In my many years of deploying mobile computer carts in education and related fields, I have seen countless varieties of portable computer devices come and go. Early on we decided to support our customers by providing storage and charging carts that are versatile enough to ensure they could be reused for many different device refreshes, reducing e-waste. This enables customers to save thousands by not having to buy a new cart, cabinet, or piece of furniture for every new set of devices, but there are also other ways to save on device transitions.
To properly address ways to save we must ask, “when is it the right time to transition devices and what do you do with the old ones?” When talking to district technology directors about when and how they dispose of old devices there is no unanimous answer. There are a number of different options available when it comes to the way in which this equipment can be disposed of or reused in schools.
What to do with them really comes down to these options:
- Refurbish them
- Auction them with professional companies
- Properly dispose of them via e-waste recycling programs
- Donate them to the community or to a good cause
- Sell them to parents, students, or the community
- Use them as is until they actually fail
Perhaps the more important question, though, is when is the right time to transition devices? With advances in technology in recent years, it has become easier and easier to extend the life of old hardware and software, and potentially save a lot of money.
I have known districts to get rid of devices after the extended hardware warranty that they purchased in the beginning ran out, some as early as three years after the initial purchase. I have seen others holding on to them for five years. Some districts have even reported that they still have twelve-year-old desktops in use in their computer labs today. Why? Was the hardware better? Was it due to budget restrictions?
There are many different factors playing into this including:
- Availability of warranty and repair components
- Software licensing running out
- Damage rate being too high
- Decrease in battery life
- Changes in instructional requirements
- Availability/compatibility with specific software
- Cost of management/deployment
- After market value considerations
- New technology (tablets, chrome)
- Changes in testing requirements
As with everything, there is no one right answer, but there also does not need to be one. It just needs to fit the district’s budget and technology plan. Plus, not all options necessarily need to be looked at from a strict financial perspective. If a district decides to donate the devices back to the community in some way, it would be beneficial to the families they both serve and are funded by. Let us review some of the options a little more in depth.
This is sometimes easier said than done. Devices must be collected, cleaned, minor repairs have to be made to them, and components such as memory have to be upgraded to support new software. New licensing fees can potentially be incurred, but for the right device this can be well worth it. Also, devices do not have to be reused in the same location or for the same purpose. For example, refurbished devices may no longer fit high school students’ needs or testing requirements, but they may still be good for elementary students—perhaps even as stationary computers.
Many schools contract with an asset disposal company and let them do the work auctioning excess goods, such as IT equipment that is no longer in use. They have tools, processes, and systems in place and in many cases do all of the work for you. Remember, these companies need to turn a profit, though, so their interest in your devices serves as a confirmation that these devices being auctioned off may still have some value for you beyond what you are getting with this method.
Again, there are companies that can help comply with rules and regulations in regards to sanitizing the devices or wiping the drives before properly disposing of the different components. In most cases there is a charge for that but one you should factor in after having benefited and saved money by keeping a device to the point where it is too outdated to qualify for any of the other methods. Ensure that the contractor that you use to recycle the equipment will do so in the "green" way possible.
This is a viable option, but in certain cases difficult to execute. There are certainly rules and regulations involved in donating, and especially when donating government property. The same requirements apply in regard to data security and wiping the devices as well as software license transfers and more, but if done right, this a viable option in certain cases to return value back to the community or a worthy charity. After all, a device that is no longer deemed fit for a certain school setting is not necessarily completely useless!
Many schools attempt to offset the cost of device transitions by selling the previous devices. Especially in scenarios where the devices are only about three years old. This can be a sale back to community members or even exclusively to the students and their families. This method can be both beneficial to the community and a means of recouping some of the cost of the program. Some may be wary, though, of setting the price too low. Devices that are not priced competitively may be seen as an opportunity for some to purchase one or many only to resell them for a profit.
Be a self-maintainer and benefit from having bought a quality hardware/software combo that allows you to simply continue to use the device, as-is, with no changes other than security updates where necessary— why fix what isn't broken? Not everyone is in a position to do so, but for districts that have invested in the right technology from the right provider (rugged devices, spill proof keyboard, proper screen size, good support, well-built image) and who have been able to lock-up and secure their accessories (cables, keyboards, chargers) to prevent theft, maximize on that benefit for as long as possible.
Perhaps your hardware is in good enough shape, but the devices are slow and lagging running Windows or a Mac OS. Let’s face it, in many cases the devices are notebooks, netbooks, or good old desktops. Maybe there is nothing wrong with them, but they are just not as fast and easy to use as tablets, iPads, and Chromebooks that are currently the hit.
In either case, there is new technology that allows you to run a Chromium-based OS on these devices, effectively allowing you to use them like a Chromebook. This is a great cost-saving solution that makes older devices run better and brings students the latest and greatest. Plus it brings all of the great benefits of Chrome OS such as lower management costs and total cost of ownership. This is just one example of why changes in technology can make the option of holding on to current devices a little longer much more attractive.
Beyond the benefit of saving a lot of money for the district, using devices for as long as possible is the most "green" thing to do. Every day a device is not in a landfill and is serving a good purpose that device is saving resources and the environment.
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