BLOGS and INFO

All things ed tech, straight from the experts

“Why Do My Students Still Not Have Chromebooks?”

“What’s going on with the Chromebook market? When will I get my devices?!”

This year has been incredibly tough. Not just in ed-tech, but pretty much everywhere. A worldwide Chromebook shortage hasn’t helped, and for many technology educators it’s caused a wide range of emotions including anger, denial, frustration, sadness, resignation, and even “all of the above.”

We hear you, and you have every reason to feel how you do. We feel it too. We never want to see kids starting school without computers, especially when one of our goals at FireFly is to help schools put more devices in the hands of more students. We can’t do much about the current Chromebook market, but what we can do is help keep you informed about our latest predictions and observations of what to expect in the weeks and months ahead.

In April this year we published an article titled “Order Chromebooks Early (If You Can).” Sadly, the shortages we saw coming turned out to be even more severe than we ever imagined. Now, six months later, we’re looking back at some reasons for the lack of devices and looking forward to when we might expect some relief to be in sight.

 

An “Absolutely Overwhelmed Chromebook Market” 

It goes without saying that no one was prepared for 2020. No one could have predicted that the world would go haywire, schools would have to shift to online learning, and Chromebook manufacturing would be pushed to its limits.

The scramble to equip students for distance learning (and to find affordable work laptops for adults shifting to remote workplaces) caused an enormous spike in demand this spring. By the time the typical school buying season had rolled around (June-August), almost all existing stock of Chromebooks was gone. At the same time, new devices coming from Chinese production facilities faced major delays due to health concerns, parts shortages, and even a respectable choice by Lenovo to cut ties with factories suspected of human rights violations.

Instead of being able to ramp up production, manufacturers watched in frustration knowing that a tsunami of demand was building, yet having almost no ability to overcome the shortage of parts and workers.

Even if there hadn’t been manufacturing disruptions and all of the production goals had been met, the demand this year would still have far exceeded the supply. It’s not just schools that are searching for affordable computers this year. Businesses, healthcare, and government have all been scrambling for devices.

In an August 2020 post on Android Central, Ara Wagoner wrote, “In 2020’s absolutely overwhelmed Chromebook market, just finding Chromebooks in stock is essentially a full-time job. Scarcity, demand, and an entire country’s worth of kids (and adults) working from home has turned what would normally be one of the best times of year to buy a Chromebook into the absolute worst time to be buying…”

Supply simply hasn’t had even a moment of time to catch up to demand in the current pandemic, and we’ve now found ourselves in a situation where there aren’t any Chromebooks available anywhere, for anyone.

“When will I get Chromebooks?”

So what are the next few months going to look like when it comes to buying Chromebooks? Manufacturers are trying to get caught up on the backlog, but at this point, it’s a monumental task. HP and Lenovo would each have to ship an average of 250K – 300k devices per week just to get caught up on the current backlog by Christmas.

Still, at least some hope is in sight. Chromebook manufacturers have been able to ramp up production little-by-little, and starting in late October or early November, we believe we’ll be able to start fulfilling the majority of our backlogged orders. Please do not take that as a commitment or a guarantee, it’s just our best guess based on what we’ve been hearing.

How soon your order arrives will depend on what model it is and how early your order was placed. We expect different models to arrive at different times, and FireFly has chosen a strict first-in-first-out policy. Orders will be filled in the order they were received as soon as those devices are available, regardless of district size or past relationship. If your order happens to get pushed back, it’s not because FireFly is placing another customer before you. It’s because the Chromebooks you need have been delayed by the manufacturer.

For more information about which specific models we think will arrive first or to find out where your order stands in line, please contact our FireFly Account Managers. They will be happy to assist you as best they can.

 

What will next year look like?

It’s hard–if not impossible–to predict when things will return to normal, and in some ways, they probably never will. The demand backlog for low-cost student devices is a moving target that continues to push forward as more needs arise. Even though it’s difficult to think about, it’s likely the Chromebook shortage will continue to persist through the 2021 buying season and possibly beyond.

