Mobile Carts Suck

Mobile Device Cart

They look so nice on day 1. Can’t wait for day 180.

I don’t know how else to say it. Mobile device carts pretty much suck as a way to increase student access to technology. Particularly when carts are shared between classrooms. Take a school with just one mobile device cart to share between all the 3rd-5th grade classrooms. The logistics of dividing up the days and weeks for equitable cart time would make a FedEx employee cringe. Then there is the time spent taking devices in and out of the cart, hoping they are ready to go from one classroom to the next, not to mention all that time spent moving the cart around campus. We’ve all seen it, the giant cart being ferried from room to room by students in a harrowing run of bumpy side walks, stuck wheels and the grass of Doom.

Frayed Cables

This cart is shared between 12 classroom

And then there is the responsibility factor. With shared carts, no one is every truly responsible for what happens to a cart or it’s devices. All the check out sheets and daily logs in the world can’t make everyone who uses the cart care about it as much as you do. It’s inevitable that a device’s Tab key will go missing without anyone noticing for a week or one device won’t charge anymore or a cables will get crunched. Whatever it is, it won’t be anyone’s fault but it will affect everyone’s ability to use the cart effectively in their class. This is the biggest downside I see to the cart model. The cart is a Nomad. It belongs to no one.

Now before you say, “So computer labs are better!”, let me say, No! they aren’t. Computer labs suck too, but for different reasons. Labs require dedicated space, power and cable infrastructure investments (using a 48-port switch on a table top and daisy chaining power strips along the floor doesn’t count) and fixed desktops don’t allow for flexible learning environments. That’s not to say that a dedicated media lab per school isn’t an awesome idea but labs as a way to provide daily access to technology integrated learning environments aren’t the answer.

What about a mobile cart in every classroom then? Best of both worlds? Access for everyone, mobile, and flexible. Well, that would certainly address a lot of the issues with shared carts. For a district that doesn’t trust it’s kids to take devices home, carts in every classroom is really the only answer to increasing student access to technology on a daily basis. However the cart still represents a cost overhead that could go into buying more student devices, presents challenges with power cords, wastes time taking out and putting devices away and provides a convenient conveyance for a thief to take all 36 devices in one haul. But certainly a cart is better than no devices in the classroom at all.

Power Cord Mess

Power adapters installed by the teacher. A for effort!

The bottom line, if you haven’t guessed already, is that to me anything short of providing every student a device to take home is a half measure. It’s trying to jump the canyon in two leaps. By assigning a device to a student they have ownership of it. By allowing them to take it home, they have responsibility for taking care of it and charging it every night. We’ve been sending books home with kids for years. This really should be no different.

That’s why I’m very disappointed in LAUSD’s 1:1 iPad roll out. The administration obviously wasn’t prepared and they didn’t adequately prepare the community. Not only that, but they approached the device as something to be controlled, as if student learning could be confined to just those bits that LAUSD determined was required. They artificially constrained the devices and missed the point of providing every student with access to an internet connected device. Worse, they made it harder for the rest of us to get 1:1 programs off the ground.

1:1 for everyone. With open devices and lots of communication to students, parents and staff. It sends a message of trust and empowerment to students, provides the opportunities for teachers to transform learning in their classrooms, makes device support much simpler, requires less overhead for storage, power and time and spreads the risk of loss across all individuals.

How are your carts working out for you?