Online learning is a mark of the era we live in. Schools are still shut down for COVID-19 and those that opened for fall have started to close as well. Unfortunately, not every family has the ability to take part in online learning due to a lack of available technology.
It’s no secret that laptops, tablets, and even Wi-Fi are often priced outside of many familys' budgets. Your educational institution can connect students and technology by offering a lending library. This helps take the burden of owning an expensive piece of equipment or paying a sometimes prohibitive amount for internet access. Read on to find out how you can set up a lending library and change students’ lives.
Before you start purchasing the technology you think your students might need, pause and assess what their actual needs are. A good way to discover how many devices you will need is to send out a survey to each of your students’ homes.
You might find out that while the students already own a tablet or laptop they can use to complete their schoolwork, they are struggling to pay their internet bill and would make use of a less expensive loaned hotspot. Likewise, a home that has a laptop and Wi-Fi already would be interested in borrowing a tablet for their younger learners to use instead of a laptop that’s out of their skill range.
You must assess the needs of your community before you make the financial decision to start a lending library to connect students and technology. Otherwise, you risk wasting precious resources on technology that will wind up collecting dust.
Once you’ve decided on exactly what devices you’ll need and how many you have to get, you can set up a realistic budget. Then you can start arranging the funding you need.
But the cost of setting up a lending library doesn’t begin and end with purchasing the equipment. There are several other costs to consider.
First, you must train your staff on how to use the devices that you’re loaning to your students. While much of the technology available today is user-friendly, it’s a good idea to teach your staff how to set up a hotspot and use the laptops and tablets, as they’ll be your students’ first point of contact when an issue arises.
Additionally, your staff will likely have to teach some of your students or their families how to use the devices as well. As with any new technology, there is a learning curve, and no two institutions run their devices' rules and regulations the same way. You’ll have to have resources set aside so students know what's expected of them when they use your devices.
Lastly, remember to find protective cases for each of the devices you purchase. It's an extra fee, but it’s a small cost in comparison to completely replacing the entire piece of technology should something unfortunate happen to it while in the care of one of your students.
The Premier Wireless Grants Support Program can help to provide your educational institution with grant information, funder research, and a consultation that will help generate ideas, secure funding, and expand initiatives for your lending library project.
Once you’ve budgeted and acquired the funding for your lending library project, you can start selecting the equipment that best meets your students’ needs.
In-person students who need equipment to connect with the classroom assignments might benefit from a Chromebook. Distance-learning students might get more use out of a general laptop. Younger students, especially those who will do the majority of their work in educational apps geared towards younger children might benefit from tablets.
While it might initially seem beneficial to shop around and ensure that you start with the lowest price point possible, keep in mind that you want your lending library to be an investment that lasts over time.
The Wi-Fi hotspot will act as any other cell phone plan and there will be limits to the data on the device. If you’re thinking about working with a local cell service provider, check what the estimated cost, data cap, and baseline price would be for each of your devices.
Alternatively, Smart HotSpot™ is a device that is designed to engage young learners for a long period of time. It allows students to access CIPA filtered internet in an easy to use way. Students will be able to access their learning apps, internet for research, and join classroom video sessions without a secondary device, like a Chromebook. Then, when the time comes to type up an assignment, they can turn on the device’s hotspot feature and get connected.
Technology lending doesn’t come without its fair share of hiccups. Here are a few things to keep in mind before starting a technology lending program for your educational institution.
No matter how powerful a hotspot is, if the internet service provider doesn’t reliably cover the area you serve, it won't benefit your students at all. Pay attention to the service providers that offer hotspots and double-check with their service maps before you begin.
Oftentimes it is the rural students who need internet access the most. Unfortunately, there isn’t always the right kind of infrastructure to get it to them. If this is the issue with students in your area, work together with community leaders to fix this issue. Ensure that all students can have access to the same learning materials.
No internet-connected device comes without its fair share of safety and security issues. Viruses and malware are all things that you need to protect your device against. It may be easier to get students connected with a run-of-the-mill hotspot that allows them to access all parts of the internet. But, you run major risks when you don’t provide them with a hotspot that comes with a CIPA filter.
Students are brighter than ever, and many of them learn how to work around the walls that you put up to keep them safe. Above all else, you need to keep yourself and your staff educated on the different dangers of malware on your devices.
Internal damage isn’t the only thing you need to worry about when it comes to loaning out the technology. There is always the risk that devices will become damaged, lost, or stolen.
There are a few safety measures you can take to help prevent this problem. First, you can have your students fill out a user agreement before receiving their device. Make sure it outlines the rules and expectations for the safe handling of the device. It would be a good idea to discuss the cost of replacing the technology as well.
Most devices come equipped with a GPS locator. If a student reports a device as stolen, you will be able to contact the police and connect to the network.
A defective device is a burden on staff and students, as it takes time and patience to troubleshoot a device every time a problem arises. It’s a good idea to have a plan in place or even a staff member dedicated to troubleshooting or fixing devices. This makes it so you don’t have to worry about sending devices away for costly repairs when the solution is in-house.
Now more than ever, educational institutions need to do their best work in connecting students and technology. As tech develops and evolves at a rapid pace, more and more families will find themselves unable to keep up. Your educational institution can ease that stress by providing a lending library that gives equal opportunities to all students, regardless of the economic hardships of their families.
If you want to learn more about how to use technology to keep your students up-to-date and safe no matter what happens next, keep reading here!