A likely second round of CARES act funding and an increased community awareness of the need for student devices means many schools could soon have more money than ever available to invest in technology. Manufacturers are trying their best to prepare for a busy 2021, but there are an abundance of factors that could affect how fast devices can be made. Chips, components, workers, factories, and shipping all need to be fully available. A bottleneck in any one one of those things can disrupt the whole market, as we saw in 2020.

So with a limited Chromebook market on the horizon, what should you do? Place your 2021 orders as early as you can, even right now, if possible. For many schools, though, that’s simply not an option. If you can’t place your orders now, then communicate, communicate, COMMUNICATE. Remember that despite the difficulties with supply this year, manufacturers and vendors are on your side.

Even if your plans are uncertain or subject to change, by letting us know about your needs now, we can start working with our manufacturer reps to get a share of the 2021 devices assigned to you. It’s not a guarantee of availability, but it will put you in a much better position than if you waited to plan until next spring. This is especially true for large orders of 1,000, 5,000, and 10,000+ devices.

In the meantime, regarding orders placed in 2020, FireFly is doing everything we can to get your Chromebooks delivered as quickly as possible. This has been–and will continue to be–our #1 priority. Our staff has been holding daily conversations with our high-level manufacturer and distributor contacts, vying for any stock available. We know this has been a hard year. It’s been hard on us too. Thankfully there’s hope in sight that we believe will be here in the next few weeks. Please keep reaching out to us and we’ll do our best to help answer your questions. We’ll get through this together.

Lenovo 10e Chromebook Tablet: Review

 

 

The Lenovo 10e Chromebook Tablet is out! Here are our thoughts on this new education-focused Chromebook tablet.

It’s here. Lenovo has recently released a brand new Chromebook tablet–the 10e Chromebook Tablet–designed specifically for student use. We couldn’t wait to get our hands on this Chromebook, and thought we would try it out. Over the course of a week, FireFly’s Kate Spangenberg tested the Lenovo 10e Chromebook Tablet and, afterward, shared some thoughts on how it could fit into the K-12 tech ecosystem. Check out the video above for her full review on how it performed in terms of design, functionality, “dropability”, and overall user-experience

 

Lenovo 10e Chromebook Tablet
Tech Specs
  • Processor: MediaTek 8183
  • OS: Chrome OS (Touch)
  • Display: 10.6″ IPS touchscreen
  • Memory: 4 GB
  • Storage: 32 GB eMMC
  • Battery: Up to 16 hours
  • Camera: 2 MP front-facing, 5 MP world-facing
  • Ports/slots: USB-C, headphone/mic combo
  • Keyboard: Optional keyboard via pogo-pins
Highlights

Weighing in at just over one pound, this tablet is just about as mobile as a Chromebook can get (perfect for distance/hybrid learning). Due to its ruggedized exterior, it has more weight than a typical consumer-type tablet (a sacrifice that most schools are happy to make in the name of durability). Built with K-12 in mind, the Lenovo 10e Chromebook tablet is extra tough, featuring reinforced bumper edges and Dragontrail™ Pro crack-resistant glass. It’s also made to last all day, boasting a 16-hour battery life.

With a touch-optimized processor (MediaTek 8183) and operating system (Chrome OS), the Lenovo 10e Chromebook tablet delivers a smooth touchscreen experience. Students can easily watch videos, sketch, experiment with AR, and play with gamified learning apps from a familiar and intuitive interface.

This is an awesome device for younger students. Its mobility coupled with a seamless touchscreen experience makes this tablet super comfortable for youngsters to use for gamified, app-based learning. That being said, typing on the 10e Chromebook Tablet is a challenge. Without the keyboard (which will become available as an add-on later this year), the 10e Chromebook Tablet wouldn’t be a top pick for students in higher grades who are expected to use their Chromebooks for writing of any kind. Writing an essay or typing notes on this tablet, like any tablet, would be pretty tough without the attachable keyboard. However, the folio-style case + keyboard will be available soon, transforming this device into a versatile and productive Chromebook, suitable for students of all grades. Keep an eye out for that!

  • Optimized for Mobility
  • Ruggedized for Student Use
  • Smooth Touchscreen Experience
  • Ideal for Distance/Hybrid Learning

 

K-12 IT Director Looks Back on How His District Made It Work During COVID-19

Riverside School District IT Director, Eric Rux, compares COVID-19 to the eruption of MT. St. Helens and talks about how he and his fellow staff made a smooth shift to online learning. 

