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The 10 biggest ed-tech stories of 2011

Here's what we think are the 10 most significant educational technology stories of 2011.

Teachers use video podcasts to turn learning “upside down” … New web-search formulas have important implications for students and society … “Bring Your Own Device” emerges as a top strategy for integrating technology into instruction: These are among the many key ed-tech developments affecting schools in the past year.

In this special retrospective, the editors of eSchool News highlight what we think are the 10 most significant educational technology stories of 2011. To find out how these stories will continue to affect school stakeholders in 2012 and beyond, read on.

What do you think of our list? What other ed-tech stories do you think are worthy of mentioning? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

10. Research bolsters the case for 3D learning.

Two years ago, the first projectors and glasses for delivering stereoscopic 3D images in the classroom emerged, and last year saw a sharp rise in the amount of 3D content available for schools. This year, 3D learning took another step forward with a pair of new developments.

In June, Colorado’s Boulder Valley School District (BVSD), an early adopter of 3D technology, released the results of a pilot project showing that the use of 3D content helped increase student engagement and led to better achievement in some cases—with the lowest-performing students seeing the greatest benefits. A few weeks later, the American Optometric Association issued a public health report saying the use of 3D images in school can help diagnose vision problems among students at an earlier age and can enhance teaching and learning.

AOA President Dori Carlson said using 3D images in the classroom can help in two ways: First, children often learn faster and retain more information in a 3D environment; and second, the ability to perceive depth in a 3D presentation turns out to be a highly sensitive assessment tool, able to assess a range of vision health indicators with much higher sensitivity than the standard eye chart that has been in use for the last 150 years.

“For the estimated one in four children who have underlying issues with overall vision, 3D viewing can unmask previously undiagnosed deficiencies and help identify and even treat these problems,” says Carlson. “This is because 3D viewing requires that both eyes function in a coordinated manner as they converge, focus, and track the 3D image.”

While viewing 3D images can alert experts to children’s eye problems, the AOA says there is no evidence that viewing or attempting to view 3D images will harm a child’s eyes. The group’s report also describes ways to manage the classroom environment for optimizing 3D use in the classroom.

Some examples include: (1) Always preview the 3D materials. This requires the teacher to have appropriate vision health as well. (2) Identify general student health issues in advance. (3) Ensure that students keep the glasses off until the 3D content is ready to view. (4) Keep the transitions within and between the 3D images smooth and slow. (5) If students are feeling dizzy or nauseous, take the glasses off immediately and have them close their eyes for 10 seconds or look at a distant object.

In the BVSD pilot project, teachers used stereoscopic 3D content in eight classrooms within four schools during the 2010-11 school year. A few findings stood out across all test sites, said Len Scrogan, director of instructional technology for the district: higher levels of student engagement, favorable reaction by students, and greater student clarity in understanding abstract concepts. “It provided a better visualization than the textbook,” said one student, referring to 3D renderings of cellular structures in biology. Another student said, “It was easier for me to picture it and understand the structure.”

Perhaps the most encouraging findings occurred at Halcyon Middle-High School, BVSD’s day-treatment facility, where students often have trouble sitting through a 40-minute class period.

“Our special-education population was able to maintain interest in the content for a full 40 minutes, which is extremely rare,” Scrogan said. “Forty minutes of uninterrupted science instruction with no behavioral incidents … is significant. This really pulls kids in and prevents distraction.”

See also:

Research: 3D content can help improve learning

How to use 3D in the classroom effectively

9. The ACLU spurs changes in how schools use internet filtering software.

Through a national campaign called “Don’t Filter Me,” the American Civil Liberties Union has called on high school administrators and the makers of web filtering software to stop blocking students’ access to information supporting the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) communities.

As a result of the group’s efforts, high schools in at least 11 states have agreed to change their filtering practices, and web filtering companies have responded as well. Lightspeed Systems was among the first to respond to the complaint, removing its “education.lifestyles” filter that blocked access to educational LGBT-related information.

