We looked at ways to allow teachers to buy their own laptop at a greatly reduced rate (something like 1/3 or 1/4 of retail), thinking that would give them sufficient ownership and encourage them to take responsibility. However, there were too many benefits that we'd have to give up... like educational pricing on hardware and software licensing. So the school needs to be the clear owner of laptops.

We issue laptops to faculty when they agree to participate in a year-long professional development program in which they meet regularly (usually weekly) with a mentor who guides them through whatever it is they need to know. The laptop is property of the school, though they are taught that if there is loss or damage, the first event they share the cost of the insurance deductible (usually half of $500). It goes up after that, assuming it is because they didn't learn how to prevent problems, but frankly we haven't had to exercise that. Of course, we provide security cables and give lots of instruction about the proper care and feeding of laptop computers. And, given the nature of insurance, in practice we typically self-insure by purchasing a couple extras laptops, rather than actually submit insurance claims on that 2 year old laptop worth $750, to get the $250 back after a $500 deductible. But since we do have a $500 policy, that is how we structure the responsibility that teachers bear.

We typically replace laptops after a 3 or 4 year life. At that time (or when a teacher leaves our employ) they are often offered an option to buy the laptop, unless we have an internal need. It is usually a good deal if the laptop is working well. We typically get the street value from eBay or similar, and then sweeten the deal with a few accessories (like a travel bag, mouse, etc) that they have been using. When a teacher has a laptop that has reached end-of-life, we replace it... then the old laptop they buy is typically for their child, or some other personal reason. They would never buy an old laptop to use as their primary school laptop, since we have agreed to upgrade them as part of their employment.

I think the keys to success are:

  • A clear and reasonable policy of shared responsibility
  • Provide adequate safety and security measures
  • Provide ample instruction
  • Provide good ongoing technical support, both for hardware and user-level needs, to keep the laptops working well.

It is worth putting on a paper a policy for software support/installation. I've found it easiest to make the laptop users full powered administrators of their own machines. This has the downside that they can install anything they want (or in the case of Windows machines even things they don't want might get installed without their knowing it). We make very clear to our laptop users that they can install whatever they want, but if their laptop comes in for repair, we will only guarantee that the applications that the school installs will be on the laptop when they get it back. We don't go out of our way to remove applications (unless they are causing a problem) but if we lose a hard drive or have to completely replace a machine, having all this in writing ahead of time saves you lots of headaches and arguments.

Data backup. It's worth having a plan for backup of documents and that should be in writing. With roaming profiles/synchronized (Windows) and portable home directories (Mac) it's pretty easy to handle centralized data backup, but the users need to understand that they need to use their computers on the school network for those backups to be successful.

Acceptable data: It's also worth clarifying what data is supported for backup and what is not. With the proliferation of iTunes & iPhoto (and Zune? and Picasa?) users end up with gigs and gigs of personal data on the laptops. I'm not sure that this data should end up on the school's home directory server so some work must be done ahead of time to keep that data from being synchronized from laptop to server. Also (back to above) it must be made clear what data will be backed up on the server and what data the user are responsible for. Another approach to music & pictures is to implement storage quotas so that users have a limited amount of space.

We lease all our computers (desktops and laptops) on a 3-year lease. While we were building up our inventory, we did purchase some machines at the end of the lease cycle, but we no longer do that. So, faculty get a new laptop every three years with no buyout option. We use roaming profiles and synchronized home directories for our Mac and PC laptops and make sure not to synchronized the Pictures and Music (My Pictures/My Music) folders

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