By: Eric Rux | IT Director, Riverside School District, WA

 

The Impending Eruption

March 12th, 2020 was the start of a wild ride that still isn’t over. Late that evening, I received a text from our superintendent, Dr. Ken Russell:

“I’d like you to meet me at the district office in the morning. We’re riding together to a meeting with the other area superintendents to discuss COVID-19 and how this is going to affect our district,” the message said. 

Like many schools our size, I wear a few hats on top of being an IT Director. For this meeting, I guessed that I would be wearing my “Safety Director” hat. What neither of us knew at the time was that in less than 24 hours Washington governor, Jay Inslee, would close all K-12 schools in the state, requiring us all to wear hats that we didn’t even know existed. 

The meeting started promptly at 9:00 AM. After the usual pleasantries, we were joined (via Zoom) by a representative of the Spokane Regional Health District. We learned what COVID-19 is, why it’s dangerous, and how we all need to work together to “flatten the curve.” Many people were going to become sick with this novel disease. The key was that not all of them become sick at the same time, overrunning the healthcare system. By the end of the meeting, it was clear that all schools in Washington would be closing – our school included. We just didn’t know when.  

No students in school. No teachers. No English or Algebra. No band. No woodshop. No track, baseball, soccer, or tennis. When was the last time that something like this had happened? In our area, the closest event would probably be May 18th, 1980; the day Mt. St. Helens blew over 500 million tons of ash across Washington state. Now, overwhelmed with questions and uncertainty, all we could do was wait for the final, official word from the governor. 

Almost exactly 40 years before the global outbreak of coronavirus, Mt. St Helens in southwest Washington state erupted, throwing a boil plume of ash 15 miles into the sky. “It seemed apocalyptic,” said one witness, mirroring how many talk about the pandemic.

As Dr. Russell and I got back into the district vehicle for the 45-minute drive back to the school, we just looked at each other. This was really happening. Without saying a word we both grabbed our phone and started making calls to our teams. The first order of business was to gather all of the education stakeholders together to start creating a plan. As soon as Governor Inslee made the official announcement later in the day, we would have problems to solve and we needed our best in the room. 

One of the first issues that needed to be solved was remote learning, what we soon coined as Riverside Learns​. Fortunately for the middle and high school, we have been a partner with FireFly Computers for quite a few years. They were a pivotal partner as we transitioned to Riverside Learns

 

RSD + FireFly

Years prior, when our voters approved a capital levy to purchase 1:1 Chromebooks, the Director of Technology at Medical Lake School District, Trevor Meade, called me and recommended FireFly for K-12 Chrome deployment. “​You can’t go wrong with FireFly,” he said. “They’ll treat you right and because they’re a part of the NCPA Contract the purchase process is really streamlined​.” Trevor was right, and the NCPA contract made it easy for our business manager to make purchases of new devices. 

The partnership with FireFly goes way beyond just buying new technology. If there’s a warranty issue with any of the Chromebooks in our fleet, we simply send them back to FireFly using the packaging that they provide. They even do repairs. It couldn’t be any easier. 

One of FireFly trained and specialized technicians performing Chromebook repairs.

Set Up for a Smooth Transition

Having Chromebooks already deployed for grades 7-12 made all the difference for Riverside School District when we had to disperse our student body in mid-March. Our teachers and students have been using the Canvas Learning Management System (LMS) from Instructure for the past four years. Couple an organized LMS with 1:1 devices in students’ hands, and we were prepared for a smooth transition to remote learning.

For our students in elementary, we adapted our technology plan quickly, dismantling classroom Chromebook carts and issuing them to students without a computing device at home. Everyone who needed a device received one. 

 

What We Learned

Was remote learning as good as being in a seat in a classroom in front of a teacher? No. But as we wind down this school year, I look back at what made a terrible situation actually work for our students. 

First and foremost, I have to give enormous credit to our teachers. Nobody wanted to teach while physically away from their students, but they worked hard and did it anyway. And it wasn’t just the teachers, either. Our paraeducators, bus drivers, food service workers, maintenance department, IT administrators, secretaries, nurses, principals…… EVERYONE helped to make it work. Each member of the Riverside staff kept their “can do” attitude throughout this crisis and put our students and community first.

