On any given day last month one out of every 23 Manteca Unified students were without a working tablet.
“That represents almost 5 percent of our students, “ Manteca Unified School District Superintendent Jason Messer said. “That’s totally unacceptable.”
Manteca Unified has taken steps to severely reduce the number of students on any given day without a device by purchasing 1,000 laptops for $250,000. They will be used as loaner devices while the tablets issued to students are being repaired. They augment the 500 tablets the district already had on hand for loaner replacement when work was being done on them and for issuance to new students as they enroll in MUSD schools. The laptops are able to use the same software as the tablets minus the touch screen functionality.
On Thursday, Messer noted the situation had improved enough among the district’s 32 schools that there were some campuses that did not have any students without tablets. The highest campus with issues was Lathrop High that had 10 students without devices.
The district is also stepping up student education on the proper use of the devices and streamlining the repair process by bringing more repairs in-house through creative deployment of Duct tape.
One of the top reasons for tablet issues is the failure of students to keep them charged. Unlike laptops, once the tablets run out of power there is no backup battery. That means it has to be rebooted and software reloaded. Unlike individuals who can reboot and reload software on their own computer, Manteca Unified can’t allow students or non-tech support staff do it as it requires the administrative password.
If the district doesn’t closely hold the administrative password they run a high risk of malware getting into the district’s servers and students being able to download inappropriate software.
How the tablet woes piled up had a lot to do not just with students letting batteries lose their charge but also their reluctance to report problems when they occurred out of fear they’d have to pay to replace the devices. In such cases the longer the problem persists it creates other issues and finally the tablet stops functioning. Students are being reminded to report problems as they crop up and not wait.
Also creating issues was the time involved in shipping many of the tablets with problems back to Panasonic especially the boxing and shipping both ways. That also costs the district money. While repairs under warranty are free, the shipping isn’t.
Breakage is still running below the projected 5 percent. And while broken screens under warranty are still being sent back to the manufacturer for replacement, district tech support staff are now addressing another breakage issue in house — broken latches.
The blunt force delivered by dropping the devices has damaged internal components for the latches that connect the screen with the keyboard. District tech staff has determined that a much quicker solution is for them to unscrew four screws and apply Duct tape and then put the device back together.
It is a successful solution that is drastically cutting tablet down time.
Messer likened it to using bookbinding tape on textbooks.
“Taxpayers would not stand for schools tossing textbooks every time a problem developed with torn pages,” Messer said. “It is the same concept.”
The district now has three different devices in the hands of students. The be.tech Academy students use laptops that are different than the 1,000 purchased for the loaner program.
Messer said the devices are all being monitored as to their effectiveness in the classroom and what would be the best ones for future purchase as the district starts replacing tablets with updated devices much like they do textbooks.
Messer noted the reason why MUSD went with Microsoft software was that it can be used on the widest array of devices, including Apples.
The superintendent noted that from the start the replacement cost of the hardware was factored into future budgets.
Messer also pointed out the reason the district scrapped plans to allow students to have the devices over summer was due to issues with batteries not being charged and related hardware problems caused by dropping the devices.
The device were issued almost a year ago.