Friday, September 21, 2018

Managing Chromebooks and the Stories of Our Stuff

At the school where I work as a teacher librarian, this is the fourth year of our 1:1 technology implementation with students. While this has been a huge undertaking that takes a lot of work at both the district and site levels from a whole team of staff members, I have found myself on the frontline of customer service when it comes to Chromebooks at my site.

Managing Chromebooks has been an often overwhelming task, at times filling all of my day's work, and in the least, interrupting it sporadically throughout the day, every single day without fail. Yesterday, one of the interruptions made me cry.

Admittedly, Chromebooks have made me literally cry more than a few times due to sheer exhaustion or when I've reached my mental limit with the constant barrage of issues; but this time, it was a slow, still pooling of tears.

The library door opened and an adult I didn't recognize entered with a Chromebook in hand. This is a common enough occurrence. It is typically a parent returning the Chromebook for a student who is exiting the school mid-year. I was all set to help with the "checking out" process when the person explained they were returning the Chromebook of a student who died last year.

The student's name was on a sticky note on the Chromebook's top cover. I didn't recognize the name, but my heart fell immediately. 

My husband was an anthropology major in college, and so over the years, he's peppered in references to "contagious magic," the idea that things we've had contact with continue to hold a connection to us even after they're no longer part of us or in our direct possession. This instance brought the concept to my mind.

With the logical part of my brain, I did my usual visual scan of Chromebook's condition. There was nothing broken, but it had the typical wear-and-tear evident from use. I scanned the barcode to check it back into our tracking system and then put it in a pile to be cleaned for future use.

With the emotional part of my heart, though, I couldn't help thinking that I was holding the machine that this student once held. As I used the touchpad to "remove the user" with the student's name and kitten profile image from the login screen, I thought about how student's fingertips once touched the same touchpad and keys countless times.

This was a machine the student likely used to interact with the outside world, writing their ideas into essays for classes, sending and receiving messages, peering into the lives of others on YouTube, searching up answers to questions.

The adult who brought in the Chromebook explained that while the student had passed away during the previous school year, the parents weren't able to deal with it earlier and they apologized because they didn't have the charger, but would continue to look for it.

At a time when I can't imagine a parent feeling more powerless in the world, they were worried about finding the power adapter.

Most Chromebook stories that I hear do not end so tragically, yet bearing witness to the accounts is nonetheless a way I find myself connecting to students' lives and experiences.

There was the badly dented Chromebook that barely survived a car crash. The parents had been driving with the Chromebook in the backseat when the accident destroyed the entire back half of the car. The Chromebook was all bent up, but luckily nobody had been riding there. The whole family was grateful that it was just the Chromebook back there.

Another student reported getting their whole backpack, including their Chromebook, stolen when mugged at a park near their home. This was a student who was perpetually smiling, cheerful, and confidently friendly on a regular day. But, on this particular day, the student stood with their shoulders low and with a flatness in their demeanor I had never seen. They were scared.

There was the Chromebook with profane scars carved over its entire body, external expressions of anger and frustration.

There was the charger left in a hotel room overseas when a student traveled to attend a family member's memorial service.

There was the Chromebook turned in by a stranger who found it behind an apartment washing machine. It turns out it had been left behind when the student's family was forced to move in a hurry.

Fortunately, not all stories are sad. There are, for instance, many stories of new pets. Cute puppies can do a lot of damage! One visually memorable case came in at the beginning of this school year. It was the most destroyed charger I have ever seen. The student brought in every bit and piece of it, the work of a cute Jack Russell (I got the student to show me a photo).

Another amusing damage case was a screen broken by yet another dog. The student had their pup's photo set as their wallpaper image, but there they were, the noteworthy cracks of a shattered screen now obscuring the dog's face. All you could see were the paws, the same ones that had done the damage.

Whether it is regarding Chromebooks or helping students in other ways in the library, I see every interaction as an opportunity. Sometimes a transaction is just a simple transaction; but, sometimes it can reveal an entire story and I feel privileged when it allows me to connect with students.


  1. Wow Suzanne! What a deeply moving story. Thank you for reminding us of the stories behind the technology and the connections we make with our students. <3

  2. Thank you for alway sharing. I don't have many interactions with parents because we have a different process with returned CBs. West Hills is lucky to have such a great caring and dedicated teacher librarian.

  3. This is painful and beautiful, Suzanne.