According to the ACLU, many schools activated the filter mistakenly, believing that it blocked sexually explicit content, when in reality it blocked sites such as the Gay Straight Alliance Network; the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network; and the official website for the annual Day of Silence that protests anti-LGBT bullying.

Lightspeed told clients that it would discontinue the filter as of May 23, placing the sites currently in the “education.lifestyles” category into a variety of different categories to make sure the sites were properly categorized without regard to their “political or moral viewpoint.”

The ACLU asserts that programs blocking all LGBT content violate the First Amendment right to free speech, as well as the Equal Access Act, which requires equal access to school resources for all extracurricular clubs. This means that gay-straight alliances and LGBT support groups must have the same access to national organizational websites as other groups, such as the Key Club and the chess club.

“I couldn’t believe my school would block access to perfectly legitimate websites just because they were about LGBT issues,” said Nick Rinehart, a student at Rochester High School in Rochester Hills, Mich. Rinehart was blocked from looking up information on gay-straight alliances with a message that said his search violated Rochester High School’s acceptable use policy. “It’s not fair for the school to try to keep students in the dark about LGBT resources.”

Most schools contacted by the ACLU promised to amend their practices, but the civil-rights organization sued a Missouri school district in August when it refused to comply.

The ACLU sued the Camdenton R-III School District in central Missouri on behalf of organizations whose websites are blocked by the district’s web filter. Those organizations include the Matthew Shepard Foundation and Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays National, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group.

Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Eastern Missouri, said in a news release that every effort had been made to inform the district that its filtering software “illegally denies students access to important educational information and resources on discriminatory grounds.” Rothert added during a telephone interview with the Associated Press (AP) that the district unblocked a few websites, but dozens more remained blocked.

Superintendent Tim Hadfield told a local newspaper that the district doesn’t feel its internet filtering system has violated students’ rights. “We do specifically block sites that are inappropriate and will continue to do so,” he said.

See also:

ACLU demands high schools remove anti-gay filters

Companies respond to ACLU’s ‘Don’t Filter Me’ campaign

ACLU sues Missouri school district over internet filtering

8. A new spirit of labor-management collaboration helps drive important school reform.

With anti-union sentiment at an all-time high, and states such as Wisconsin and Ohio taking steps to curtail teachers’ collective bargaining rights, the federal Education Department in February convened a first-of-its-kind summit on “Advancing Student Achievement Through Labor-Management Collaboration.”

The summit brought together teams of superintendents, school board presidents, and union presidents from 150 school systems around the country to explore how all sides can successfully navigate what are often quite contentious, politically charged issues surrounding school reform … and ultimately act in the best interest of students.

In opening remarks, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said raising student achievement won’t be possible without school district labor and management teams working together.

“I know it takes courage and conviction to publicly commit to working together with groups that are sometimes portrayed as adversaries, rather than as allies,” Duncan said. “School boards, administrators, and teacher leaders face different challenges—from setting policy and approving budgets to hiring staff, negotiating agreements, and ensuring due process. Yet all stand or fall together on the quality of student learning.”

Laura Rico, union president for the ABC Unified School District in southern California and national vice president of the American Federation of Teachers, said fostering a good working relationship between labor and management is “hard work”—but “I’d do it again in a heartbeat,” she added.

Rico meets with her superintendent, Gary Smuts (a winner of the 2010 Tech-Savvy Superintendent Awards from eSchool News), once a week for about two hours each session. During these meetings, they discuss any problems and issues that might have arisen, with an eye toward how they can solve those problems together. The goal should be to “quit trying to win arguments, and instead seek solutions,” Rico said.

ABC Unified has articulated a set of guiding principles for successful labor-management relations. These include the ideas that the district will not accept any excuses, and labor and management will work together to promote student achievement; labor and management will work hard to understand each other’s jobs, respect each other, and be honest with each other; and—perhaps most importantly—“we won’t let each other fail,” Smuts says.

