly using routines learned at district and campus trainings. The same accountability standards traditionally in place for text and library books need to be in place for devices.

That doesn’t mean that teachers are responsible for breakage and loss, but it does mean that there’s a system of accountability when lack of policy implementation results in repeated damage and loss of devices. These measures shouldn’t be punitive, but they should provide the support necessary to maintain 1:1 instruction.

Finally, districts need to ensure that there are ample outlets and charging stations in classrooms. Power strips and dish racks have been good interim measures, but they’re often hazardous and aren’t long-term solutions. The financial investment required to institute these changes is a worthy one, since lack of wall outlets and uncharged devices are commonly noted barriers to the improved engagement and outcome gains that come with digital integration.

Every Day is Lab Day

Early 1900s desks didn’t have a pencil groove in them. That came later. In 21st- century learning, it’s essential that classrooms build the equivalent of a pencil groove for 1:1 instruction. Building that pencil groove involves thinking like a science teacher in order to ensure that device management is a regular part of classroom instruction. Here’s an example:

  • Before the opening activity, students come in and examine their devices for superficial damage (screen, key, or cover damage), reporting any findings to a class tech manager or teacher in written or digital form. Students also check the computers of their seat partners before logging in to check for battery life and any cursor or system irregularities.
  • At the end of the lesson, class, or day, students repeat the process before placing all devices on chargers, remembering to look for the charging indicator light before preparing to leave the classroom.
  • If devices travel with students, these protocols should be repeated two to three times weekly. If devices are shared, get guidance from IT on how to keep them sanitized as well.

Just as science teachers teach responsibility and accountability for lab materials by explicitly teaching students setup and breakdown procedures, each teacher, with campus and district support, is responsible for integrating daily computer lab (any classroom with digital learning devices) management to ensure that our students have access to well-maintained devices for as long as possible, before replacement is necessary.

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