Student-owned devices fill schools’ tech gap

Student-owned devices fill schools’ tech gap

(Idaho) It’s not just textbooks and three-ring binders taking up space in students’ backpacks these days. The growing popularity of “bring your own device” policies have added personal laptops, tablets and cell phones to the list of essential school supplies in many schools across the country.

While a cell phone in class used to land a student in detention, teachers are now finding students’ connected devices of all types to be an irresistible learning resource in the classroom and a way of stretching technology to more students more often. 

There’s also the practical issue of districts not having enough money to provide each student with a computer or tablet.

 “The biggest advantage that everyone banks on is budget-wise,” said David Roberts, administrator of technology for Boise School District in Idaho. “It’s the ability to get access for more students than a district would be able to do simply by providing devices for everyone.”

For teachers, Roberts said, the district’s bring your own device policy, or BYOD, allows a degree of flexibility in the classroom that is difficult to provide otherwise.

“Rather than having to schedule a time for everyone to go down to the dedicated PC lab, they now have the  opportunity to just stay right in their classrooms and keep the culture the same as it has been every other day.”

In the not so distant past, opening the classroom door to an endless number of devices and platforms – iPhones and Androids, Apple and Windows – would have created a chaotic distraction for teachers and students alike.

The key to overcoming the logistical problems with BYOD has been the advent of what is known as Web 2.0.  The term refers to the evolution of the internet over the past decade or so from a collection of static webpages into a provider of interactive software services and cloud storage.

Today, students can simply log on to online software applications with whatever platform or internet-connected device they have available, create and store work of all types in the cloud. Their peers can then access their work for either collaborative or grading purposes.

“That’s one of the reasons we have moved toward Google Apps for Education at this point,” Roberts said of his district’s BYOD strategy. “We want to try to make sure that when we are going to ask students to do something it’s as device agnostic as it possibly can be.”

Being able to work across platforms and software programs is essential in today’s digital world. 

“In the old days you simply got all the licenses you needed for specific software and you locked in and made sure everyone had that exact software to make sure we could all work together,” Roberts said. “At this point things are moving too fast to say, ‘This is the only way to do it.’ We want to have flexibility.”

Another key consideration for school administrators implementing BYOD, Roberts said, is ensuring equity among students. It’s the rare district in which every student can afford to bring their own wireless device to school.

Roberts offers clear advice to the schools in his district:  “If you are going to do BYOD in a classroom or in a school, then at the district level my expectation is that you, number 1, have made it very clear that there are other devices available for students who need one.  Or, number two, you are doing a lesson in such a way that working together in groups is going to work in every class.”

Since the district began encouraging Boise teachers to incorporate students own computing devices in to their lessons in the fall, many have found new ways to streamline classroom processes and engage students.

Some teachers allow students to use cell phone cameras to capture images of class notes rather than copying from the board, freeing up student time for questions and discussion rather than copying notes from the board.  Others allow students to use app-based research tools or look up information online.

In an AP literature class, students use social media to enhance classroom discussion. While half the class discusses the book, the other class uses Twitter on their personal devices to share questions and comments, with the goal of tweeting at least three times during the lesson.

According to Matthew Walter, a history teacher at Ramona High School in Riverside, Calif., BYOD has transformed both teaching and learning at his school.  Students, he said, are becoming increasingly responsible for gathering and analyzing content. “They’re getting the information together and presenting it,” he said. “Teachers are taking a more hands-off approach.”

With personal computing devices, online software and cloud storage, students are also finding their learning time isn’t limited to classroom time.

Most of the work on recent small group projects Walter assigned to his students took place outside the school day. “They could do everything from their own homes. They didn’t require as much meeting time out of the classroom. They could do a lot of it on their own and just put it up on the Google drive.”

Using Google’s chat software or Skype also makes “remote” collaboration easier. “The students said it was a lot less stressful,” Walter said, compared to finding time to meet after school or completing a project using only class time.

Most school districts implementing BYOD set parameters regarding how and when student-owned devices can be used on campuses by developing acceptable use policies.

In North Carolina, Wake County school district began a BYOD pilot program last month in 13 of its 171 schools. 

Students in the pilot schools must adhere to the district’s BYOD policy, which requires them to utilize the district’s Wi-Fi systems – not cellular connections – while on campus to ensure proper filters and protections are in place.

Phone calls, made or received, are prohibited during the school day unless students have been given explicit permission. Mobile devices may only be used to complete activities related to the lesson during class time. To ensure privacy, students are not allowed to take or post pictures, video or sound clips of students or staff on any social media platform.

To address concerns that teachers may be held responsible for the use, maintenance and protection of student-owned devices, the district makes clear that school staff will not provide any technical support and is not liable for any device that is stolen or damaged.

The BYOD policy allows district personnel to confiscate and inspect any personal digital device “if suspected of causing a disruption, as the source of or participant in online bullying/harassment, the origin of inappropriate material or suspected as the source of a virus infection.”