Riverside School District teachers quickly rallied to shift their courses online. Without their enormous efforts to put together stellar remote education, RSD’s 1:1 devices would have been powerless in their distance learning plan.

The preparation for this pandemic didn’t start this year; it has been years in the making – we just didn’t know it. Having an engaged Technology Board that helped make the decision to implement an LMS and 1:1 devices for our students was imperative. Our teachers dove in headfirst and agreed that we needed to work towards discontinuing traditional textbooks and move to an online curriculum. 

Finally, our Administrators and School Board were the leaders that we needed to bring it all home. When the Board asked me in March, “Eric – are we ready for remote learning?”…..  I felt pretty good about our position. Now we are taking the lessons learned the past three months and updating our processes, policies, and procedures in case we are required to return to remote learning in the fall. My hope is that we can return to school with everyone physically in their desk – but I want to be prepared in case this isn’t possible.

For our students, having a reliable Chromebook to use for online learning was essential. Thank you to FireFly for your help both before, during, and after this pandemic. We may have been able to do this without you, but I wouldn’t have wanted to.

Order Chromebooks Early (If You Can)


Beat the curve on school technology purchasing

2020 has been a year like no other. In March alone, we saw tens of thousands of Chromebooks rush-ordered by districts needing take-home devices for their students. Many schools had only a matter of days to shift entire districts to online learning, while at the same time, manufacturing disruptions in China resulted in significant availability issues. These snags in the supply chain caused many vendors, and even some manufacturers (FireFly excluded), to all-but completely run out of Chromebooks.

The initial chaos has thankfully subsided (for the most part at least), but you may be left wondering how this early and unexpected need for student devices will affect the “normal” school technology purchasing season this summer. Our FireFly Technology Experts took a look at the market and came up with some advice on how to approach your summer tech purchases. Here’s why we’re predicting that ordering your devices now will be your best bet this year:

FireFly 2020 Summer Outlook

Availability Gaps– Early demand has reduced the number of devices FireFly and other vendors have been able to stock-up on heading into the summer. Intermittent gaps in the availability of brand new models are fairly common in most years, however when new models are in short supply, you typically have other options such as buying a previous year’s model or buying from a partner like FireFly who has our own private warehouse.

This year, those other options may not be as possible and any gaps in the availability of new models will be felt much more strongly. HP and Lenovo are aware of the increased demand and have ramped up the production of Chromebooks and other student devices. Still, some manufacturers are predicting that a few of the most popular low-cost models will only be readily available either early in the year (i.e. right about now) or towards the latter half of summer.

For those planning on ordering 1,000+ Chromebooks this year, tell us right away! Our Account Managers at FireFly have great relationships with our manufacturers, and as long as we can let them know about the details of your order early, they may be able to allocate (i.e. set aside) inventory for your order. That’s even more reason to get started sooner this year rather than later.

Price Creep– It’s tempting to assume the amount of early buying that happened this year will “flatten the curve” on the demand for student devices over the summer, but there are many indicators that this won’t be the case. Some schools that wanted devices for all their students weren’t able to buy them this spring because of budget restrictions or because they simply didn’t have enough time. Several state governments have also begun recognizing the value of 1:1 student take-home devices and are starting to set aside special funding pools that could greatly increase the number of computers and Chromebooks schools are enabled to buy this summer.

Right now, prices on Chromebooks and student laptops are fairly good. As demand rises over the summer, however, we may start to see prices increase as suppliers tighten up on discounts and rebates. There could also be periodic shortages this year on the most popular low-cost models, which means if you wait too long, you might end up having to spend a bit more money on one of the higher-end models.

Lead Times–Availability and pricing aside, the increased demand for 1:1 student devices means there could be longer-than-normal wait times this summer for our popular setup services like white glove, cart wiring, and bulk packaging, which the majority of our customers include with their Chromebook orders. We’ve made several improvements this year at FireFly which should allow us to be more efficient than ever and keep our lead times trim. These include a newly-remodeled and streamlined production area, and flex-teams that will boost our staffing up or down in various departments as needed. Still, it’s uncertain just how busy the demand on our services will be this summer. By getting your orders in right now (or as soon as you can), you’ll be first in line to have your devices setup and ready in time for the upcoming school year.

