Houston, other midstate students using their own phones, iPads in school

jmink@macon.comApril 20, 2013 

On a Thursday morning, Katrina Lumban is sitting with her iPad in hand, tapping applications and taking photos.

The 16-year-old high school sophomore isn’t chatting with friends or checking out photos on Facebook. Instead, she is working complex problems as she finishes her physical science homework.

Beside her, a fellow student works problems with her smartphone. Another student watches a science video on an iPad. On the classroom’s whiteboard, a printout of a cellphone is visible. When it’s flipped, a red cancel sign is over the cellphone, meaning that students must put away their electronic devices.

This will become the norm in many of Lori Boyd’s classes at Northside High School and, one day, in most Houston County classes, officials say.

The district debuted its Bring-Your-Own-Device program last week, piloting the project in classrooms at Northside and Houston County high schools. It will begin later this month at Feagin Mill Middle and Matt Arthur Elementary schools.

The project -- a new trend in education across the country -- encourages students to use their own high-tech devices, from smartphones to tablet devices such as i­Pads, to perform some classroom work. Teachers are molding classroom assignments to incorporate such technology.

The devices will simply be used to support schoolwork, like pencils and notebooks, Northside Principal Greg Peavy said.

“We can’t ignore that this is the way kids are learning, and this is the way kids are communicating,” Peavy said. “We talk about preparing kids for the future. This is the future.”

The district is training teachers to use the technology in their classes.

On Thursday, Boyd handed students a review worksheet for the upcoming end-of-course tests. It not only included science problems, but also websites and video links. Boyd created a link, which allows students to review the concepts online and then immediately see whether their answers were correct and how to properly work them.

“They can check their work instantaneously,” she said.

Katrina took a photo of the paper worksheet and scanned it into her iPad, where she was able to complete and check the problems online.

“This saves all kinds of time,” Katrina said. “Let’s say I don’t understand. I can go to (one of the suggested websites) and I can just see how it’s done.”

Tre Scott, a 15-year-old sophomore, owns an iPad and describes himself as a hands-on learner. The ability to work problems online, often with the help of videos and websites, is beneficial, especially in math, he said.

“This will make it to where students will enjoy coming to school more and want to come to school more,” he said.

It’s an effort to not only bring schools into the 21st century, but also to teach students with the same technology they have grown up using. It also might be a way to save money in the future.

In Monroe County, the school district has piloted a similar project for the past two years, and it can have a financial impact, Monroe Superintendent Anthony Pack said.

“When you’re looking at the budget, if they have access to those items and have the ability to bring those items, that’s something that we don’t necessarily have to provide,” he said.

Overall, the project has benefited both students and the school district, Pack said. The district surveyed eighth-graders this year and found that 80 percent of them owned a type of smart device -- a rate that surprised school officials, who had guessed it would be about 30 percent. The district is moving toward online textbooks, particularly math textbooks, but it will continue to have hardback books for students, he said.

“We’re changing our mind-set as educators,” he said. “We’re taking our kids to that next level.”

A few worries

But the wave of the future does not come without challenges. Monroe schools have struggled with aging infrastructure in buildings, which limits the number of devices that can be used at the same time. Officials are working to upgrade that infrastructure, he said.

Likewise, Houston County is investing about $26 million in education sales tax proceeds to upgrade technology in schools.

Still, there have been concerns in some quarters, including the possibility of theft or cheating.

Before approving the project in Houston County, school board members expressed two specific ones: misuse and the availability of such devices. They questioned how students who do not own such devices would be affected and how educators would keep students from texting or visiting inappropriate websites in class.

Similar concerns were raised in Monroe County, and those issues have been addressed, Pack said.

When using such technology in class, teachers often group students together. They never ask students to hand their personal devices to their peers, but all students at least have some access to iPads or smartphones when they are in groups, Pack said.

And few students have abused the privilege, he said. With the new project in place, teachers are charged with better educating their students about online and cellphone etiquette.

“How do we teach our students how to use technology in the world today where it’s OK, but to do it correctly, do it ethically?” he said. “We’re teaching them how to use the device, and it minimizes them breaking the rules.”

Furthermore, students misused their cellphones long before the devices were allowed in classes, he said.

Similarly, teachers at Northside High School discipline students who abuse their devices, just as they would for any other misbehavior, Peavy said.

As students worked with their smartphones and iPads on Thursday, Boyd walked throughout the classroom, keeping a close eye on her students’ work.

Students are less likely to text or get on Facebook when they are busy using their devices for classwork, Boyd said. Additionally, most students connect to the district’s wireless Internet, which blocks inappropriate websites.

Students such as Erica Holley say they are not tempted to abuse their technology.

“You’d get in trouble if you tried it,” the 17-year-old said.

Boyd creates hard copies of the assignments for students who do not have such devices, but students often share their iPads and smartphones.

On Thursday, 17-year-old Blake Bryant worked with another student, who shared her smartphone. Bryant does not mind sharing another student’s device, he said.

“My phone’s not smart enough,” he said. “And it’s easier watching a video.”

To contact writer Jenna Mink, call 256-9751.

The Telegraph is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service