Where Does It Go?

Over the summer, typically schools refresh their technology.  It does take a beating over its life span.  It’s not uncommon for school districts to expect that technology will last 5-7 years or more.  If you have a mixture of old and new equipment, the old technology really starts to show.

First, there’s the natural process of getting older and just plain wearing out.  If you’re in a situation where the students have a choice between a newer Core 2 Duo based machine with a couple of GB of memory versus a Celeron with a whopping 256MB of RAM, you know which ones they’ll gravitate to, given a choice.  Left with the lower powered machine, there are lots of things to do while the computer boots like writing on the screen, popping off keys, etc.  Bruised and abused equipment seem to breed even more bruising and abusing.

Thankfully, for the equipment sake and for the students’ sake, it’s out with the old and in with the new and you can get moving along.

But, what happens to the old stuff?  I watched an interesting interview with Dr. David Suzuki yesterday.  It’s a short video to watch and enjoy so please do it.  The great mind of Dr. Suzuki goes right to the heart of the situation.  What does happen to old equipment?  If we are concerned about environmental stewardship, what should we all be doing?

There are a number of things that are happening.  If you live in Ontario, and you buy new technology, there is an added Electronic Stewardship fee to be added to the purchase price to help with the ultimate end of life decisions of the purchase.

In the school system itself, there are things that we can do right now to help alleviate the situation and also give students a sense of stewardship over their environment.  Every new piece of secondary school curriculum from the Ministry of Education has a section entitled “Environmental Stewardship and Sustainability”.  The Computer Studies curriculum of which I’m most familiar is located here.  (PDF download)

There are some interesting ways that students can get involved.

  • re-purposing the computers for student take home use;
  • donations to Computers for Kids;
  • collection of old machines to rip apart and re-assemble in technology courses.

One of our teachers has an interesting take on this with student home computers.  After a while, they do upgrade at home.  Instead of contributing to the waste, he encourages students to bring the CPU to school and they reformat the machines and do a fresh installation of Ubuntu which takes the lowered powered machines and makes them pretty functional.

It may also be that our current tendencies will help out.  There is a shift towards everything on the web and in the cloud as opposed to yet another piece of software that needs to be installed locally, requiring hard drive space and RAM – lots of RAM!  Even areas that would have been thought untouchable a couple of years ago – image and video editing are starting to have some pretty decent web based alternatives.  If this is the case, then perhaps a lesser powered machine would suffice and we can stop replacing so many by extending the life of current technologies.

So, what’s your take?  How are you handling older technologies in your world?