Despite serving a population in which 92 percent of its 20,000 students are minorities and 22 percent are English-language learners, the district has had remarkable success since labor and management began working together more closely. ABC’s score on California’s Academic Performance Index has increased every year since the partnership began more than a decade ago, and the district’s average scores in reading and math far exceed the state average.

ABC Unified was one of 12 presenting districts whose members shared their secrets to successful labor-management collaboration during the conference. Besides establishing a set of guiding principles and meeting frequently to solve problems, other strategies discussed at the conference included establishing trust by making communication more transparent, and sharing in the decision-making process together—something that Montgomery County, Md., Public Schools Superintendent Jerry Weast (a 2008 eSchool News Tech-Savvy Superintendent Award winner) called “distributed leadership.”

Conference participants seemed genuinely excited to apply what they’d learned about improving labor-management relations in their own districts. But organizers of the event identified a key challenge: How to take the momentum this conference generated and translate it into a national movement instead of a one-time affair.

“We’re in this for the long haul,” Duncan said. “This is an extraordinary first step—but it’s only the first step.”

See also:

ED to unions, districts: Can’t we all just get along?

How to raise student achievement through better labor-management collaboration

ED highlights best practices in school labor-management collaboration

Why Illinois might be a model for education reform

7. Teachers use video podcasts to turn learning “upside-down”—with promising results.

A new trend has emerged that takes advantage of the power of online video to make classroom time more valuable to students: Teachers are turning the traditional instructional model on its head by delivering the lesson to students as homework and then using class time for practice.

This new teaching and learning style, often called “flipped” or “inverted” learning, makes the students the focus of the class, not the teacher, by having students watch a lecture at home and then apply the lesson with the teacher in the classroom.

With inverted learning, students can absorb the material as homework and then practice what they’ve learned with guided help from the teacher if they need it. This new instructional strategy not only makes class time more productive for teachers and students but also increases engagement and caters to all forms of learning, its advocates say.

“Not all students learn in the same way or at the same pace,” said Dan Spencer, a science teacher at Michigan Center High School and educational technology consultant for Jackson County Intermediate School District. “Unfortunately, the way schools are set up, all students are forced to learn the exact same thing in the exact same time and in the exact same way. I wanted to find a way to change that.”

Spencer, who teaches three sections of chemistry and two sections of engineering every day, typically has anywhere from 15 to 28 students in a chemistry class period.

“The main idea behind the ‘flipped’ classroom is for teachers to be available when students need them most. If I lecture for 30 minutes … in my chemistry classes, that would leave me about 20 minutes to assign homework and let students start on it,” he explained.

At that point, he said, students were left to their own devices to finish their homework and come back the next day for something new. What he found was that when students left his class, many either chose not to do the homework or gave up as soon as they ran into something that didn’t make sense.

“Then we would spend the next day going over questions instead of moving on. So what I was doing was using up valuable class time to lecture and then leaving them to figure things out on their own. That seemed like a very inefficient use of class time to me.”

Spencer began to create screencasts of his lectures using TechSmith’s Camtasia software the day before. Those screencasts then became the homework—and class time was for doing “homework,” or answering questions and doing labs or demos.

Because many of Spencer’s students lack high-speed internet access at home, his district received a grant to purchase a classroom set of iPod touches, which Spencer checks out to students who need them.

Like Spencer, James Yoos, the Washington State Teacher of the Year in 2010, teaches science. Three years ago, Yoos decided to condense his lectures into 15- to 20-minute video podcasts, or “vodcasts,” that students watch for homework. They are expected to watch and practice with him when they are ready to learn the information. The power behind the vodcasts, he said, is that students only watch when they need the information or are inspired to learn more. Class time is then dedicated to practicing and applying the information using students’ preferred learning style.

Yoos noted, however, that this inverted style of learning requires students to “own their learning.”

“What I mean by this is that they [must] take responsibility for developing what they know. They can’t be passive recipients of knowledge—they must engage in order to succeed in this system,” he said. “But that’s what we want for members of our society, isn’t it?”

