In-Depth: Staff Device Replacement Plan and FAQ

One of the challenges of planning substantial technology deployment changes within a large district like ours is tied to the interactions between those various policies.  One of the major changes that we’re making, beginning next year, is to shorten the district’s technology replacement cycle from 6 years to 4 years.  Additionally, our current model calls for the replacement of 1/3 of technology within each building, every other year.  

This created a problem.  Since half of our buildings – based upon the 1/3 upgrade every other year model – have devices that are scheduled to be replaced, how do we move from a 6-year cycle to a 4-year cycle without disadvantaging buildings that do not get upgraded right away?  Further, what do we adopt in terms of a building replacement schedule, since the 1/3 model was designed specifically for a six-year cycle.  

Our solution is to move schools to a whole-building upgrade cycle, wherein each individual school will receive upgrades to all of its technology during a single year, with each school then being slotted into one of four years on the replacement cycle.  Buildings that are not yet on the upgrade cycle but have 6-year old equipment that is due to be replaced will get those devices replaced, but with slightly-used devices being pulled from buildings that are on the whole-building upgrade cycle.  This approach allows us to move buildings to a four-year cycle and replace six-year old devices, all while avoiding additional purchases of new devices that would then be removed in one or two years when the building’s upgrade turn arrives. 

A huge advantage of this approach is that we are able to standardize technology within a school; all classrooms have the same technology, all student devices are of the same generation, and teachers have the same devices. In considering the implications, though, we realized that the teacher devices would become a problem. 

Since our staff move between buildings in the district as their assignments change, we would be in the position of having to take a device from a staff member in order to reassign them one that was the correct generation for their new building.  In addition to the logistical issues on the IT end, this creates a substantial burden on the part of staff.  

When considering how to deal with this issue, we came up with a bold solution that addresses this and other issues: get all staff computers on the same replacement cycle.  

The basic plan is this: 

  • All staff computers – laptops and desktops – will be replaced this spring
  • Existing staff computers will either be sold (if they would have aged out anyway) or will be used to replace 6-year old devices in buildings (as mentioned above)
  • Staff members will be given a choice of device, with options including a standard Windows laptop and a convertible Windows tablet (specific device options pending the close of an RFP on February 23rd

This addresses a number of issues: 

  • We will not need to worry about reallocating computers as staff move between buildings, as all staff will have the same generation of device
  • The limited choose-your-own-device (CYOD) program will result in the district supporting two staff device models, primarily, over the next four years.  We currently support 16 separate models. 
    • We know that there will be some need for deviations for staff with specific needs, such as PLTW teachers who need a dedicated graphics processor.  Even so, dramatically reducing the diversity of staff devices will save us a huge amount of money and time in terms of supporting those device deployments. 
  • Technology-related training and professional development become easier to implement.  With all devices on a single operating system and sharing other characteristics, there will be no more need for the “this will look a little different on some of your computers” line that I feel is a substantial barrier for adult learners
  • We can ensure compatibility with other technology.  Currently, we have a number of laptops in use in the district that lack the feature necessary to make use of the wireless video solution we are implementing, which is only supported in computers manufactured within the last 3-4 years.  This will ensure compatibility with this and future technologies, and we will be able to vet potential software or hardware purchases in terms of their compatibility with our relatively-standardized fleet. 

Staff Device Replacement FAQ: 

I’ve tried to provide some background and depth regarding the rationale for this plan above, but I’m sure that a number of you have questions about specifics of the plan.  I’m including, below, the answers to many of the questions that I’ve received thus far: 

