By Jessica Zaleski
It’s my job as the Chromebook Coordinator for Neosho R-5 School District to ensure our 1,400 students have a device in their hands when the bell rings. Our 1:1 program with Chromebooks, specifically the Leonovo Thinkpad X131e, started off difficult because we spent valuable staff time and resources managing devices across our 10 campuses using an inventory system that required manual effort. Here are some of our experiences as we moved from tracking inventory on a spreadsheet to implementing an automated inventory management system.
Before inventory automation
Prior to our 1:1 device initiative, we didn’t have a system in place for assigning equipment to buildings and individuals. It was a problem. We weren’t able to track our equipment and hold people accountable—and it got progressively worse as we continued to add more devices. Also, with no records of our technology assets, nobody had any idea what assets they were responsible for. Since we didn’t know what they were supposed to have, I didn’t have access to the information I needed to make better decisions for the future.
Our new Superintendent wanted our 1:1 initiative to be deployed in a quick timeline (most districts spend about 2 years researching and prepping their 1:1 programs; we made this our number one priority and invested a lot of time and energy to get it done in about 6 months), and in our rush to move forward with the program we decided to track inventory in a spreadsheet.
That lasted about a year and a half, and I’ll be completely honest—I hated that way of doing things. There was a lot of manual data entry and way too many hands in the pot. We often had several people working in the same spreadsheet simultaneously (me, my student helper, employees working in our department), which made keeping accurate records a major struggle. We needed a streamlined way to track our devices and a system that didn’t require our staff to spend hours manually recording information about each device and its status into a spreadsheet.
How inventory automation changed our district
We’ve seen a huge difference in the amount of time we spend checking devices in and out using a software application designed to track our inventory. We were scheduling four people at the beginning of a semester to distribute 2,000 devices to students (most of their time was spent hunting through the spreadsheet), and it took a week to do. Now we are able to complete the assignment process with just 1 or 2 staff members. Barcode scanning functionality has truly streamlined our process—scanning the asset tag barcode we place on each device and a student ID number is much faster and simpler than searching through a spreadsheet for a serial number. After our amazing experience at the start of the school year, I actually look forward to our end of year processes now, if you can believe it!
Recording new device details in our inventory system is also much quicker and easier than when we were using a spreadsheet. We recently added 30 additional Chromebooks to our middle school. In two hours, we had them unboxed (including their chargers and laptop bags), asset tagged, and added to TIPWeb-IT, our inventory control software.
Our teachers love the new inventory system because it helps them keep students engaged in classroom activities for the entirety of the class. They’re no longer wasting time waiting on us (the inventory team) to find the student a replacement laptop and get it checked out if there’s an issue with the one they have. We’re able to quickly scan a new device and get them back to the classroom faster. To me, that’s the most important benefit—the students have the tools they need to do what they’re here to do—learn and participate in class.
Our district chose TIPWeb-IT software hoping to get our inventory organized and decrease the amount of time we spend managing inventory. We’ve accomplished both of those goals, but there have been other, unexpected benefits, too. We often have a student accidentally leave a laptop bag or charger in the cafeteria or hallway. Because we put a barcode on each bag and charger, we just give it a quick scan and TIPWeb is able to show us who it belongs to so we can get it back to them, which is just another example of the system helping us get the right tools into the right hands so there’s no interruption to the learning process.