See also:

Teachers turn learning upside down

6. Common Core standards change education practices in states from coast to coast.

More than a year after the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers released the final Common Core State Standards in English and math, school districts in the 45 states that have pledged support for the common standards say they are moving closer to implementation—and a majority agree the new standards are more rigorous than the ones they’re replacing.

According to a survey released in September by the nonprofit Center on Education Policy (CEP), two-thirds of districts in the adopting states say they have begun to develop a comprehensive plan and timeline for implementing the standards; 61 percent are developing and/or purchasing curriculum materials aligned to the standards; and 48 percent are providing professional development around the standards to their math and English teachers.

Still, the survey identified some key challenges that remain.

“While many districts are taking steps to implement the standards, some may be waiting for additional state guidance and support before tackling the more complex steps, such as developing local assessments or revising teacher evaluation systems,” said Nancy Kober, a CEP consultant and co-author of the study.

District officials are concerned about having enough funding to implement the Common Core standards and what they see as a lack of clarity in state guidance, the study noted.

Earlier in the year, a diverse group of educators and stakeholders called for clear curricular guidance to complement the Common Core standards, including examples of curriculum strategies that educators can use in their classrooms.

“The curriculum is a necessary bridge between standards and assessments,” said Linda Darling-Hammond, professor of education at Stanford University. “We need to be thinking systemically—we can’t leave out the whole notion of curriculum support again, as we have in past years of curriculum reform. … Good curriculum is built with an understanding of learning in mind.”

To help support the development of such curriculum, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in April said it would invest more than $20 million in game-based learning and other digital tools based on the common standards.

The new tools will include video games that build proficiency in math, reading, and science, as well as a new game platform that can be used for various subjects. Some of these tools will be available to educators free of charge. The grants also include money for web-based classes aligned with the new common standards.

A pilot project in Maine, meanwhile, is exploring how technology can help educators implement the standards in that state. In collaboration with the Portland-based educational software company AcademicMerit, which offers online curriculum and assessment software, the pilot involved 23 schools and nearly 1,500 students from districts all over Maine.

“The Common Core State Standards are one of the most hopeful developments in education,” said Jack Jennings, president and CEO of the Center on Education Policy. He added that his organization’s survey “confirms that the standards will lead to more rigor in education, and that there’s momentum at the district level for implementing them.”

See also:

Schools working to implement Common Core standards

Common Core Standards Call for Uncommon Shifts in Practices

A call for curricular support as Common Core standards take hold

Maine leads once again with Common Core pilot

Gates gives $20M for digital learning, Common Core curriculum

Transitioning to the Common Core State Standards in Mathematics

5. iPads help turbo-charge the digital textbook revolution.

Thanks largely to the popularity of Apple’s iPad tablet, several hundred more schools this year moved away from textbooks in favor of an all-digital curriculum.

In September, Apple said it knew of at least 600 school districts that have implemented one-to-one computing programs with the devices—with nearly two-thirds of those launching their programs since July. And new programs are being announced on a regular basis. In late August, Kentucky’s education commissioner and the superintendent of schools in Woodford County, Ky., said that Woodford County High would become the state’s first public high school to give each of its 1,250 students an iPad.

At Burlington High School in suburban Boston, principal Patrick Larkin calls the $500 iPads a better long-term investment than textbooks, though he said the school still would use traditional texts in some courses.

New Jersey’s Edison Township School District in May said it would become the first district in the state to implement an entirely iPad-based Algebra 1 curriculum. The district is piloting the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) Fuse: Algebra 1 application with 60 students this fall, said Richard O’Malley, Edison Township School District’s superintendent.

The iPad application gives students step-by-step animated instruction, instant feedback on practice questions, the ability to write, record, and save notes, and access to more than 400 video tutorials. Teachers can monitor performance via Wi-Fi, with real-time, student-specific feedback.

