Students in many school districts throughout the country carry more than textbooks in their backpacks: They pack laptops, tablets or smartphones as more and more school districts adopt Bring Your Own Device policies.
That includes some school districts in Washington and Greene counties, which allow students to use their own electronic devices in the classroom.
Technology directors from local school districts said the move toward BYOD policies has been driven by economic factors, kids’ familiarity with and access to technology and evolving teaching methods.
Students learn how to make presentations on laptops, keep track of homework and assignments on their smartphones, access and save information from the Internet and use productivity tools.
“We’re modeling for them the appropriate uses of technology and the skills they’ll use in the future,” said Lori Pavlik, principal of Peters Township High School, which has implemented BYOD. “Kids naturally gravitate toward the social aspects of this media, but in reality there are so many aspects of this technology that they’ll need to use in the future.”
It’s also a cost-effective solution for school districts, which have faced shrinking state and local education funding and tighter budgets in recent years.
BYOD comes with concerns, though.
One of the main issues is fairness. Not every student has or can afford a mobile device, so how does a school district make sure those students without devices don’t get left out?
Peters Township keeps a number of extra iPads and laptops at school for students who don’t have one.
School districts are finding that students who don’t have their own device actually have more access to school-owned technology in BYOD schools because there is less competition for the technology devices.
“It frees up other computers for other kids in the district,” said John Digan, director of technology for Trinity Area School District, which rolled out a BYOD policy at Trinity High School in 2012 and provides Chromebooks for students as part of its 1-to-1 technology initiative.
Other concerns are privacy and safety. Parents want to know if the school’s network is secure so that students can’t access inappropriate websites – and that students’ privacy is protected.
Some school districts set up separate networks, one for teachers and another more restricted network for students.
At Trinity, students connect their devices to a local area network and all of the information they access during the school day is filtered. The school-issued Chromebooks are filtered both at school and off campus.
“We do the best we can to protect the students,” said Digan.
At many school districts, including Trinity, the school maintains the right to inspect a student’s personal devices if there is reason to believe the student has violated school rules or engaged in misconduct while using a personal device. However, some parents worry about schools having access to students’ information, such as emails.
Peters Township’s Pavlik said the school can see which websites students have accessed during the school day, but said the district “doesn’t make a habit of looking through students’ personal devices.”
For example, Pavlik said, if the school receives a report that a student has taken inappropriate pictures on a phone, she likely would request the student show her the pictures or call the parents to be present while they looked at the pictures.
And who’s responsible for theft or damage to students’ devices? Most school districts require students or their parents to sign a permission slip and waiver form that absolves the district of responsibility if a device is lost or stolen, and acknowledges agreement with the other terms of the policy.
Another challenge is making sure the network itself is able to handle the heavy use and that it’s up-to-date enough to ensure the newest laptops and smartphones can connect properly.
“That’s important and we’re working on it,” said Brian Uplinger, superintendent of Central Greene School District in Greene County, which is working on a BYOD policy. “We have to make sure nothing crashes midstream, that something major is going on in the classroom and we lose it.”
And there’s the issue of devices becoming more of a distraction than a learning tool.
Uplinger said he doesn’t believe discipline issues will be a problem when the school district implements a BYOD policy.
“I don’t think they’ll become a distraction because they’ll be an integral part of the classroom,” said Uplinger. “We have Promethean boards in the classroom and the teachers utilize them constantly. There are laptops throughout the district and students are used to utilizing those devices. Once students start bringing in their devices and the newness wears off and the honeymoon period is over, it will get easier. When you allow the students to use their own devices for the classroom, it’ll be like, ‘Hey, I don’t have to sneak to text somebody.’”
And teaching proper technology etiquette is important in dealing with issues like cyberbullying and posting inappropriate photos and comments.
In school districts where BYOD is successful, administrators are doing their best to prepare teachers for using mobile technology in the classroom.
“To make this manageable and a positive experience, you really need to support teachers and provide ongoing training,” said Pavlik of Peters Township, where teachers attend monthly technology training sessions. “I think teachers appreciate it, and it makes BYOD a more valuable experience for teachers and students.”