Give your old computer a second life, in a school

The yellowing, obsolete computer collecting dust in your attic might not be techno trash after all.

Technicians at the LinuxWorld Conference in San Francisco are refurbishing old, discarded computers on the spot and donating them to Bay Area schools. Their goal is to collect and retool 2,000 to 3,000 computers with free, open source software in collaboration with the Alameda County Computer Resource Center.

They’re accepting computer dropoffs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. today, and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday in front of the Moscone Center, on Fourth and Howard streets in San Francisco.

ASCEND, Lockwood and KIPP Bridge are a few of the Oakland schools who have received revived computers in the past. Parents, teachers and others can nominate schools for the refurbished machines at www.untangle.com/installfest, or at www.accrc.org. For more information, contact the Computer Resource Center at (510) 528-4052.

image from Southernpixel’s site at flickr.com/creativecommons

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • Sharon

    From what I’ve seen, there is not a shortage of computers in the schools. They have been purchased or donated on a regular basis for years because that’s the easy part. There may be, however, a shortage of WORKING computers.

    School computers develop problems, then sit unused and grow old. When schools report how many computers they have (“We have computers in every classroom!”), they don’t necessarily reveal how many of them actually work.

    What the schools really need is to have on-site computer technicians. Smaller schools could share technicians. They are essential if computers are expected to be used. Could someone please donate funding for that position? It would make the teachers and students very happy.

    The district has a bare-bones staff that scurries from school to school. Their first priority is to take care of the problems that arise with the computers and printers used by the school staff. They don’t have much time left over for maintenance or repair of classroom computers. So oftentimes, teachers who happen to have computer technical skills end up doing favors and filling in the gaps. Just what they need on their plates – a side job.

    It’s just like owning a fleet of cars but not doing adequate maintenance, or fixing them when they break. And when enough of them are down, then a whole new fleet is acquired and everyone is happy again, for a few months. The dollar cost of this modus operandi, and the amount of electronic waste it produces, would make an eye-opening story.

  • http://www.otxwest.org Bruce Buckelew

    I completely agree with Sharon. My name is Bruce and I am the founder and director of OTXWest. OTXWest gathers and refurbishes computers for Oakland Schools, non-profits, YMCAs, City of Oakland Recreation Centers and more. To date, we have refurbished over 25,000 computers in Oakland. Our other program focuses on providing free computers to Oakland families. Any family in Oakland with a 6-12th grader can receive a free computer from OTXWest by attending a 3 hour class. Visit our website for more information.

    I have several comments on Sharon’s entry. First is about donations. Donations of used computers directly to schools rarely works. Computers always need a lot of work to make them work properly, with appropriate and district approved software such as antivirus. Schools rarely have technicians to do this and the district doesn’t do it. The school accepts the donation (how can you turn it down) and the computers gather dust. A better alternative (in Oakland) is to donate to OTXWest. We refurbish, upgrade and make the computer better than new with a rich application base of free and opensource software. OTXWest is a Microsoft Authorized Refurbisher which allows us to install Windows XP Pro (preferred by many over Microsoft VISTA). Computers that go through us are cleaned like new and come with everything (monitor, keyboard, mouse, etc.) Since they use Windows XP they are also compatible with most other software and prepare the students beyond K12. We charge a small fee that covers part of our cost (the rest is covered by grants). Computers are grouped so that a lab is all the same and looks like new.

    Reuse also saves the environment. More details on our website.

    Now, to maintenance. First, all of our home computers come with free maintenance.

    School computers come with a one year replacement warranty. But, they have to return the computer to us. Few even have that resource. As a result, we have begun offering, for a fee, regular onsite technical support. In support of Sharon’s comments, our experience says that teachers need to know that a tech is coming on a regular basis to fix what is not working, big or small. Or to help install software, move computers around, etc. As a result, we have begun to build a services organization to support our installations in schools that want this service.

    Sharon’s main point, I think, is that, in order for teachers to really include technology in their teaching, the computers must work when they need them. The lack of maintenance is one of the main reasons technology is not better exploited in schools.

    A working refurbished computer is a lot more valuable than a non-working new computer.

    OTXWest is expanding what we do to include more home recipients as well as making sure that all of the schools in Oakland understand the refurbished alternative. Many schools take advantage of what we offer.

    Any Oakland school or non-profit interested in learning more should visit our website at http://www.otxwest.org. OTXWest is always looking for donations of computers and money.

  • Sharon

    Thank you Bruce for illuminating this situation even more. The computer situation has been bothering me for years and it is long overdue for a reality check.

    I am honored that you have posted an agreement to my comment. You — and your program — are legendary for the service you have been providing to Oakland’s kids over the years. Thank you.

  • Michael Moore, Sr.

    I highly recommend Mr. Buckelew’s excellent OTXWest program.

    He has been providing high quality service and technology to the students of Oakland for over a decade!

    Micahel L. Moore, Sr.
    OAL Commissioner

  • Sue

    Bruce, this is great to know.

    DH and another parent used to maintain the PC’s in the ASIP classroom at Montera while our kids were in middle school. They’ll be 11th graders in a few more weeks, so that was a while ago.

    I’ve wondered whether anyone had taken over that maintenance after our families moved on to high school. Now I learn that we were duplicating efforts of an organization that’s been doing this longer, on a larger scale, and much more organized. Yay!

    I’ll be pointing DH at your web-site, and see if he wants to start volunteering. I hope he will.

    And with your good name, maybe I can convince my employer to start donating their old hardware again. I got three or four machines that ended up in classrooms or kids’ homes before they instituted a policy of only giving to recognized organizations. We were much too small to go through the hassles and paperwork to start our own nonprofit.

    This makes my day!

  • Oakland Wireless

    Oakland is looking for your input on the City providing wireless technology in Oakland. See the below announcement.

    The Office of the Mayor, Oakland City Council, and Oakland’s Department of Technology are seeking community members’ input on how city services might be enhanced by public wireless access to the Internet.

    A series of public meetings will be held in Oakland council districts over
    the coming weeks to learn how to increase public Internet access and how
    residents wish to utilize wireless broadband technology to boost public
    safety and improve the quality of life.

    The first meeting will be Councilmember Desley Brook’s District 6 public
    meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 17. Community members wishing to
    participate should contact (510) 764-2425 or email OaklandWireless@tellusventure.com. Please see attached list for additional district meeting dates and times.

    Participants in public meetings who stay for the entire session will be
    entered into a drawing to win an iPod shuffle at the end of that session.

    In addition, a town hall meeting will be held on Monday, Sept. 22, 2008 at 5
    p.m. at Oakland City Hall, 1 Frank H. Ogawa Plaza, Oakland.

    For more information or to RSVP, please contact (510) 764-2425 or email