HMH Fuse is currently being piloted in California as well, where teachers are reporting dramatic gains in student engagement, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt says.

In Fresno Unified School District, where 100 students at Kings Canyon and Sequoia middle schools are part of a four-district pilot program, the results have been promising, spokeswoman Susan Bedi said.

“The iPads have created excitement about learning algebra, which indicates that students are more engaged in the classroom,” she said, “and that will equate to higher achievement.”

The iPads generally cost districts between $500 and $600, depending on what accessories and service plans are purchased. By comparison, Brookfield High School in Connecticut estimates it spends at least that much yearly on every student’s textbooks, not including graphing calculators, dictionaries, and other accessories they can get on the iPads.

Educators say the sleek, flat tablet computers offer a variety of benefits. They’re especially popular in special-education services, for children with autism spectrum disorders and learning disabilities, and for those who learn best when something is explained with visual images, not just through talking. Some advocates also say the interactive nature of learning on an iPad comes naturally to many of today’s students, who’ve grown up with electronic devices as part of their everyday world.

But for all of the excitement surrounding the growth of iPads in schools, some experts watching the trend warn that schools need to ensure they can support the wireless infrastructure, repairs, and other costs that accompany a switch to such a tech-heavy approach.

And even with the most modern device in hand, students still need the basics of a solid curriculum and skilled teachers.

“There’s a saying that the music is not in the piano and, in the same way, the learning is not in the device,” said Mark Warschauer, an education and informatics professor at the University of California-Irvine whose specialties include research on the intersection of technology and education.

“I don’t want to oversell these things or present the idea that these devices are miraculous,” Warschauer added, “but they have some benefits—and that’s why so many people outside of schools are using them so much.”

See also:

Schools see rising scores with iPads

Five ways readers are using iPads in the classroom

New Jersey district plans iPad-only algebra course

West Virginia asks counties to plan for electronic textbooks

Many U.S. schools adding iPads, trimming textbooks

Textbook-free schools share experiences, insights4. The demise of federal ed-tech funding puts school technology programs at risk.

When the dust settled from lawmakers’ skirmish over this year’s federal budget, educational technology was one of the big losers, as Congress eliminated the Enhancing Education Through Technology (EETT) block-grant program.

President Obama originally wanted to eliminate EETT in his 2011 budget, but he also proposed a new initiative that would focus on improving teaching and learning within three areas: literacy, STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math), and well-rounded education (arts, foreign languages, civics and government, history, geography, economics, financial literacy, and other subjects).

According to administration officials, the new initiative was supposed to “include a focus on integrating technology into instruction and using technology to drive improvements in teaching and learning” throughout all of these curricular areas. This new initiative didn’t make it into the final budget deal for 2011, however.

Eliminating EETT could have a devastating effect on school technology programs, ed-tech advocates fear.

Without EETT funding, the nation’s schools could fall even further behind competing nations, said former West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise, who is now president of the Alliance for Excellent Education. The program provided much-needed funds for teachers to access high-quality professional development opportunities.

“Education has trailed most other sectors in effectively applying new technologies to boost productivity and outcomes,” Wise said. “By pairing teachers and technology, the nation can create a powerful force multiplier that permits teachers to deliver high-quality content in new and innovative ways to all students, … including in difficult to staff subjects such as math, science, and foreign language.”

“As America’s public school systems and their educational leaders step up to meet the challenge of preparing students to be internationally competitive, federal education policy must recognize the important role that education technology plays in providing a world-class education,” said Dan Domenech, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators (AASA).

AASA has joined other education and ed-tech advocacy groups, such as the Consortium for School Networking, International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), and State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA), in calling on Congress to provide a funding stream dedicated to educational technology and to helping the U.S. education system remain globally competitive.

In March, SETDA released a report highlighting how states are using EETT funds. For instance, the Southeast Arkansas Education Service Cooperative used a $233,541 EETT grant to create a “Tech Camp for Kids,” which offered an innovative learning environment for students to use video production tools to produce real-world projects. Students exhibited significant gains in technology skills, all aligned with ISTE’s National Educational Technology Standards.