  • When will this be happening? 
    • Pending the close of our device RFP on February 23rd, and subsequent board approval, laptop upgrades will take place from May 4th/5th and 11th/12th.
      • An earlier date was not an option, and the logistics of a summer date were determined – after conversations with a number of groups – to be untenable, unless we collected all staff laptops at the end of the year.  Deployment during the fall was determined to be problematic given the other changes being implemented this fall.  
  • Where will the laptop upgrade take place? 
    • The upgrade will take place at the ESC.  We’ll be operating with extended hours (6:30 AM to 6:30 PM), and those who cannot make it (due to specific and unavoidable conflicts, such as maternity leave) will be asked to arrange alternative plans as schedules permit.  We expect the upgrade process to take about 15 minutes on average, start to finish. 
  • What will happen during the upgrade process? 
    • After you arrive at the ESC, we’ll confirm with you that you’ve saved all of the data that you need to either a network folder or to Google Drive.  After that, you’ll turn in your old laptop (including any district-supplied accessories, such as power adapters or network adapters), and then you’ll be issued your new laptop.  After you receive your new laptop, we’ll verify that you can log in and access email, and that the software you need is installed on the device.  We’ll assist you with accessing your files, as well as with adding any software that is not already on the computer.  
  • What about desktop computers?
    • Desktop computers will be upgraded during the summer, rather than during the school year.  We’ll be in touch with users of desktop computers with more information this spring.
  • Do I need to back up my files?
    • Yes, and we’ll be sending out detailed instructions regarding your backup options as soon as we’ve closed the RFP on February 23rd and confirmed program details.  In a nutshell, the recommended options will be to back files up to either your network folder or to Google Drive.  Users also have the ability to backup to external storage devices (flash drives, external hard drives), though these will not be provided by the district. 
  • When will we know what our device choices will be?
    • Our device RFP closes on February 23rd, after which point we’ll evaluate the submissions and make a selection.  
  • Will I get a chance to see the devices before I choose one? 
    • Yes.  As soon as we make our device selections, we’ll be bringing the devices to each building so that teachers will have the opportunity to see them, try them out, and learn about pros and cons of the two options.  
  • How will I choose a device? 
    • We’ll be sending a survey out in early March asking for staff to indicate their device preference to us.  More information will, of course, be provided along with the survey, but we’ll stress that staff members who do not respond to indicate a device preference will be assigned whichever device has the greatest availability.  
  • What if I don’t like the device I chose? 
    • We strongly encourage staff members to ask questions about the devices, look at them and use them when the devices are in buildings at the beginning of March, and to make as informed a decision as possible.  While we’ll strive to work with staff who are not happy with their device choice, we cannot guarantee that we’ll have the capacity to switch devices. 
  • I use some specialty software.  How will this get installed on my new computer? 
    • We’re working to deploy a more comprehensive software base installation than we have in the past (more information on this coming in a future blog post), so some software that is currently specialty will be part of the regular deployment beginning next year.  For those who have specific software, we’ll either install the software before you arrive (most common), or we’ll work with you to get it installed the day that you pick up your computer.  
  • What happens to my old computer?
    • If your old computer is six years old (or five, in some cases), it will be sold to the vendor from whom we’re purchasing the new computers.  Newer computers will be used to upgrade six-year old devices in schools that are not yet on the full-building upgrade cycle.  
  • Will there be somebody to help with the new device? 
    • Yes, we’ll have staff available during the upgrade process to answer questions and help out with file backups/restores, software installation, use questions, and so forth.  
  • How can we afford to do this? 
    • As a district, we have not generally turned to leasing as an option for technology purchases.  In this case, however, we determined the the cost savings – in support and maintenance costs – and the other benefits outlined above more than outweighed the costs of financing.  As such, the plan is to purchase staff computers – with a four-year lifespan – and finance that purchase over four years.  
  • I heard that secondary teachers will be getting Chromebooks; is this true? 
    • This is correct.  While not directly related to the staff device upgrade plan, secondary teachers will be issued Chromebooks (either this spring or in August).  This is a bit of a change of course from earlier plans, and is due in large part to the fact that Google now supports Android apps on Chromebooks, and is moving to only supporting Chrome apps on Chrome OS devices (such as Chromebooks), and not within the Chrome web browser.  It used to be that when a staff member asked me for a Chromebook, I would reply that a Chrome web browser was the same user experience; this will no longer quite be the case.  

I hope that this is a helpful overview.  I have no doubt left topics out, so please feel free to get in touch with me with questions or requests for additional information.