Not your average vending machine

By David Murray

A laptop vending machine provides students with access to technology anytime. 

In Michigan, Grand Rapids Community College students are preparing for exams with the help of an unusual resource: a laptop vending machine.

The machine, located in the GRCC Student Community Center’s counseling area, dispenses laptops that students can use for free by swiping their college ID card. When they’re finished with their work, they insert the laptop back into the machine, where its batteries are charged for the next user.

“We wanted to make sure all of our students have access to resources they need to be successful,” said David Anderson, the head of GRCC’s information technology department. “We know that not everyone has a computer at home or can afford a laptop. We looked at this as a way to help those students in particular, but also anyone who needs to check one out and get some work done.”

While other colleges provide access to technology, GRCC is the only one in Michigan using this type of vending machine, according to Texas-based Laptops Anytime, which provides the devices.

Testing phase

Anderson said a faculty member asked for ways to make technology more accessible for students, and an IT team member learned about Laptops Anytime. GRCC’s Strategic Leadership Team provided a $35,000 grant to purchase the vending machine as a pilot program.

The machine, which dispenses a dozen laptops, was installed in the fall. Students can use the laptops to connect with the internet and use cloud-based programs to share and store work. Once the laptop is inserted back into the machine, information left on it is wiped clean and the computer’s battery starts to recharge.

About 500 students have checked out a laptop since the fall, logging about 660 hours of use. Anderson said one advantage of the vending machine is that it can be accessed early in the morning and late at night, when the campus computer labs are unavailable.

GRCC is considering expanding the program by adding vending machines in other locations and possibly adding different types of devices, such as tablets.

This article was originally posted in CC Daily.

David Murray

is director of communications at Grand Rapids Community College in Michigan.