Portable Disk Drive Problem

The proliferation of cheap hard drives has seen them introduced into classrooms across the United Kingdom, but this is having disastrous consequences because the brittle nature of hard drives mean they are not up to the task.

External hard drives, portable disks, usb drives, call them what you will, there’s no doubt that supporting these devices is a full time occupation for many people involved in IT. One such person is the North West LEA’s Jan Schon whose written a page about it on her blog. Jan looks after a team on IT people involved in education and then going onto further education. In 2014, the LEA decided it would be a good idea to get students working on iPads and introduced them into secondary schools in the area. Also at the same time, although it gathered far less coverage, was the handing out of free external hard drives to students on which they could keep their data.

At the time, Jan was a staunch critic of this move – foreseeing that the handing out external hard drives would cause a lot of problems as they are not the most robust or durable pieces of equipment. Jan spoke of people throwing them into their school bags and the hard drives getting damaged and refusing to work. This exactly what happened.

With many students using their new hard drives to store course work on, Jan and her IT team were soon inundated with students whose hard drives no longer worked and contained all their coursework and homework.

“It was a monumental mistake”, says Jan, “if the LEA had simply consulted the IT team we’d have told them the idea was a non starter” she adds. “Portable hard drives are so easy to break – even if they are properly looked after. A typical teenager will treat this equipment very roughly and it simply won’t last”. The decision to use external hard drives was even more puzzling when a more viable and cheaper alternative was available, namely USB sticks which are far more durable and difficult to break. So how did the LEA arrive at this decision? I don’t know but it’s a question I intend to raise at the quarterly board of LEA governors meeting this November.

So what has happened to all the student’s work that was saved to hard drives that have now broken? “None of it was backed up and we sent the first few for data recovery” says Jan, “but it soon become unworkable because there were so many hard drives that were breaking down. In the end students had to simply rewrite their work”.

In hindsight, it’s obviously been a very costly mistake to give students hard drives that are not resilient enough to the rigours of school life – it’s estimated the LEA sent around £100,000 on the provision of hard drives for the students of the area. Incidentally the cost of USB sticks was approximately £15,000, which would have left a whopping £85,000 of precious money to be spent elsewhere.

It’s to be hoped that the LEA learn from this costly exercise and for heaven sake, one would like to think that next time, they will at least consult with Jan’s team who will be able to use their own personal experiences and recommend something that is up to the job.

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