There has been a shift in thinking about technology in our schools. For decades now, schools have played a role in introducing technology concepts to students. From the computer labs of the 1980s to the single computer on the teacher's desk to classrooms with multiple stations for students to work on, we have seen multiple approaches on how we should use these tools.
We no longer view technology for technology's sake as a goal in itself. We've seen that the integration of new tools has to make sense. Teachers and students both have to 'buy in'--the technology has to make things easier, more engaging, more comprehensive, more efficient and yes, more fun. Otherwise, the resources spent and the time spent learning yet another system are wasted. Smart ideas about using technology in education view tools as tools and not as ends in themselves.
Today's students and their teachers use technology in their everyday lives. From smartphones to tablets, using email and apps, we do our learning in conjunction with our technology. Reading a book can be online or off, looking something up in a dictionary is now more often done with a search engine, app or an online database than with a physical book. The tools become almost invisible as they are just a part of our lives.
Teachers and students have recently found that no matter how useful having a portable computer at the ready was in their work, that once they got to school they had to go back to older ways of doing things. The concerns about safety, privacy, fairness and probably most frequently, distraction, kept rules strict and often offered simple 'no's when it came to technology.
Bringing a laptop to school (and then tablets, e-readers or stmartphone) used to be seen as a problem to be regulated, an item to be confiscated. School systems are coming around now, seeing the benefits of integrating the technology in our private lives into the school day.
FCPS and Bring Your Own Device
Fairfax County Public Schools are stepping forward with its new "Bring Your Own Device" policies. Students are being allowed to use their portable devices to access online resources, check homework, and any of the other myriad educational and organizational activities as long as they don't interfere in the classroom and they follow the rules set by FCPS and their classroom teacher.
Students need to read and agree to the "Acceptance of Responsiblity and Device Use Agreement Permission Form" which spells out the rights and responsibilty of the student, parent and school. This form also requires registration of up to 3 devices per student. Approved devices are given a sticker that needs to be affixed to the item and the student and their family are responsible to protect it from theft, damage and take care of any maintenance.
Students are to use the school's Wi-Fi network exclusively (no cellphone data) which has a content filter. They are not allowed to use the devices in common areas or the cafeteria during school hours and only in classroom's where the teacher has given them permission.
Prince William Public Schools' policy is school by school
While FCPS is going division-wide in implementing BYOD, PWCS is allowing each school's administrative team to determine how and when it will implement BYOD. On the PWCS website it states:
"As new and emerging technologies continue to change the world we live in, they also provide an opportunity for many unique and positive educational benefits to the classroom. Therefore, PWCS has decided to allow the implementation of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) in our Division. BYOD will allow students in PWCS to bring their own personal computing device to school to enhance the instructional learning process and become proficient 21st Century Digital Citizens."
It doesn't require each school to participate, but it allows for the implementation. The students are expected to follow all policies laid out in the Code of Behavior regarding the use of technology. They are also required to not use the device's external speakers and must silence any alarms or notification sounds. Students are also reminded that BYOD is a privilege not a right.
What is the right approach?
There are a lot of issues that arise when students and teachers use non-school technology resources. Some things that need to be considered when implementing BYOD include:
- Privacy. Both FCPS and PWCS layout clearly that a student or teacher who uses school-owned or personal devices has a very limited expectation of privacy. Each system asserts that they maintain the right to view content or usage when the school's Wi-Fi network is used.
- Fairness. Will kids who can afford devices have an advantage over those whose families can't? Are there school resources available to bridge the divide?
- Enforcement. Will teachers be expected to monitor what kids are doing on the devices they bring into the classroom setting?
Schools in other parts of the country have been experimenting with BYOD. A recent All Tech Considered story on National Public Radio looked at a school that had implemented BYOD in New Hampshire. Some teachers were surprised to find that some surreptitious technology use (such as pocket or sweatshirt texting) had actually subsided in a BYOD environment. The lesson there was that engaged students are less subject to distraction and discipline problems. If technology can be used to connect students with the lessons at hand, then perhaps we should be ready to embrace it.
A well-trained and talented teacher doesn't need technology to motivate students to learn, but if a teacher finds that it can enhance the curriculum and engage students who are used to using these tools, it makes sense for the school systems to experiment with a bit more openness towards letting more tech into the school's walls.
What do you think? Are our schools moving too slow or too fast in allowing personal tech into the classroom?