Computer Reuse and Assistance

By | January 18, 2005

Today’s Oakland Tribune has two good articles on computer reuse.

One of the articles describes how Oakland Technology Exchange-West, or OTX, has supplied over 5,000 computers to families who would have otherwise found it very difficult to afford a computer. While much of the benefit to these families is financial, I suspect that a first computer purchase is also very intimidating. I can easily imagine a first time buyer being worried about whether they were getting something their family could really use. Even if they could afford the purchase, they might be afraid that they would be overpaying with money that could have been better spent on other things. By OTX giving these families computers, a lot of that intimidation is removed.

The other article talks about the benefits of reuse over recycling. While there is a big push to recycle computer parts (although surprisingly not so much at Apple, at least according to people interviewed for the article), recycling items that contain heavy metals is very expensive. If at all possible, reuse is the better choice. Of course, there will always be some equipment that is either unrepairable or just so out of date that recycling is the only option to the landfill.

While the printed version of the Tribune contains a useful listing of Qualified Bay Area Microsoft Authorized Refurbishers, I couldn’t find the same listing online. That’s too bad, because it would be a great resource. Below are a few of the places that were listed. I tried to pick a few from each area.

  • Alameda Unified School District – 2130 Clement Street, Alameda – (510) 337-2442
  • Oakland Technology Exchange-West – 1680 14th St., Oakland – (510) 893-4822
  • PC Community – 419 61st St., Oakland – (510) 652-1726
  • Western Addition Beacon Center – 1430 Scott St. No. 8, San Francisco – (415) 749-2714
  • Indigenous Society – 940 Sutter St., Suite 216, San Francisco – (415) 726-1926
  • Resource Area for Teachers – 1355 Ridder Park Drive, San Jose – (408) 451-1420
  • Street Tech – 2300 El Portal Drive, Suites F&G, San Pablo – (510) 234-1300 x1
  • Silicon Vallet StRUT – 3000 Mission College Blvd, Santa Clara – (408) 316-0746
  • Computer Recycling Center – 525 Los Coches St, Milpitas – (209) 992-6207
  • Industrial Surplus Foundation – 7059-C Commerce Circle, Pleasanton – (925) 463-1430

A few years ago I was talking about computer use in schools with a friend of mine who teaches at a public elementary school in Oakland. I asked him about what type of software or hardware donations Oakland schools might need. He said that while material donations are always appreciated, that really wasn’t their biggest need. Even at a poorly funded school in Oakland, he said they actually had more computer tools than they could use. The problem was that the teachers didn’t know how to effectively use what little they already had.

He said that most donations were provided with no accompanying training or support. If they received a scanner and it “just worked”, that was great. If it wasn’t really plug and play, though, then it was no more useful than the box it came in. His school didn’t have anyone with the time or expertise to figure out how to get a lot of the donated equipment to work. As a result, they ended up feeling bad about having a big pile of stuff that either didn’t work at all or that they couldn’t figure out how to use properly.

So, if you’re in the computer business and you’re looking for a way to help out, even better than donating equipment is donating your time and expertise. My friend said that in addition to training or support, many schools could use advice on what hardware and software they should buy. While some schools are lucky enough to have a few teachers who keep up to date on computer product reviews, a lot of schools don’t have anyone with enough free time to do that. He said that at a lot of schools they would even appreciate just getting a second opinion on a planned purchase.

Michael M., if you happen to read this, I would love to hear your opinion on how computer geeks like myself could most help out schools.

2 thoughts on “Computer Reuse and Assistance

  1. michaelm

    Hey Robert,

    Nice entry. My head is spinning with tangents… I’m actually that person at my school (tech point person, but also full-time 2nd grade teacher)

    I’m currently in the process of writing a grant request for my school actually. Besides books (#1 priority) I’m going to ask for a projector and multimedia cart, some software, Graphics Tablets for digital art (see & maybe a usb microscope. I really really want to upgrade our computer hardware though, but I’m planning on hitting local businesses and organizations that may have reuse programs. I know that universities and such periodically upgrade, and a system a few years old would be light-years ahead of what we have…

    I need to check the specs on the boxes we got from a local org called “computers for families, but they’re Win98, maybe 128 of RAM and i’m not sure of the processor speed… they’re super laggy with any type of multimedia, and periodically crash…

    The best uses I’ve found for computers this year are 1) reading each others’ journal entries on a group blog 2) living books (great product especially since they’re often bilingual) 3) Math activities on the Harcourt Brace website 4) Dowloaded 15 minute Videos thematically related subjects via our subscription to something called “United Streaming”. 5) I know there is a lot more that I can do, but as far as helping my peers, I need to either upgrade their machines or get them all soundcards (which would be a wasted investment in many cases because their machines are often sluggish). Even though much of what’s available for educational software has minimal system requirements, its tedious to configure or do much of anything on a laggy system.

    As far as helping, anything you can do to create “stations” for kids to work on, (2 kids per PC is a good ratio in the early years) goto radio shack, buy headphone splitters, get them set up with the big Caliphone brand headphones (way more durable than the mini-jack walkman style). Help teachers brainstorm… Maybe even set up a blog for them and offer to do some data entry (ie. typing up elementary schooler’s writing samples). People are ALWAYS running into simple problems with their computers in their classrooms in my experience. They often don’t realize how easy things can be (although they require some time of which teachers often have little). Simply making the rounds and asking what teachers are doing with their computers… gosh I’m rambling I need to goto bed so I can get up and teach tomorrow, and I was trying to empty my head real fast, so this is the raw unedited free assosciation feedback comment… I’ll keep thinking on it.

    Also, you could just pick a classroom, and start there. Find someone who wants help, build rapport with them, and seriously trick out their class, not with hardware necessarily, but by figuring out how to get the most out of what they have… if you can push one class to the edge of what’s possible, chances are, you’ll inspire other teachers at that school, and set up a chain reaction of demand for the same tricks. Teachers are most impressed by results rather than theoretical applications I think… making it happen nicely in one room is the first step.

  2. Marylouise JWS'66-'68

    Your site came up when I googled for computer reuse wanting to find the recent Trib article on Oakland Technology Exchange.
    Badly in need of newer computers is an alternative boarding school in rural Nevada City, CA whose mascot is none other than the wombat!
    Formerly John Woolman School 4 year boarding, now Woolman Semester, one semester for HS juniors and seniors , focus on Peace and Justice work. They’re a non profit so computer donations are tax deductable. I make frequent trips from the bay area to volunteer there and to recycle their ancient stuff at ACCRC, so I’m available to transport donations of working PCs, hopefully Pentium III.
    Anyway…. they are much in need of newer computers. They’ve managed to keep things running but could use both computers and some tech support for the one volunteer holding things together there now.
    Apologies in advance if I have posted this in the wrong place. No flaming please….


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