As laptops, tablets, Chromebooks, and other mobile devices enter the classroom, school districts face an ever-increasing challenge of managing their technology. Some of the biggest inevitable problems to face will be the theft or damage of the technology. There are a number of methods for curbing these losses, but realistically, some methods are better than others.
An obvious solution to this problem would be to purchase a notebook security cart with vault-like security, insurance for each device, and extended warranties. While this plan seems thorough enough, additional security measures are often an expense that can send your budget through the roof. The ideal plan for security takes into account the cost of each device and the risk of loss to evaluate which precautions make the most sense.
How much is the technology worth?
It costs school districts a lot of money to implement educational technology, but the amount that the district paid for the technology hardware is only the start. Loss of sensitive data that the devices may provide access to in the wrong hands, while it may be difficult to quantify in some cases, can cause much more damage and legal trouble. In one recent example out of Frederick County, MD, 1,000 former student's social security numbers, names, and birth dates were posted on a foreign website, leaving them exposed to potential fraud and identity theft. Although they have not determined exactly how the data was stolen, this is a position that no school district wants to be in. Also, consider the disruption that the loss would cause and whether there would be additional fees involved with receiving and setting up replacement devices. Figuring out what the district stands to lose in a monetary sense through loss of the devices or weaknesses in data security is the first step in determining what steps need to be taken to secure the technology.
What are the major threats to the technology?
There is a multitude of possible threats to educational technology. While potential risks should never be ignored, it only makes sense for an organization to focus its attention on those risks that are most likely to affect them. Assessing major risks should provide a basis for determining what countermeasures are really needed and enable districts to save money that might have been wasted on countermeasures that were unnecessary. For the purposes of this article, I will focus on theft, vandalism, and accidental damage to device hardware. Some statistics from the Departments of Education and Justice show that 86% of high schools and 69% of middle schools experience thefts and both vandalism and accidental damage are also widely reported concerns.
How and where are the devices being used?
Chromebooks, tablets and other mobile devices used in schools are often exposed to different risks during the day depending on how they are being used. Over the course of one school day, the average piece of educational technology might be used for/in:
- Check-out scenarios
- Testing locations
- Central charging locations
- Mobile classrooms
- Class Sets
In these environments, common scenarios can leave devices vulnerable such as:
- Doors are left propped open
- Cups of coffee are set down on charging carts or computer cases
- Technology is left in plain sight and easy reach of a window
- Wiring is in the way of foot traffic
- A device is logged into and left unattended
- Equipment is plugged into wall outlets without surge protection
- Curious students pick off keyboard keys or stuff pencil lead in the charging ports
- And more!
Past experiences with theft, damage, or vandalism in certain locations should provide some valid insights on where mobile devices may experience the greatest risk. Even if a school or particular location at a school has not deployed mobile devices previously, issues with other equipment and assets will serve as clues as to what might happen to Chromebooks, notebooks, or tablets.
Deterrence, Prevention, or Recovery
There are a number of ways that schools can effectively diminish instances of theft, damage, or vandalism. There are also several options for recovering losses after they have occurred.
- The use of security equipment such as secure charging carts, cages, wall units/cabinets, lockers, etc.
- Protective cases
- Policy implementation and enforcement
- Proper training of staff and faculty
- Extended Warranties
- Device insurance policies
- Maintenance and service plans
As for security equipment, some schools utilize methods of charging their devices that are not secure in any way and they find that it works in their particular setting. This is not the case for most. Different solutions offer different levels of security and when watching the budget this is important to consider. When devices are returned to secured storage rooms at the end of the day, a charging solution with minimal security can be an appropriate and affordable solution. On the other end of the spectrum, high traffic areas may require something more tamper-proof.
If the devices are stored in a public learning space, student behavior must also be considered. If a school has had issues with students being particularly mischievous, they may consider a charging or storage solution where no devices or cabling are exposed. This prevents tampering with wires, cables, or the mobile devices. Of course, these things often happen while the devices are in use, but that must be tackled with classroom management techniques. Durable cases for devices can be lifesavers on the accidental damage end and are often worthwhile investments.
Schools already have security measures in place to keep students and faculty safe and protect school property in general that will hopefully prevent someone from rolling a cart full of devices out of the door during school hours. If a burglary were to occur after school hours, however, anything that isn’t nailed down would be at risk. If this is a concern in a particular area, like in mobile classrooms perhaps, and you have mobile carts or charging stations of devices that are very lightweight consider anchoring them to a wall or desk so they cannot be easily removed from the property. Consider the placement of charging carts or cabinets in a room, so that devices are not easily visible/accessible from a window. Many schools choose to remove mobile devices from portable classrooms at night and store them in the main building.
Alternative to methods that prevent or deter, insurance policies, extended warranties, or maintenance agreements are another way to protect investments in Chromebooks, tablets, and notebooks. Traditionally, these were purchased from the original manufacturer or a reseller but private companies also offer competitive insurance policies. Many schools shy away from purchasing extended warranties, especially with so many options for inexpensive devices. When looking at the cost of the insurance and the amount of theft and accidental damage that would have to occur for the insurance to make sense monetarily, many schools choose simply to budget for replacement devices instead. This varies from school to school and should be addressed on an individualized basis.
The protection of your school’s mobile devices is no easy task, but it also doesn’t have to cost a fortune. By securing classrooms, relying on the school’s security system, and utilizing secure charging solutions, school districts can appropriately secure their investments. After addressing your own environment, you can decide if the built-in security at your disposal is enough and can plan for any risk.
What if I Decide That I Need Extra Protection?
JAR Systems provides a wide range of secure charging solutions designed to protect Chromebooks, tablets, notebooks, and all other mobile devices and each mobile cart provides the highest level of security seen in charging solutions currently on the market. Check out our latest solution; a 16 device wall mount charging station for under $300!