 

“That all sounds great, but how do I order early?”

We realize that some districts have very tight restrictions on when orders can be placed within the budget cycle, while others are more flexible. The biggest thing to remember is that communication is king. The more we know about the pressures and timelines you’re working under, the better equipped we’ll be to offer you programs, options, and solutions that you might not have known existed. Here are some ideas:

Delayed July 1 Billing – One of the easiest ways to order your devices early through FireFly is our delayed July 1 billing program. Most schools qualify, which means you can send us a purchase order now and we’ll begin processing your order. We can even ship you the devices now, but we won’t actually process your purchase order and invoice your school until July 1 when the new budget cycle begins. Ask a FireFly Account Manager for more details if you’re interested.

Leasing – Although it requires a little bit of extra paperwork, leasing can be a great way to buy early and then budget out the expenses over time. Most leasing companies can defer your initial payment for several months, which means you can place your order now and not have it show up on your financial books until FY2021.

In the past, some people have avoided leasing because they assume it will cost them more money over time in interest than buying the devices outright. That’s not always the case. FireFly has at least one leasing option available through our educational partners where a three-year Fair Market Value (FMV) lease will cost you less than actually purchasing the devices. If you really want to minimize your up-front costs, FireFly even has monthly leasing options available that will cost your school as little as $7 per Chromebook per month.

Government and Private Funding – Finally, it’s worth mentioning that in this current COVID-19 situation there have been some alternative funding resources popping up that are available to schools and educators. States, local governments, and even private businesses have rallied together to help schools purchase technology for their students through grants, donations, and forgivable loans. You may need to do a little bit of digging to find them, but right now is a great time to seek much-needed financial support resources to help you successfully engage your new remote learners.

Need to discuss these ideas about how to make early purchasing work for your school? Get in touch with a dedicated FireFly Account Manager and we’ll walk you through our best tricks and solutions for budgeting and payment.

 

Take-Aways
  1. Order early to lock-in pricing and availability of Chromebooks for your school.
  2. Let us know right away if you’ll be ordering 1,000+ Chromebooks this year so we can help you get them allocated with the manufacturer.
  3. Use alternative payment plans like leasing or delayed July 1 billing to help with shifting your purchasing timeline earlier.

How to Sanitize a Chromebook

 

Defending your students and staff from Coronavirus and other illnesses starts with keeping the thing they use most–their technology–clean.

Updated: May 28, 2020

Coronavirus and Chromebooks

Unless you’ve been living under a rock all of 2020, you’re no stranger to how COVID-19–commonly known as Coronavirus–has turned into a pandemic like none we’ve ever seen. The entire world is scrambling to find ways to stop the spread of this respiratory virus, whose symptoms range from fever and coughing to pneumonia, liver failure, and even death. With cases in the United States well over 1.5 million, people are still adjusting to the “new normal” of life amid a major outbreak. 

Perhaps better than anyone, schools know how the spread of germs can wreak havoc on student populations and send attendance numbers plummeting. Teachers and school staff became full-blown superheroes in the early stages of Coronavirus, shifting classes completely online within a matter of days! They put in some serious work to ensure that education doesn’t stop, even in the craziest of times.

With all classes now online, more students than ever are using Chromebooks and personal computers on a daily basis. Defending student health can be as simple as knowing how to properly sanitize those devices. So how do you properly sanitize a computer?

 

 

 

Why Clean Your Chromebooks 

In the US, over half of all student mobile devices are Chromebooks. That’s well over 30 million devices touching the hands of students every day. Due to their prominence in the classroom, being able to sanitize Chromebooks properly is a critical skill, but most of us have never been taught how. 

You can’t just drench a computer in Lysol® or scrub it down with cleansing wipes (well… I guess you could, but it probably wouldn’t work after that.) Cleaning your technology takes a little more finesse. You want to be thorough and effective, while avoiding any damage to the screen, keys, and internal components.

In this article, we’ll learn from our FireFly Chromebook repair experts how to properly clean and sanitize classroom computing devices. We’ll also give you some useful facts and information about Coronavirus as it relates to school technology.

