Bibb County students may soon be able to break out their own smartphones, laptops and tablets in the classroom.
A districtwide "bring your own device" policy was presented to school board members during their recent meeting. Students wouldn't be able to use their personal electronics at any time, but they could when their teachers have prepared specific lesson plans that incorporate technology — and give them permission, said Rose Powell, Bibb’s executive director for technology.
Teachers will be encouraged to create activities that involve BYOD, although it won’t be mandatory, Bibb County Superintendent Curtis Jones said during the meeting.
The Houston County school district has had a BYOD program for about five years, and Stratford Academy has since 2012, according to school and district representatives. Jones County started with a pilot program four years ago and has had BYOD fully implemented for two years. Following a yearlong pilot, Monroe County has offered BYOD in grades three through 12 since 2012.
Tattnall Square Academy students in grades five through 12 are required to bring their own Chromebooks, laptops or tablets to use in class, but they can't use smartphones, said Abby Clay, the school's communications director.
The Bibb school system does not have enough devices to provide one for each student, and BYOD is a good alternative until the system can reach that one-to-one technology environment, Powell said. Students could bring whatever device they are comfortable with.
Right now, Bibb's initiative is being piloted at Vineville Academy, Springdale Elementary and Central High School. A “soft rollout” will happen in the other schools this spring, after a second reading of the policy is approved by the school board, Powell said. Teachers will be able to start testing out lesson plans that use BYOD, and the goal is to use it more after school is back in session next fall.
Aygun Rajabova, a senior at Central High School, said it’s easier to take notes on an iPad and to refer back to the information. Teachers post information and assignments on Microsoft Office 365 and OneDrive, and students can access those assignments from their own devices, Central senior Aryn Guy.
“We can actually look up (things) on apps and other things on our device to help us instead of asking the teacher, because the teacher won’t always be there," Guy said.
Like other schools and districts using BYOD, Bibb has supplemental devices for students who don’t bring their own, and students could be grouped together for activities involving technology.
“BYOD definitely engages students in the learning,” Powell said. “They get very excited about the opportunity to use their technology in the classroom, which is a positive.”
The program is a way to supplement the classroom technology that the school system provides, said Valerie Mercer, chief technology officer for the Monroe County district. Many Monroe students read e-books or online coursework on their own devices using the school network or at home.
Brian Trent, director of technology for the Houston district, said Houston’s policy has provided new avenues for students to collaborate and interact with their teachers and classmates, do research and create projects.
“It’s pushed teachers to think outside (the box) and try to incorporate more possibilities,” Trent said. “I think we’ve had a lot of teachers that have started to push the boundaries and … see devices in a different light.”
Content filters in place
Bibb students will be required to sign onto their district’s network, which has content filters in place that block social media sites and inappropriate pages. The biggest challenge is communicating with students that they have to be “responsible citizens” and protect their devices, Powell said. Parents and students will have to sign a user agreement saying the district is not responsible for lost or stolen electronics. Houston County has similar measures in place.
Erin Chapman, who has two children at Alexander II Magnet School, said she isn’t thrilled about Bibb's potential new policy. She has concerns about what happens if a device is stolen or broken; how all usage will be monitored; and families not being able to afford to buy devices or not wanting to. She also worries that children who bring personal electronics will have an advantage over children who don’t and have to share with classmates.
“I am pro-technology, but I believe my children are too young to ‘need’ this in the classroom,” Chapman, who has an elementary education degree and used to work for the Bibb district, said in a Facebook message. “We don’t allow our children to have tablets, phones, etc., until they are at an age where they can use self-control and self-monitoring. Children need to continue writing and taking notes and reading from an actual book and not a screen to develop fine motor skills and brain development. Screens have no business being in young children’s hands.”
In the Houston district, schools and teachers have their own way of managing BYOD, and some use it more than others, Trent said. Some teachers allow students to bring in their devices every day, while others might specify a certain day of the week. Students might be asked to place their devices on a certain corner of their desk, or put them in a technology box by the teacher’s desk until they are needed.
“It looks very different in every school and every classroom,” Trent said. “The successful classes have teachers that have great classroom management skills to begin with. They set the boundaries and they set the guidelines" of using BYOD.
Lower school teachers at Stratford Academy might give students permission to bring their electronics to class when they are working on a specific project or skill, said Kathleen Medlin, Stratford Academy's director of institutional advancement. At the middle and upper schools, students are allowed to bring their devices to class to take notes if they wish.
First Presbyterian Day School administrators researched "bring your own device" programs, but they found a one-to-one program to be more efficient, consistent and easier to monitor, Beth Burnsed, director of communications, said in an email. Each student gets a school-issued tablet computer to use in class and at home.