The 10 biggest ed-tech stories of 2011

1. “Bring Your Own Device” spells salvation for budget-strapped schools.

Research suggests that many teens and tweens now own a smart phone, tablet computer, or other mobile device of their own—and a growing number of school leaders are using that to their advantage by incorporating these student-owned devices into classroom lessons and projects.

Advocates of this new trend, called “Bring Your Own Device” (BYOD) or “Bring Your Own Technology” (BYOT), say it’s a more cost-effective way to integrate technology into instruction. Of course, school leaders still must ensure that all students have equal access to technology—but that can be accomplished by supplying school-issued devices to students who don’t have their own.

Georgia’s Forsyth County Schools embarked on a BYOD initiative that includes seven schools and 40 teachers. Teachers received face-to-face and web-based professional development that included modeled examples of what BYOD activities might look like in a classroom.

Managing a classroom when students bring different devices can be a challenge, said Jill Hobson, the district’s instructional technology director. The district’s IT team boosted its wireless access points to support the pilot, and it maintains a separate wireless network for students to keep them from accessing sensitive school district information.

No one was required to adopt the policy, said instructional technology specialist Tim Clark—but as word spread, “it took off in a viral fashion among our school leadership and among our community.”

Clark said anecdotal evidence indicates that theft and discipline problems have gone down. Devices include iPads, netbooks, laptops, and gaming devices.

“BYOT isn’t about the devices themselves—kids bring in a variety of technology—it’s about creating constructive change in teaching practices,” Clark said. “Just like kids bring pencils to school … they bring their technology to help them whenever it’s appropriate.”

What’s more, IT operations aren’t burdened with a BYOD initiative, Clark said, because students handle the maintenance and updates for their own devices.

One challenge is how to police the devices to make sure students are using them only for tasks that have to do with learning and are not accessing inappropriate content. A simple way to do this is via mobile device management (MDM), says Phil Emer, director of technology planning and policy at The Friday Institute, which is housed within North Carolina State University.

Emer says it’s inevitable that students eventually will be allowed to bring their mobile devices into school, and MDM software can help make this happen. Each network user should have an account, and any time students use a wireless device, they should be required to log into the school’s wireless network, just as enterprise users do, where they can be monitored.

Computer security and IT management companies such as AirWatch, Kaseya, Absolute Software, and Odyssey Software supply MDM software, as do wireless companies such as AT&T. “Some districts require that MDM be installed on any student- or faculty-owned device if they want to use it at school,” said Michael Flood, education solutions practice manager at AT&T.

Flood added that some school leaders look at the issue simply from an “acceptable use” perspective, addressing it purely from a policy standpoint and not a technological one.

That viewpoint is similar to what Eric Williams, superintendent of the York County School Division in Virginia, believes. Dealing with mobile devices in the classroom, he says, is a classroom management issue.

“Teachers have always dealt with classroom management issues like off-task behavior, cheating, and inappropriate materials,” he says. Technology simply offers new versions of these same issues. “They exist separate from technology, and they exist with technology. It’s a challenge for teachers regardless of whether [personal devices] are allowed in the classroom or not.”

According to Project Tomorrow’s most recent Speak Up survey, 67 percent of parents said they would be willing to provide their child with a smart phone if the school allowed it to be used for education. That number was pretty stable across urban and rural districts, said Julie Evans, CEO of Project Tomorrow.

In fact, some ed-tech observers predict that within a few years, nearly every K-12 student in the U.S. will be using a mobile handheld device as an important part of his or her education.

“I think the issue of whether it’s a student-owned device or a school-owned device is in migration,” said Tom Greaves, founder of ed-tech consulting firm The Greaves Group. “I think in five years or so, it will shift to student-owned devices. It’s like calculators: Bringing a calculator to school is your own responsibility.”

See also:

Mobile learning: Not just laptops any more

‘Bring your own device’ catching on in schools

Solving the challenges of mobile device management

Inside a ‘Bring Your Own Device’ program

eSchool News Staff

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