How to make BYOD work for your schools

“When it comes to the teaching and the learning, that’s not a challenge—that’s not hard at all,” Hobson said. “We definitely recommend that schools don’t mandate [BYOD] and try to make everyone do it at once. That’s not going to result in anything positive happening in the classroom. The teachers who are going to have a good comfort level are already comfortable giving up some of the control and letting kids be empowered in their own learning. Those are the teachers you start your program with, and it will spread itself.”

Parents often express concerns that students will use their devices for entertainment, and not for learning—and Hobson said that’s a normal and legitimate worry.

“It’s important to partner with parents and educate [them],” she said. Forsyth County hosts a “curriculum night” and lets parents know ahead of time that the BYOD initiative will be discussed. In fact, parents are able to download some of the same educational apps that their children will be using if they participate in the initiative. During the curriculum night, teachers and IT staff take parents through those apps to demonstrate how students will use their devices to enhance learning.

Students who do not own a device might feel self-conscious, and parents also might worry about bullying. But Hobson said the collaborative nature of technology has lessened those worries.

“We’ve asked kids, ‘If you use one of the school laptops, are others bullying you?’ The kids say that it’s not a problem, and that they simply share when they need to,” Hobson said.

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In fact, Forsyth County educators have come up with a term to describe the collaboration and sharing that occurs in a BYOD classroom—the “BYOD huddle.”

“We know that it changes learning in classrooms,” Hobson said.

Changing policies to accommodate BYOD

A student advisory council in Virginia’s Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) recommended a BYOD initiative, and the district followed suit.

“Students in Fairfax County have been bringing their devices to school for years but in most cases were told to turn them off or to put them away during the school day,” said district spokesman John Torre. “To support the need for increased access to … digital instructional resources and to create a 21st-century learning environment, a Bring Your Own Device pilot program was developed last year to embrace and manage the use of personally-owned devices throughout FCPS. Seventy-nine schools have already participated, and we expect many more to do so this year.”

Torre said the district encourages parents to let students bring personal devices such as laptops, netbooks, smart phones, and tablets to school. Students use their devices to take notes, complete assignments, create study tools, and work in collaboration with peers and teachers.

Laura Ascione

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