E-learning devices are outstanding alternatives to expensive, heavy textbooks which, all too frequently, are either obsolete the moment they are published, or contain entire chapters that are not part of the curriculum.
The “digital conversion” of schools will only grow. E-learning devices support game- and project-based learning, create a collaborative environment, reduce costs, and can improve the quality of teaching and learning. But in order to realize these benefits, the devices must be kept safe, secure, and ready to go at a moment’s notice. We’ve given you twelve important questions to ask when choosing a tablet and laptop cart:
1. Is the cart adaptable and flexible, now and in the future? Will your devices fit? Carts for e-learning devices should be able to store, charge, and even sync a wide range of equipment, from iPad® tablets and Chromebooks® to laptops and e-readers, in the same cart. As your needs change in the future, the carts should be able to adapt to the latest technology or even hold a different type of device entirely.
For example, when considering a tablet and laptop cart, ask yourself if it can be reconfigured by swapping out the shelving, changing the slot size, etc. Technology is constantly changing, so the solution you buy today should be able to accommodate the devices you will be using two years, or more, from now.
What size devices do you have or plan on purchasing? Be sure the cart’s slot size will accommodate them, with and without a cover or case if you plan on using one.
2. Does the cart have good cable management? Perhaps one of the most important features to consider when choosing a cart, the time it takes to set up the wiring can add up to thousands of dollars in additional cost—both in time and labor. No one has the budget to invest in hours of IT time just to get a computer cart ready to go. An IT staff of one or two people should easily be able to wire the carts and maintain them.
User-friendly cable management bars and power brick wraps enable easy cable routing while also allowing easy changes. Some carts on the market come pre-wired for maximum savings and efficiency. When looking at carts, find out how long it would take to add each device.
If you plan to store, for example, 30 tablets in a cart, that equates to a lot of cable and power bricks. The inside of the cart can get messy very quickly.
Choose a cart with a good cable management solution that enables you to easily swap out a bad power brick or replace a cord without having to sort through spaghetti. In addition, power bricks can get hot, so be sure there is enough space around each one to facilitate cooling.
3. Is the cart safe? Any equipment used in classrooms must be safe for children to be around. Tablet and laptop carts should have no ledges to climb on, no sharp edges, and internal electrical components for maximum safety.
There should be no openings where little fingers can be pinched. Electronics should be UL® Listed. Also be sure that, if there’s a rear access panel for wiring, it locks.
4. Will the cart’s size work for your application? Today’s classrooms are generally short on space, so consider the size of the cart before you buy. How much space does the door take up when open? Does it swing open or slide into the cart?
Also, determine what other features the cart has that can serve double duty, for example, a usable working surface that can serve as a podium or desk. Some carts can be configured with optional shelf space for devices such as DVD players, printers, projectors, and other peripheral devices, as well as optional drawers to help save space and keep you organized.
5. Will the cart stand up to years of daily use? Does it look good? How a cart looks is more important than one might think. Rugged, heavy-duty carts offer a high level of quality, durability, and usability. They will stand up to daily use.
6. Can the cart easily and safely be moved from place to place? In order to be easily moved around, yet kept safely in place when necessary, a cart should have big enough wheels to ensure smooth maneuverability. Locking/swiveling casters provide the perfect blend of unrestricted and easy movement with controlled steering and functionality.
7. Does the cart allow convenient access to devices and power? Look for a combination of convenience and safety when it comes to a cart’s access. For example, students should be able to easily access their devices from the front of the cart without having access to the back of the cart, where the devices are plugged in. Both the front and back of the cart should lock.
Any exterior power ports should be secure as well. For example, some carts offer optional “pop up” power ports.
8. Does the cart have a design that can dissipate heat from the devices inside? Power bricks can get hot, so look for venting patterns in the cart’s design that can dissipate heat. Vented panels and doors can help keep equipment cool without adding the noise of fans to a classroom.
9. How will you provide power to the devices stored in the cart? If you want to be able to charge and/or sync devices while they are being stored, the cart will need to have a power strip, at the very least, to handle the load of multiple devices.
10. Is the cart secure? When choosing a cart, be sure that all doors lock, and that the cart is made from high-quality steel that cannot easily be breached. Is there a way to attach the entire cart to an immovable structure, so that it cannot be rolled away?
A cart with no external fasteners can help with security because it can be more difficult for unauthorized people to open the cart. Panels should not have external screws, for example.
11. Does the cost of the cart accurately reflect its quality and features? Don’t assume that buying the least expensive cart on the market is the right choice. A well-priced cart that offers all the features mentioned here will tend to serve users better in the long run.
If you are considering a low-cost solution, ask yourself what might be missing, for example, effective cable management, power strips or timers, or the flexibility to hold different devices. In addition, determine if the cart comes assembled and what is included in the purchase price.
12. What is the warranty? One can often tell the quality of a product by the warranty it has. Good carts should come with an extensive warranty, even a lifetime guarantee. Electronics are probably warranted separately, but still should offer multi-year warranties, ideally with optional extensions.
Committing to the right cart solution for your school’s tablets, laptops, netbooks, notebooks, or e-readers is an important decision, one that can result in tens of thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours of cost savings, depending on deployment size.