31 Days to Become a Better Ed Tech Leader -- Day 25: Review Your Loans Procedure

A task a day for 31 daysOn Day 24 we looked at how to make the ed tech facilities, especially computer rooms, more accessible. Today I'm considering the business of loaning out equipment, in the form of a series of questions to consider. These questions arise from my experience of visiting schools and seeing the procedures — or lack of them — for loaning out equipment.

What equipment is available for staff, students or classes to borrow?

For example, do you have class sets of laptops or pocket camcorders? Can staff borrow equipment to take home, so that they can familiarise themselves with it, or do some work on it in their own time? Is equipment available for students to borrow?

How do people know what's available to borrow?

Is there a list published somewhere? How often is it updated? Do people know that the list exists? How do new staff, especially those starting at odd times of the year (eg supply teachers) get to hear about the list?

What insurance cover do you have?

If a teacher or student borrows equipment, especially to take home, who pays if the item is lost, damaged or stolen?

What is the actual procedure for borrowing equipment?

Do people have to fill out a form? If so, where are copies of the form kept? Is it online? If so, can everyone gain access to it? Is it part of your VLE or Learning Platform? (For example, it's possible in Fronter to set up loan equipment as a resource like a room, which therefore shows up as being available or unavailable at a particular time.)

By the way, just in case you think this is a no-brainer type of question, I worked with one school to help them improve their management of technical support, and it transpired that in order to borrow equipment, teachers had to go and see one of three people. The person they had to see depended on what they wanted to borrow, although this was not made explicit anywhere. Moreover, one of the staff only worked part-time!

How do people know if the equipment they want to borrow is available?

Actually, how do you know that it's available? I visited one school where a crucial lead had gone missing because someone had borrowed it without telling anyone. So how do you get loaned equipment back in time? What do you about it if someone (consistently) fails to return stuff on time?

Where do people collect the item?

I'd suggest the school office, if you can use your powers of persuasion. Why? Because there is always someone there during the working day, which means that not only is it easy for someone to collect the equipment but also that it's not been left alone in a cupboard that might be broken into. (In one school I worked in, someone walked into the school and stole a printer from an office — not mine, I hasten to add: I locked my office every time I left it.)

Is the loaned equipment ready to use?

In the previous question I used the phrase 'in time'. In my opinion, that is not 5 minutes before the next person wants to borrow it. You need to allow time for charging it up, inserting fresh batteries, inserting an empty SD card, or whatever. Teachers need to be sure that when they open the box, everything is ready to be used.

Is the equipment easy to use?

Remember Freedman's Five Minute Rule: that it should be easy to be up and running and do some basic things with no prior training in five minutes or less. I advocate that for loan equipment there is a set of instructions for the teacher to consult if needs be. I don't mean the kind of instructions which have been written by a technician and then translated from Japanese! I mean clear, step-by-step instructions.

I also think that if a teacher is borrowing an item for the first time, someone should spend a few minutes with them just going through the basics.

How do people return loaned equipment?

Do they have to run around finding the person to return it to? Do they return it to the school office?
How is equipment checked?

I'd recommend using the kind of system that libraries use when lending out CDs. They check for obvious signs of damage and then note it down on a card. For example, you might note that a camcorder has a scratch down one side. I'm not suggesting you charge people for damage, but if a teacher knows that the scratch she has just noticed has already been documented, she won't be worrying about whether she did it or not.

If you loan out laptops, you should also check for newly-installed programs — although I would highly recommend that you make it impossible for anyone apart from yourself, your immediate colleagues or technical support to install anything. And do a virus check.

Why so many questions?

The whole point of all of these questions is this: is it easy and pleasant to borrow educational technology equipment? If not, why would anyone wish to bother?

As ICT leader, part of your remit is, almost certainly, to encourage other people to use technology in their lessons where appropriate. A good starting point is to ask yourself these kinds of questions.

The crucial thing to do is to consider them from the standpoint of a teacher who has just started working in the school today. If you can't answer these questions unless you've been in the school for at least a term, or unless you're you, then something needs to be done — and fast!