Sign in or register
for additional privileges

C2C Digital Magazine (Fall 2015 / Winter 2016)

Colleague 2 Colleague, Author
Cover, page 19 of 28


You appear to be using an older verion of Internet Explorer. For the best experience please upgrade your IE version or switch to a another web browser.

Encouraging Loaner Laptop Maintenance

By Shalin Hai-Jew, Kansas State University 
Photo by Betsy Edwards, Kansas State University 

"Do not power off or unplug your machine...Installing update 11 or 45...Configuring Windows updates...5%..."  

So reads the white lettering against a blue background...  

Figure 1:  A Loaner Laptop being Reformatted

Occasionally, as part of instructional design work at a university, one will loan out laptops, pen-and-tablet setups, multi-directional mics, digital audio recorders, and other equipment for faculty use.  This may be to help them capture information for lectures (or research), learn a desktop lecture capture tool, conduct data analysis on datasets, or some other endeavors that enhance their work. The period of the loan may run from a few months all the way to half-a-year to a full year (and sometimes even longer).  Sometimes, by the time the equipment is returned, it has already gone out-of-date and been supplanted by several newer versions.  

Loaner laptops.  The most typical loans are for laptops.  These may be video editing laptops with plenty of processing power and heavy-duty video editing software, along with some version of the Adobe Suite.  Usually, laptops that are returned still have some use left.  

Invariably, though, the machines will need a lot of attention before they can be sent out for another user. Before getting started, all such laptops require an antibacterial wipedown of the keyboard and often a glass cleaning of the monitor.  Sometimes, a spray with compressed air dusters (canned and pressurized air) can be useful to enable engaging a machine's keyboard.  

If the machines were simple ones with pre-set imaging, it would be simple enough to send this on for an automatic re-imaging, but for custom machines that have custom combinations of software (a computer "image") installed for particular purposes and that do not have a lockdown on what may be installed and run (no Deep Freeze), the actual work is a little more attention-consuming.  

So after an initial perusal of the machine's outsides (dented corners, included) and an initial wipe-down of the machine, I go through some of the necessary steps. (This short article is being written as I am actually processing a laptop in real-time.)  

Removing Customized Software

In some cases, users download software programs to advance their research.  One is a software tool that is run on a campus-wide site license.  The issue is that each download is personalized to a particular researcher because it has to be registered, even if the site license is the same one for the particular time period.  Any coding done using someone else's software will have their names on the project...and that would be potentially problematic if the dataset was ever published out or if the coding was combined with team codes.  In such cases, it helps to have a full and clean removal of the entire software program, which will require others to do a total new download and re-install.  However, that seems to be the optimal approach for the particular context.  

Cleaning off User-Created Data

Cleaning off data seems like it would be less important than some of the other processing work, but to have a desktop screen that is not full of distracting contents, I find it easier to delete the multimedia files and data first. For the laptop user, the files risk data leakage; for me, it's TMI.   

Cleaning off project files.  First, most users will leave their project files on the machine. This means all the videos, images, documents, and other files are strewn on the machine's desktop, and there are many residual files (downloads, executable files, screenshots, extracted data files, and other elements) in the Documents and Downloads areas. Many users have a hard time knowing where backup project files are saved, and it is pretty easy to lose track of the various versions.   

Personalized Settings

Connections to the wireless network may be personalized to an individual, particularly for access to proprietary networks. The web browsers may have unique plug-ins and remembered log-in credentials and cookies.  All of this requires a clean wipe. For the browsers, the personalized data can be erased in the Options or Settings areas.  

Updating Everything

Most of the faculty that I work with do not often update the various aspects of their laptops--even if the laptops are their own (vs. a loaner).  I have had to work with a faculty member for 50 minutes, once, to update her system and software before we could proceed with our actual work...because we could not actually proceed with actual work because of the continuous reminders for her to update her system.  We also needed her system to be working at full capacity to achieve the work.  

Updating the OS.  One of the most foundational aspects to a laptop is its operating system (OS).  A recent laptop that was returned to me had a notice at the bottom right of the screen that said the OS was out-of-date and was likely not genuine.  What had happened was that the faculty member had used the laptop at home and elsewhere and never had to authenticate in to the university network, and so its system had not been updated.  By the time I see the machine again, its OS is not authenticated and quite out-of-date.  I go through several rounds of installing OS updates.  

Updating the software.  Quite a few of the software programs have not been updated nor patched. I go ahead and get these patched.  I start up each of the software programs and go in to the "check for update" areas.  Sometimes, I have to use my own credentials to enable the software updates.  In a perfect world, this would not be necessary, and there would be office accounts for such updates.  However, with such endeavors, sometimes, the updates have to be done in the most efficient way possible.  

Updating web browsers and plug-ins.  The web browsers are out-of-date, and a half-dozen plug-ins are out-of-date as well. I update these as best as I can, but sequentiality sometimes matters, and intermediate updates have to sometimes be run first before subsequent ones install correctly.   

I am usually disappointed that the faculty have not put in other software programs or installs on the machines because such equipment is there to be used to the fullest extent possible.  

 Scanning for Malware

The security warnings pop up right away:  The computer system may be potentially unprotected.  According to the system, the laptop has not been scanned for malware for 123 days. I make sure that the machine is thoroughly scanned.  Oftentimes, various laptop defender systems have to be updated as well with the latest malware, virus, and spyware profiles. Too often, computer users see pop-ups asking for updates, and they will dismiss these out-of-hand because their focus is on something else, and they do not want the system to update in the foreground, and they do not want it to reboot (after updating).  

A complementary tool to the organizational security software is Malware Bytes, which is a free and open-source tool (albeit also with a for-cost version with extended capabilities).  

Running CCleaner.  I also run CCleaner on the Windows machine to scrub temp files, histories, and less obvious data.  1,628 MB removed in 108.181 secs.  200+ excess files in the registry.  The idea here is that file snippets that are not linked to any known application may be malware and lead to harmful occurrences.  

Figure 2:  CCleaner as a Preferred Software Tool for Removing Digital Detritus 

Re-cleaning the Laptop Surfaces

Finally, once the system is running smoothly again, there is the final antibacterial re-wipe of the keyboard surface and a glass cleaning of the laptop screen (of any dust or prints). The general approach of not spraying any liquid directly on a computer monitor applies here as well.   

Encouraging Proper Machine Maintenance 

While we in Information Technology Services are constantly encouraging everyone to maintain their machines, patch their software, and to use proper computer hygiene techniques, it is rare to find those who actually follow through. This may be that people who are using a loaner also have less of an incentive to put in the extra work to ensure that their tools are well maintained.  

This sort of work is doable on the side while I am focused on other actual instructional design work (I tell myself).  There is still a thrill when a laptop is fully prepped and sent out again for other uses by faculty and student researchers.  

About the Author 

Shalin Hai-Jew works as an instructional designer at Kansas State University.  

Betsy Edwards works as a web / information specialist at Kansas State University.  

Comment on this page

Discussion of "Encouraging Loaner Laptop Maintenance"

Add your voice to this discussion.

Checking your signed in status ...

Previous page on path Cover, page 19 of 28 Next page on path