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Sending student devices home over school breaks: What to consider

December 15, 2022

The following article is written by EdTech expert and author Carl Hooker. Carl has 20+ years in education and K12 consulting. He speaks on a multitude of topics from digital wellness to technology integration and district leadership.   


When we began our 1:1 student device program in 2011, there weren't a lot of resources out there to help guide us with tough decisions. Which cases should we buy? How much should we lock down the device? Who pays for it if it breaks? These were just a few of the litany of questions that we encountered when we built the 1:1 program. However, one of our most challenging questions was this:

What do we do with the student devices during school breaks?

By the end of our first semester of the program (we started with juniors and seniors), we had already encountered several issues. Students were easily distracted in classes where the teacher was teaching in "lecture mode".

Our filters worked great in school, but at home, we had no way of filtering the device short of a few internal settings. Some students were also fairly careless with the device, which led to a ton of cracked screens and other issues. All of these issues led up to an important conversation in December about whether or not we should even let students take them home over the break.

We had seen the damage and trouble they were getting into during the weekends and now we were sending them off for two weeks. Understandably, many administrators were concerned about what mischief kids would get into with the devices.

Online gaming, inappropriate website activity, and uploading videos on YouTube were a handful of concerns — all of which would likely take place over unfiltered home Internet. 

Every school has a different set of procedures when it comes to device management. Whether you’re re-evaluating what to do with devices during breaks or are sending new devices home for the first time, here are a few things you should consider: 

Physical security

During my tenure as a district administrator, physical security of devices was an important concern. Due to some shipping issues, we had to roll out our iPads without solid protective cases. This resulted in thousands of dollars worth of damage in the first few months. 

We knew that without real supervision, the damage could increase over an extended break. When sending devices home for extended breaks, make sure they have some protective layer or padded carrying case. This doesn't guarantee their physical integrity, but could save a few screens that otherwise might be broken.

At-home filtering

In 2011, our filtering options at home were pretty limited. Locking in some of the local settings helped, but students quickly found ways around that. Putting a device in the hands of teenage students and sending them home without a filter isn't advisable (queue Captain Obvious).

Luckily for schools today, there are a wide variety of resources available for IT departments.

Schools need a filtering solution that not only blocks inappropriate content, but also helps with threat detection. There are many different content and filtering companies out there, but regardless of what web filter you use, some layer of cyber protection should be on devices before you send them home.

30 questions to ask your web filter and monitor vendor

Communication with parents & guardians

With student devices comes additional responsibility. This responsibility falls primarily on the students, but they need support and guidance. Working with families, we held many parent/guardian strategy sessions and sent out tips and advice to families struggling to manage their child's cyber life.

Discussions on screen time and healthy digital habits need to be had on a regular basis with the community, but especially before a break. Communication is also a two-way street. If issues arise with a device, how will parents connect with the school?

Most districts have limited tech support over extended breaks, so managing expectations of support with the community are key. Setting up a hotline during business hours, a support email, and a form to fill out so families can communicate problems will help build trust and support for the program.

What's the cost of picking them up?

We strongly considered collecting all the student devices before that first winter break. In retrospect, this would have been a costly decision, not only financially, but also for learning. What message does it send to the community when you say this device is an important part of student learning, but then don't let them use it over a break?

While we did send them home over winter break, we didn't over summer initially. As the program developed and the devices became more integrated with school curriculum, we had to consider letting them keep them over the summer as well. This decision was not made lightly.

For the first three years of the program (which ended up being 8000 devices K-12), we painstakingly went to each campus and collected each student device prior to summer break. We had "processing" stations set up in the gyms and students would bring them with a form and their charger at which point we would also assess damages. Due to having limited staff, we had to begin this process in early May, nearly 4 weeks before school ended.

On the flip side, it would take us 1-2 weeks to distribute devices to each student at the beginning of the school year as well. This meant that some students were without a device for 6 weeks out of a 36-week school year.

Considering this loss of learning time during the school year, we considered these four factors before eventually deciding to let students keep them over the summer.

1) We needed to provide a drop-off and pick-up option for students and parents that didn't want the responsibility of keeping the devices over the summer.

2) We had to make some concessions that due to transiency, we might lose a handful of devices. However, as these were enrolled within our system, they would essentially be expensive paperweights once the student was removed from our SIS.

3) We had to concede some amount of damage greater than normal. Our loss/damage rate was 3-5% during the school year, so we estimated damage would double during the summer.

4) All filters and security measures would need to be stable and reliable.

Every school situation is different, but for us, ultimately it made the most sense to let students keep them over the summer break.

Summary

There are many more issues to consider depending on your device, your community and ultimately your goal with student devices. The four issues listed here were the largest driving factors towards making our decision to let students keep the devices over the break.

Ultimately, the purpose of the device is for learning. In order to use the device to learn, it needs to be a functional and secure way for students to access that learning. That purpose should be the driving force behind any decision around student devices over the break. 


Topics: 1:1

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