Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The donation dilemma: what do you do when you are offered an ancientused computer? (Technology Information).

Holiday 2008

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Educational institutions face a dilemma when offered obsolete computers that may have some utility but may not be supportable or worth the effort to use. Some schools refuse the donation of computers that are deemed too old and cannot use common operating systems and software or connect with the Internet. Donated computers also often show up with valuable parts stripped from them, making refurbishment and parts additions necessary to gain a full functioning computer. The Detwiler foundation was founded with a focus on computer donations and is planning a program to use federal prisoners to refurbish donated computers to meet minimum standards, but the foundation no longer accepts Apple IIEs or 286-based computers. Some educational applications run acceptably on older computers, but others require higher-end multimedia computers. Older computers are being used in loan programs in districts where personal computer ownership is rare.

Full Text :COPYRIGHT 1997 Scholastic Inc.
Stacked in a storeroom among ancient textbooks are the digital equivalent of dinosaur bones: dusty monitors with no hard drives or modems, and a few keyboards older than the high school students who may someday use them.

It is the job of E. L. Bowsher High School math teachers Rodger Gill and Mary-Jim Stahl to blow the dust from these bones and maybe bring them to life. No one else wants these Flintstonesera computers, including the university which donated the 8088 and 8080 models to the Toledo, Ohio, high school.

"Sometimes people are just looking for a place to kind of dump things," says Gill, hoping to stitch together about 60 usable computers.

Gill has already spent most of his free periods fixing up the twenty-four 286 computers, all donations, that sit two to a table along the perimeter of his classroom ready to run remedial math drills. He strings surge protectors along the waDs to solve his own math problem: he has two dozen computers and only two electrical outlets.

"I've it hooked up so even the fire marshal says it's okay," he says, grinning.

Donation vs. junk-drop. Throughout the nation, teachers like Gill are tangling with a troublesome question: What's the line between an acceptable computer donation and useless junk? The answer is a lot more complicated than sending a thank-you note. As President Clinton, members of Congress, and corporate chieftains champion school technology donations, districts and community groups that deliver computers to classrooms must decide whether to accept anything and everything that rolls through the door.

Not everyone has the same standards. While Gill of South Toledo will gladly lug an 8080 up to his second-floor storeroom for repairs, Charles Price, a technology director in the Garland School District near Dallas, Texas, wouldn't touch an 8080. He sees these machines as 25pound doorstops that can't hook up to the Internet or run Windows.

"We just flat do not accept 8080s, there's absolutely nothing we can do with them," he says. If company or a person wants to donate one, "we tell them to hang on to it for a few years, it will become a valuable antique."

Compounding the problem is that some companies "strip" or gut computers for their stir-valuable parts before donating them, leaving teachers like Gill scrambling to find processors, printer cards, or memory chips to fit obsolete computers. This past September, Gill was hustling for hard drives to go with the donated monitors he has stacked in his storeroom, but wasn't having much luck at the used computer shops.

"Nobody's making them anymore," said Gill, who together with Stahl has spent about $1,000 of their own money to repair donated computers at school.

Changing times, changing standards. As recently as three years ago, the words "thanks, but no thanks" were barely whispered. Most schools took whatever computers they could get. Then the consumer market for PCs exploded, raising national consciousness about the widening gap between the computer haves and have-nots.

Federal and state government officials picked up the drumbeat, calling for corporate computer donations along with more public funding for school technology. President Clinton proposed a $10 billion plan that aims to upgrade the nation's classroom computers over the next decade and signed an executive order in designed to streamline donations of computers from federal agencies. The California-based Detwiler Foundation, a computer donation group formed in 1991, has announced plans to use 79 federal prisons to refurbish those machines for U.S. schools. With a $10 million grant from the state, that group is already using California prisons and community colleges to refurbish donated computers, which are upgraded with donated Pentium chips when possible.

Room for older technology? Now schools face a threefold problem: they still need teacher training, they still need more computers, and they must find a place for donations.

