Houston classrooms to begin using students’ personal online devices

Houston classrooms to begin using students’ personal online devices

jmink@macon.comApril 8, 2013 

WARNER ROBINS -- In Houston County, some students will be using their iPads, iPhones and laptops in classrooms sooner rather than later.

The district is piloting a project beginning next week, which allows students to bring their own devices to school. Those devices, which range from iPads to cellphones, will be used during classroom lessons, allowing students to conduct research and complete assignments.

“It’s another tool for them to be engaged,” Cindy Flesher, executive director of elementary operations, said Monday during the board of education work session. Flesher will replace Linda Horne as assistant superintendent of school operations when Horne retires in May.

If approved at the regular board meeting Tuesday, the project will begin Monday in select classrooms at Northside and Houston County high schools. Volunteer teachers at Feagin Mill Middle and Matt Arthur Elementary schools will begin their projects April 29, after state testing is completed, Flesher said.

The goal is to test the concept, determine its obstacles and work out the kinks before implementing it in all schools. There is no time line for when it might become a district-wide policy -- for now, officials simply want to test the idea, they said.

It’s an exciting project, administrators said, as school systems are embracing higher technology in the classroom. For now, principals have indicated that students mainly will use their own devices to do classroom projects and research. They will only use electronic devices during special assignments or designated times, not during every class period, Flesher said.

Still, there are some concerns about the project. School board members questioned whether students whose parents cannot afford such devices will be at a disadvantage.

“I just want to make sure everyone has access,” Board Member Fred Wilson said.

The answer: all students will have access. Those students who do not have their own devices can use classroom computers and school-wide devices.

Also, students will be encouraged to share their personal devices.

“We are not going to punish students for not having a personal device,” Horne said. “We are going to, as much as possible, have something for them to use.”

The project cannot wait until every student has his or her own device, she said.

Board members also questioned how much access students will have to restricted websites, such as social networking. Even though students will use the district’s wireless connection, which blocks such websites, many students can access the Internet through personal connections on their phones and iPads, they said.

In that situation, students will be expected to practice personal responsibility and teachers will be expected to monitor what their students are looking at online, administrators said.

They compared it to disciplining any other misbehavior, such as passing notes or bringing inappropriate magazines to school.

“It’s going to be an evolving process,” Horne said.

To contact writer Jenna Mink, call 256-9751.

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