 

 

5 Steps to Sanitizing a Chromebook

Step 1: Power off the device. You will be applying liquid solutions to your Chromebook, so powering it off is a must.

Step 2: Remove any accessories or plug-ins such as cases, USBs, and headphones. Once removed, cases can be separately disinfected with sanitizing wipes or spray. 

Step 3: Clean the screen with an LCD-safe solution applied to a microfiber cloth. Strong alcohols can eat away the coating on LCD screens. However, LCD-safe solutions such as 50% isopropyl alcohol (diluted with distilled water) and dimethyl benzyl ammonium chloride can be used to properly disinfect Chromebook screens. Never use Windex® or similar products, which contain ammonia, and never use any solutions containing acetone, ethyl alcohol (ethanol), ethyl acid, or methyl chloride. Also, while diluted vinegar may be safe for removing dirt and smudges from LCD screens, it’s not an effective disinfectant against many types of common germs, including those that cause colds, flus, and viruses.

Creating 50% alcohol solutions from 70% alcohol:
To make a 50% alcohol solution for use on LCD screens, you need to mix 41.7 volume units of distilled water to every 100 volume units of alcohol. So if you’re mixing it in a standard 200ml bottle, take 142.9mlof 70% ethyl alcohol in the bottle and fill the rest of the bottle with pure water. That will leave you with a 200ml bottle of 50% alcohol.

To clean, wet a microfiber cloth in LCD-safe solution so that it’s damp enough to feel wet, but not damp enough to create any drips (drips are bad. In extreme cases they can ruin the bottom edge of your screen if they get sucked between the layers of the LCD through capillary action). Rub the microfiber gently on the screen in a back-and-forth motion, using the broadest strokes you can. Avoid small circular motions, which can sometimes leave buffed-out spots or whorl marks on the screen. 

Never use paper towels, kitchen rags, or any type of cloth other than microfiber. These could damage your screen.

Step 4: Use 70% isopropyl alcohol applied to a soft cotton rag to wipe down the keyboard and external chassis. DO NOT spray your device with disinfectant. It’s important that the solution is applied to a rag or cloth first so that liquid doesn’t seep into the keyboard. This can damage the keyboard itself or important components housed beneath. CAUTION–70% Isopropyl alcohol is highly flammable, so keep it and anything covered in it away from any sources of ignition.

Step 5: Wait for the alcohol solution to completely evaporate before turning your Chromebook back on.

The 70% isopropyl alcohol in the solution is non-conductive (meaning there’s no need to worry about that part affecting the electronic components of the device). It’s the other 30%, which consists mainly of water, that is conductive. Because of this, it’s important that you power down your device pre-cleaning and wait until the alcohol is completely evaporated before turning your Chromebook back on. If you’re like us, you may be thinking, “why don’t I just use a higher concentration of alcohol to speed the drying process?” Well, counterintuitively, the disinfectant properties of isopropyl alcohol drop off rapidly at concentrations higher than 70%³, so in this case, stronger isn’t better.

 

It’s Cleaning Time!

Disinfecting your technology is never a bad idea! However, in the middle of an outbreak as concerning as Coronavirus, it’s more important than ever to take extra steps to defend your school. By expertly sanitizing classroom Chromebooks, you can become a virus-fighting superhero and get closer to shutting down outbreaks that threaten your students and staff. 

 

Trust the Experts

FireFly Computers has helped thousands of schools across the country “simpli-fly” their technology workload through no-brainer pricing on Chromebooks, time-saving deployment services, and unmatched warranty and repair support. We’re not just another computer vendor. We’re a true technology partner.

See how FireFly is transforming K-12 computing at www.fireflycomputers.com!

 

__________________________________________________________________________________

Additional Resources: HP Notebook and Tablet PC Cleaning Guidelines

¹ According to Dr. William Schaffner, the medical director of the NFID (Source)

² https://www.foxnews.com/health/packages-coronavirus-china-safe-to-handle

³https://blog.gotopac.com/2017/05/15/why-is-70-isopropyl-alcohol-ipa-a-better-disinfectant-than-99-isopropanol-and-what-is-ipa-used-for/

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