After all, anything as early on the evolutionary scale as a 286 computer, which was popular in the mid-1980s, can only burp along at 1200 baud on the Internet. The older 8080s recall the amberscreened days of PCs, when Bill Gates was still a nerdy college dropout and nobody had ATM cards.

Two years ago, Karyn Madsen, a fifth/sixth-grade social studies specialist at Orem Elementary School in Orem, Utah, took some classes at Utah State University and learned how to use computers in her classroom. Inspired by her training, she decided to use some of her textbook money for CD-ROMs like a multimedia atlas to run on the video-linked, CD-ROM Power Mac 6200 computer she shares with other teachers. She also bought the tried-and-true Geo Bee by National Geographic and Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego by Broderbound for two Apple IIes she has in her classroom that won't run any multi media. "Apple lIes and 286s can [also] be used for writing labs in primary grades," says Madsen. "But the upper grades need higher level Macs...." But conversely, you don't need 100-megahertz Pentiums to run 1980's skill . drills like Math Blaster.

Radical recycling. Rev. Fred Williams, who is coordinating a computer donation project with the Chicago Public Schools, believes educators sometimes get taken in by the hype about newest and latest technology. "Most folks are really caught up in what's going on in the commercial world... [they're saying] `If it's not new, I don't want it,'" he says.

Williams's current project, which link cross-age tutos--middle school kids, VISTA volunteers, and parent coordinators--to inner-city elementary school children, relies on older computers. The hardware includes 75 PS2s and 125 8088s and 286s, mostly donated. Children earn the right to take home a computer loaded with math, English, and a few game programs after 100 credit hours of tutoring.

"These parents understand that while they cannot afford to buy a computer, at least having a used computer gives their kids a leg up," says Williams, whose project serves a neighborhood with a 96 percent unemployment rate.

Getting help. The Detwiler Foundation, which has distributed 21,000 computers to public schools since 1991, advises schools to take donations from community groups like it rather than trying to fiddle with fixer-uppers on their own.

The Foundation no longer accepts donated Apple lIes and 286 computers and upgrades 386s into Pentium-quality machines using chips donated by Intel.

"It's the teacher's job to be in the classroom, not to troubleshoot donated computers," says Diana Detwiler, executive director of the foundation. "It really gives donations a bad name when companies donate directly to a school and they [computers] end up in a closet or under someone's table."

Specifying what's needed. California officials have posted guidelines for school computer donations on the World Wide Web (see box at left). Other schools and community groups across the country are developing their own specifications.

But sometimes a school gets an offer it really can't refuse. Principal Cheryl Curtis recently jumped at a chance to get 110 Pentium-quality PCs from Detwiler. Her school, Bret Harte Elementary in San Francisco, serves a student population of which about 97 percent receive free and reduced lunches. Curtis must now figure out how to network the PCs to the 70 MacIntosh CD-ROM-capable computers she has. "To get 110 computers, it's worth it for our community, which has the least access to computers," she says. "We'll find a way to make it work."


The California state Educational Council for Technology and Learning suggests asking yourself these 10 question about any proposed donation.


1. Are you currently running software like it?

2. Is there a curriculum need?

3. To use the software effectively, will you have to purchase additional copies? At what cost?

4. Are teachers trained to use the software? If not, how much will the training cost?


1. Does the hardware address a need the school has?

2. Is it compatible with what the school already has?

3. If teachers don't know how to use it, how much will training cost?

4. is the equipment i working condition? If not, who will repair it now and how much will those repairs cost?

5. Is it a complete system--monitor, hard drive, and printer? If not, do you have the necessary parts?

6. Does the computer have sufficient RAM to run the software you use?

Source Citation
Hickox, Katie. "The donation dilemma: what do you do when you are offered an ancient used computer?" Electronic Learning 16.4 (1997): 44+. Computer Database. Web. 29 Dec. 2009. .

Gale Document Number:A19180893

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