Case Study: Managing Student Laptop Loans During Remote Learning

Schools and universities are facing a new challenge during their adaptation to forced remote learning: access to technology, and internet connection among students is not universal. Schools are becoming active providers of laptops, tablets, and routers to breach this digital divide.

Feature Image

COVID-19 had a transformative effect on traditional education spaces. Students partaking in physical learning spaces, be it school or colleges, are now at home and disconnected from their learning environments unless a computer or suitable device, such as a tablet, is at their disposal.

Unfortunately, time was scarce and the notice period for adapting to this new context was short. As a result, those capable of adapting, saw their faculty staff and students struggling to quickly transition to a digital learning environment.

Accessibility During Times of Remote Learning

This transition shone a light on an accessibility issue. As we move towards digital learning in mass, how do we ensure this environment is inclusive and accessible for students with different resources?

Previously, the institution’s role as a facilitator was confined to the school’s walls, where students could access computer labs, a library, and experience their learning physically. 

Now, during the pandemic, institutions must evolve to continue to facilitate their students and help them access their education at home. The digital divide between students has shrunk, but according to recent information by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), 14 percent of U.S. nationals between ages 6 and 17 do not have access to an internet connection at their homes. 

In Nashville, for example, 31 percent of students do not have a computer at home at all.

Providing and Managing Laptops to Disadvantaged Students

Those institutions that already have invested in a laptop or tablet loan program for their students are now transitioning towards leveraging these devices for those students with no access to a device at home.

By becoming a facilitator, schools and colleges can shrink even further the digital divide and ensure learning continuity for their student community.

However, as assets are reinvested towards the student’s accessibility, other problems arise. The more urgent ones are how to manage device assignments and ensure these devices are protected and in the right hands. 

Leveraging Prey’s Device Suite in Remote Learning Environments

We have been working diligently to assist our partnered schools and colleges in the past few months, helping them better transition to a digital environment without losing track of the assets they provide to students and faculty during remote learning.

Our first step in this process was to develop the Device Loan Manager earlier this year to provide schools, colleges, and districts protecting their fleets with Prey an easy way to assign devices to students, keep track of their loan status, and ensure their safe return.

During this pandemic, our partnered institutions have leveraged Prey on two levels to better manage and secure their laptops assigned for remote education:

1. Visibility and inventory of laptops assigned to faculty and students.

By unifying all devices, both faculty and student assigned, under a single management system, our institutions ensure they can maintain visibility on their fleet’s status, connection, and safety.

Using our platform’s inventory, administrators tag devices to group them by use (faculty, or student), and verify their connectivity, network safety, and detect irregularities such as prolonged inactivity.

Furthermore, using location monitoring, the institution’s administrators can receive on-demand location information when a student or faculty member reports a loss or theft incident. The location tracking setting is configurable, to respect the end-users’ privacy, and only gather data when an incident is reported and the device is marked as missing.

2. Accountability and management of laptops loans.

The Device Loan Manager tool integrated in Prey’s platform enables administrators to carry a record of the student/faculty assigned to each device; and configure -if required- a loan time frame for the device if it is to be assigned for a shorter period of time.

With this tool, an administrator can easily:

  1. View loaned and available devices.
  2. Maintain a record of the assigned user and contact.
  3. Verify the device’s connection status and hardware.
  4. Lock or unlock the device if at risk
  5. Notify users promptly of due returns.

By automating these tasks, and the device’s security, administrators can narrow their focus on working on the digital infrastructure itself, and the online tools utilized for remote learning.

The Next Steps for Digital Enablement

The current urgency lies in the need of providing quick access to devices for those students with restricted access to technology.

School districts are already redirecting their budgets towards this goal; prioritizing the purchase of thousands of devices for those without proper access to the necessary assets for remote learning.

To ensure the sustainibility of access to education during the pandemic, schools and universities must rethink their role as facilitators and prioritize the digitalization of their classrooms over other infrastructure budget allocations.

Loan Laptops

About the author

Nicolas Poggi

Nicolas Poggi is the head of mobile research at Prey, Inc., provider of the open source Prey Anti-Theft software protecting eight million mobile devices. Nic’s work explores technology innovations within the mobile marketplace, and their impact upon security. Nic also serves as Prey’s communications manager, overseeing the company’s brand and content creation. Nic is a technology and contemporary culture journalist and author, and before joining Prey held positions as head of indie coverage at TheGameFanatics, and as FM radio host and interviewer at IndieAir.