How The Literacy Group built a Chromebook laptop lending library for free

November 20th, 2016 by Alan Cherwinski

AlphaPlus technology coaches can give your old laptops new life with a Chromebooks makeover (part of the Chromium OS Conversion Pilot Project). Check out our conversation with The Literacy Group’s Program Manager, Chris Prosser, about how the Waterloo-based organization is building a Chromebooks laptop lending library for their clients.

Q: Why did you decide to engage in the Chromebooks Conversion Pilot Project?

A: We had old laptops that were once used for a mobile computer program that have older operating systems and no longer have valid updates. But even though they were older computers, their hardware had barely been touched and they look brand new. As a community-based organization, we don’t have the time or financial resources to upgrade or replace these computers, so the Chromium OS Conversion Pilot Project with AlphaPlus was a great fit.

Q: Describe working with an AlphaPlus technology coach to convert old laptops into Chromebooks.

A: Working with Matthias was awesome! We had some old laptops and wanted to be sure they would work with Wi-Fi, since many learners don’t have Internet access at home. We wanted to maximize use by converting them to run the CloudReady Chromium OS so that learners could take the Chromebooks to coffee shops or the library, where Wi-Fi is available for free. Matthias was very kind to spend the whole day showing me how to load the program, which operating systems were free, and the difference between the individual and the classroom use. Because the laptops are all different, converting each one had its own challenge —either it was a different make or had a different reboot page. But Matthias was really helpful. If he wasn’t sure how to complete a conversion, he would take pictures of screens that would pop up and troubleshoot issues. He would go away, learn to fix an issue and send us the directions. I managed to get eight converted myself, and then Maria and Matthias gave our team training to show them the capabilities of the Chromebooks, which was great.

Q: What was your vision for the laptops once they were converted?

A: It’s a fantastic chance for our learners to improve. Our learners are at the lowest level of literacy and have very little or absolutely no computer training whatsoever. During on-site, in-class sessions, we teach clients computer skills, but they can be lost in the time between sessions. We decided the converted laptops would be put to use in a laptop lending library to give learners a chance to take them home and learn at their own pace, away from the pressure of the classroom.

Q: How will the laptop lending library operate?

A: Our lending policies have been crafted, and the Chromebooks have been tested, so the lab will be launching soon. Clients who want to access the Chromebooks can apply for a membership to the lending library. They must have been with us for six months and present the goal for which they want to use the laptop in order to be approved. It’s great because the Chromebooks have protection from viruses and downloads as well as a really simple platform that provides 90% of the things our learners want to do, like online learning through the learning hub, accessing Facebook or using Google Docs to do homework. Also, because the laptops are old and no longer a financial asset, we are less concerned about them being broken, lost or left on a bus.

Q: What benefits will learners gain from accessing the Chromebooks?

A: I love that Chromium OS is so user-friendly and I love the fact that learners can safely and securely go online to use the extensions and apps. Some find it really difficult to relate to a Windows environment because they’ve never used it, but because Chromebooks have similar functions to smartphones, it helps them relate to the technology better.
We haven’t set the Chromebooks to have an employment path but rather focus on our learners taking away a laptop and improving typing and navigation skills with a computer. Clients who have tested the library model have said that being able to use a computer at home has improved their understanding of how it works. They’ve also been able to use laptops to apply for work online and navigate job-training applications.
As we’re going along, we’re finding challenges but learning ways of making it more suitable for our learners. If one of these laptops is used in a learning experience, that’s great. But if they are used to help with the enjoyments of reading and engaging learners with online resources, that has made our day.

For more information about technology coaching, contact Alan Cherwinski at [email protected]