Region 16 may be going BYOD

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REGION 16 — The Board of Education this month took a step closer to adding Region 16 to the increasing number of BYOD school districts.

BYOD stands for Bring Your Own Device. It refers to the practice of allowing students to use their personal electronic devices, such as smartphones or digital tablets, in the classroom to supplement instruction.

“There are a growing number of districts putting BYOD policies in place,” said Kevin Bushweller, assistant managing editor for Education Week, a national, independent news agency that covers K-12 education issues.  

Bushweller, who oversees coverage of education technology for Education Week, said largely districts are moving towards implementing BYOD policies because it’s a cheaper way to achieve one-on-one computing for students as opposed to buying devices for each student.

The school board has been debating the merits of establishing a BYOD policy for months. The board approved the first reading of a draft BYOD policy during its Jan. 8 meeting.    

Under the policy, students in grades six through 12 would be able to use their own devices. But, the use of such devices during class is strictly up to the discretion of each teacher.  

Students would only be allowed to access the internet through the district’s provider, according to the draft policy. The draft also states the district is not responsible for any device that is stolen or damaged at school.

Although the first reading of the policy was approved, the debate among the board whether it is worthwhile remained.  

The first reading was approved by a weighted 3-3 vote. Board member Robert Hiscox was absent and board member Christine Arnold abstained from the vote. Arnold, who was elected in November, felt she didn’t know enough of the background to vote on it.

Vice Chair Priscilla Cretella as well as board members Nazih Noujaim and Sheryl Feducia voted against it.

Noujaim reiterated his concern that allowing students to use their personal devices in the classroom would be a distraction.

Feducia said if all the teachers were on board with the idea, she’d be in favor of it. However, she said, she’s heard some negative feedback from some teachers about the initiative.

Cretella said one of her problems with the policy is that it would not be consistent since individual teachers could decide how and if they would let students use their devices. She feels it should be more uniform, particularly at Long River Middle School. She said if the board wants the policy, everyone needs to do it.

“We have a division within a grade or a division within a subject,” Cretella said.

Superintendent of Schools Tim James said every teacher already has their own teaching style and every classroom is different. The policy, he said, wouldn’t change anything.

Woodland Regional High School Principal Kurt Ogren compared the policy to the smartboards in every classroom. How teachers use the interactive boards vary greatly depending on a teacher’s style, he said.

Ogren said BYOD, like smartboards, are a tool that’s available to enhance education.

Cretella also questioned what happens if a student doesn’t have a device to use.

The draft policy states in such a case teachers will provide students with technology available within the school.

James felt lost in the discussion was the bigger picture of what such a policy could bring to education.

“Our focus should be what can this do for our students,” James said.

A BYOD policy has its pros and cons, Bushweller said.  

“There are definitely upsides, but the educators have to be aware of the downsides so they can try to prevent them,” he said.

In today’s workplace, Bushweller said, everyone works with electronic devices to access and analyze information.

“That’s the world we live in,” he said.  

If teachers can come together and successfully integrate these devices into instruction, Bushweller said, students will be better suited for what lies ahead.

“I think it really prepares kids for what it’s like in the workplace,” he said.

BYOD also gives students instant access to information they are studying as well as the opportunity to learn through educational games on their devices, he added.

On the other side, Bushweller said, if the students aren’t using their devices the way they’re supposed to in class, it could become a distraction.  

“It can cause a lot of distraction if you don’t have a teacher who knows how to manage it well,” he said.

The devices can also potentially be used by students to cheat, Bushweller added.

“But, cheating was around long before we had digital devices,” he said.

While the school board is somewhat divided on the issue, Woodland students decidedly favor the use of technology in the classroom.

A survey of high school students, conducted by the Woodland Student Council last fall, showed that 91 percent think the use of technology will help in the classroom. According to the survey, 94 percent of students asked said they own a smartphone or tablet device.

The survey also showed that students are already being asked to use their devices in the classroom. According to the survey results, students say they’ve been asked to use their device in a lesson an average of three times.

Mary Buckley and Donovan White, Woodland students and student representatives on the board, have said during past discussions that there have been times when a teacher asked students to use their personal devices during their class. However, they said, they weren’t able to because they followed the rules and didn’t have their cellphones with them.

During the Jan. 8, White added, a policy is needed at least as a safety net since students are already using their devices.

Board Chair Donna Cullen said she’s in favor of the policy because the students that are doing what they’re supposed to by not having their devices on them in the classroom are being punished at times.

Before a district implements a BYOD policy Bushweller said it needs to ensure a few things.  

Districts should make sure they have the infrastructure to support it, he said. There also needs to be some ongoing training or professional development for teachers, he added.

James said officials performed a study of the district’s infrastructure in preparation for the new state Smarter Balanced Assessments, which will be field tested in Region 16 this year. He said there are no upgrades needed to the infrastructure to support BYOD. He said an issue would only arise if every student was trying to access the internet at once. But, he said, officials don’t expect that to occur.  

The second reading of the policy is expected to be voted on at the board’s Jan. 22 meeting.  

James said if it’s approved, the policy is anticipated to be implemented in March. Before it goes into effect, he said, assemblies would be held to discuss the policy with students and officials will also meet with teachers.  

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