A Review on the Pilot Run of the LLS Scheme

by Joe Chow
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The Student Computer Notebook Long Term Loan Scheme (LLS) has been launched for two months (see Network Computing Issue 57 – September 2008 and Issue 58 - December 2008 for details). It may be a good time to review its progress.

The Selected Notebook Models

As a pilot run, two computer models, namely the Lenovo S10 and the Lenovo X200, were selected. They are small and light-weight models that are suitable for mobile learning. Even though both of them have similar weights, S10 is a little smaller than X200. Therefore, carrying S10 in a school bag may be more suitable for some students if their study works do not demand for high computer processing speed. On the other hand, X200 is the choice for study works that require better computer power.

The ratio of these models distributed to students is around one S10 to four X200. This reflects that X200 is more popular than S10.

Based on the light-weight criteria, both models are not built-in with a DVD drive. Knowing the importance of this kind of device to students, external DVD drives are also provided with every notebook computer.

If notebook computers are not bundled with software, they may not be useful at all. Therefore, the following software have been pre-installed:

  1. Microsoft Office Professional 2007
  2. Microsoft ForeFront Client Security
  3. Blackboard Backpack for e-Learning
  4. CityU’s Printing Service

     

The Distribution Period

There were nearly 4,000 notebook computers distributed to students in this pilot LLS programme. In such a large exercise, a good plan on how to distribute the computers was crucial.

The distribution period and time must be well chosen to be convenient to as many students as possible. There were several distribution periods, “normal distribution” period for majority of students, “early distribution” period for exchange students leaving Hong Kong before the normal distribution period, and “late distribution” period for students who could not pick up their computers during the “normal distribution” period. The “early distribution” was held during December 2008 for students who needed to fly to overseas universities for exchange programmes before the start of Semester B. The “normal distribution” period was held from 5 to 16 Jan 2009 and the opening hours of the distribution counter was from 10:30am to 6:30pm. Students are provided with an online booking function such that they can reserve the time slots most convenient to them within this period. The number of tickets for a time slot was carefully controlled such that students don’t need to wait in a long queue while all notebook computers could be distributed within the shortest period possible to save manpower. For students who had valid reasons for collecting the notebook computers after the normal distribution period, special arrangements were scheduled in February and March 2009.

The distribution involved a complicated process – checking ID, checking of eligibility (in case the students’ status and hence their eligibility had been changed after the application approval time), ensuring students were picking up the right model they ordered, registering student and computer information (i.e., who owns what), assisting students in verifying their computers and parts were functioning, and finally ensuring the students proper signing of the LLS agreement. It also involved flow control, incident handling as well as security control. Manpower planning was therefore important to the success of the distribution. Careful counter check-out processes were repeatedly designed and amended to streamline the distribution and rehearsals were held to evaluate their effectiveness. Eventually, the optimum of counters and manpower were worked out. It was found from the evaluation that 6 counters were required and the average handling time per student was managed to streamline to less than 3 minutes. Later the counter number was further reduced to 4 as the counter operators became more experienced in the loan-out process. Overall, the distribution was very smooth.

What do students want to know?

The followings are the most commonly asked questions from the students that we compiled from enquiries, and from discussion forums on the Internet:

  1. Am I eligible?
  2. Will I be charged?
  3. How long can the loan be?
  4. What is the configuration of each model?
  5. Which model is more suitable for me? Which is more expensive? Or which one is better?
  6. Can I restore the system back to the initial CityU’s image if I encounter a system problem?

There are lots of other questions, but most of the answers can be found in the FAQ of the LLS website under the homepage of the Computing Services Centre (CSC).

The Maintenance Issues

All LLS notebook computers can enjoy the free on-campus warranty service for 3 years. However, the maintenance service must be carried out in the on-campus Lenovo Service Centre located outside the CSC. The 3-year warranty covers the normal wear-and-tear of all parts except a one-year warranty for the battery. The warranty does not cover damages caused by misuse and carelessness. Students are required to keep LLS computers in good order when they are returned to the CityU upon graduation.

From the latest report of the Lenovo Service Centre, there were about 100 maintenance cases during the first month. This relative large number was usual and in fact expected as many of these cases were usage related rather than hardware related problems. As reported from the Lenovo Service Centre, some students intentionally removed the printed CityU logo labels from the front cover of the notebook computers. This has violated the LLS’s Terms and Conditions and the students may be required to compensate for the cost of the re-printed CityU logo labels upon returning their LLS notebook computers.

With the introduction of the LLS, the current “Regulations on IT Services and Facilities (5): Notebook Computer Loan Service” under the “Policy on Use of Information Technology Services & Facilities” were revised to incorporate the following:

  1. “Student Notebook Computer Long Term Loan Scheme - Terms and Conditions” and “Student’s Confirmation and Undertaking”
     
  2. rename the existing Notebook Computer Loan Service (NCLS) to “Student Notebook Computer Daily Loan Scheme (DLS)”; and
     
  3. a condition that students joining the LLS are not entitled to reserve another DLS notebook computer in advance.

To see the changes in full, please visit the “Policy on Use of Information Technology Services & Facilities” available from the e-Portal.

What are the challenges ahead?

There will be more and more challenges to come! Imagine the enormous increase in the loading of the campus’ wireless networks and in the maintenance and enquiry support – this is definitely not an easy task! We shall try our best to overcome these challenges as we move on.