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How Schools Can Stop Wasting Money on iPads That Eventually Go Missing

rsz_gettyimages-171333473final Schools, whether public or private, elementary or secondary, have always had to conduct asset management in some capacity, tracking the locations and numbers of textbooks and other supplies using spreadsheets and manual audits. As the supplies teachers use to instruct students morph into more technologically complex items, will the systems they use to track those items follow suit? Indeed, the days of school children learning exclusively from textbooks, worksheets and other paper-based materials are firmly behind us.  It’s now common for students to use iPads and other tablet computers in schools, even taking them home to help complete their assignments. For example, it’s expected that nearly 1 million tablets will be in use in U.K. schools alone; the number varies in school districts across the U.S., but tablet usage is certainly on the rise across the nation. [Tweet "It’s expected that nearly 1 million tablets will be in use in U.K. schools alone."] The issue from the beginning with tablets, laptops and other technological assets in schools is how best to keep track of them, and keep them in the possession of the schools and their students. In the past, students were targeted by thieves for their new, expensive gear; burglars have lifted entire lockers full of iPads, which were purchased via small donations by parents; and how can you penalize a student who says he or she legitimately misplaced or otherwise lost their tablet? sid-free-consultation-0516 Over the last several years, schools have tried a variety of methods to track the locations of their property when they go missing, with occasionally controversial results. In Philadelphia, school officials came under fire when they remotely activated an iPad and took a photo of a student in his home in an attempt to locate the device. While other methods (such as GPS location) can be used to track the current physical location of an iPad or tablet if it’s been stolen, there are also more comprehensive solutions that aren’t as labor-intensive and don’t involve invading privacy.

How would automated asset management systems help avoid mismanagement?

As mentioned above, there are other factors to consider when schools manage their assets than outside theft. Sometimes there are questions of who was last responsible for a single tablet or a group of laptops, or whether enough devices were ordered to outfit every student who needs one in an incoming class. These questions are only exacerbated when trying to track devices with an Excel spreadsheet or other manual systems. Instead, consider that lots of private businesses and governmental agencies (including the U.S. Army) have turned to using mobile asset management systems, powered by barcodes and barcode scanners. By attaching barcode labels to assets of all kinds, computers, vehicles and other shared items, for example, businesses can scan that code to update their central database with new information on the fly. A scan, using a dedicated barcode scanner, mobile computer or even a smartphone with a scanning add-on appcan tell the system who is supposed to be in current possession of the asset, where they checked it out from and other pertinent information.

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In an environment where teachers are potentially juggling responsibilities for hundreds of students, and those students are moving from place to place and then to home and back day after day, automation is practically a necessity. The concept of manually signing out laptops, or checking through a massive Excel database to see who is supposed to be assigned a certain device for the day or even the school year, is maddening in both concept and reality. education, elementary school, learning, technology and people concept - group of school kids with tablet pc computer having fun on break in classroom

What resources are being wasted by not using asset management software?

There are several drawbacks to using a manual process to track expensive gadgets (putting aside the fact that there’s a simple mental disconnect, why invest in pricey devices for students without also updating the means for making sure those devices don’t quickly go missing?), including:
  • It’s time-consuming: Assigning a serial number to a device, then listing that number in an Excel spreadsheet database, then repeating the process thousands of times for each individual item? Creating the master database alone takes hours, but having to manually update that list over the course of each asset’s lifespan means the process never really ends.
  • Mistakes are practically a given: Ask an student whether or not they’ve forgotten a decimal point when doing a math problem, or ask a teacher. It’s a common mistake, and in fact it’s human nature. When compiling records for fixed assets like laptops and tablets, there are bound to be accounting errors that can make end-of-year audits, or even routine checks during the week, a nightmare.
  • There’s no accountability: The question of who is responsible for a certain device or group of devices becomes more nebulous when the database is updated manually and the sign-out/in system is based on pen-and-paper. If there is room for doubt, the entire system is unstable, and students are either seen as suspects when devices go missing, or are the ones who lose out because they don’t have the means they need to learn.
That final point is an important one for schools: An automated tracking system isn’t as invasive as remotely activating webcams or tracking location via GPS, but it still holds people accountable when expensive or otherwise precious items are entrusted into their care. Students should feel as though they have an equal responsibility in maintaining the assets of their schools, not like they’re constantly under surveillance after being given a device they’re told they need to have. A quality asset management system keeps good people honest, but doesn’t feel like a burden, just a good way to keep things organized.

Is good asset management worth the investment?

It may seem like an indulgence for some school districts to buy into asset management software, but a variety of systems exist at many price points that can meet the needs of almost any situation. Considering that some districts have already suffered hundreds of thousands in losses, some of which are the result of laptops that are simply “unaccounted for” rather than outright stolen, it’s not a stretch to suggest that some preventative investments could end up serving the various districts, taxpayers, schools and students across the country and around the world immensely going forward. Those on the community and school boards that allocate money towards technology programs, money that often comes from federal programs and grants that require strict auditing, should recognize the various obstacles in the way of manual asset management and help their schools upgrade to a more humane and helpful system, powered by some of the very technology they hope to put directly into the hands of their students.