“Ensuring today’s students have access to learning technologies in the classroom is a key education and workforce development issue,” said Douglas Levin, SETDA’s executive director, who said EETT’s demise jeopardizes the future of programs like the Tech Camp for Kids. “By denying students access to these tools—and well-trained and supported teachers—we are asking schools to win the future with one hand tied behind their backs.”

See also:

FY11 budget details: a mixed bag for education

Ed-tech stakeholders protest budget cuts

Stakeholders decry EETT elimination

Report: Federal action needed to expand digital learning

3. Social media helps rewrite the rules of internet search.

A quiet revolution occurred this year, as Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and other internet gatekeepers have revised their search algorithms in an effort to bring users more personalized information. This subtle shift has enormous implications for students, researchers, and society at large.

Every time we click on an internet link, we’re contributing to our online profile. In effect, we’re telling Google, “This is a source I like and trust.” Now, the ranking systems of all the major search engines take these hundreds of little endorsements we make every day and use them to deliver information that the companies behind these tools assume we’ll value: The links from our most “trusted” sources—such as our friends, or the websites we visit every day—appear at the top of our search results.

The reasoning behind this game-changing move is to help us sift through the overwhelming amount of information at our fingertips. The major search companies recognize that we need a filtering system to save us from information overload, and the system they’ve created now relies more heavily on our history of preferences than on an objective calculation of relevance to bring certain resources to the front of the pack.

This is how sites like and Netflix have been sorting our potential shopping or movie-rental choices for years. But looking for a good novel you hope to enjoy isn’t the same as looking for objective information about a topic. This stealthy rewriting of the rules for internet search could have a profound effect on how we make sense of, and make our mark on, the world.

For one thing, it has the potential to narrow our worldview instead of broadening it, says Eli Pariser, an online organizer and author of the book The Filter Bubble.

During a May 2011 Technology, Education, Design (TED) talk, Pariser called this phenomenon the “invisible algorithmic editing of the web.” He warned that it results in a situation where “the internet shows us what it thinks we want to see, but not necessarily what we need to see,” adding: “Instead of a balanced education diet, [we] end up with information junk food.” To counter this effect, web users should broaden their online networks to include a wide range of opinions and perspectives.

The new web-search rules affect not just how we perceive the world, but also how we shape it. If students, researchers, and educators want their writings, videos, websites, and other online works to appear near the top of an internet search, they’ll have to understand how these new rules work in order to take advantage of them, says educator and consultant Angela Maiers.

The major search engines now rank web pages not just by how relevant they might be to individual users, but also by the “Klout” score of their publisher, Maiers told attendees of the 2011 Building Learning Communities conference in July.

Klout is a measure of your social media influence across the web. It takes into account the number of internet connections you’ve made, the frequency of your online contributions, and the size of your social media following. The more consistently you participate in online social media—such as by blogging, or tweeting, or leaving comments on websites—the higher your Klout score will be.

As the new rules of internet search make clear, if students and faculty want their ideas to be seen online, they must build a strong social media presence, Maiers said. She recommended that educators teach social media skills to their students and give them a chance to create, collaborate, and contribute online. “In turn, students will build Klout,” she said—which will help them exert “a personal influence on the world.”

In a Twitter chat with eSchool News readers in October, Maiers argued that the inclusion of social media data in web-search algorithms could create a “new digital divide—those with a powerful network and those without.” She also proposed a “new rule” that sums up the importance of managing one’s online profile carefully: “You are what you share.”

It’s no longer just what content you contribute that is important, she added, but “who you are—your character, your intention, your motivation that becomes important. … If you contribute content to the web, but don’t act socially responsible—if you’re not nice in the sandbox—your content won’t spread.”

See also:

New web-search formulas have huge implications for students and society

Social media savvy: The new digital divide?

2. A controversial Missouri law puts social media boundaries between teachers, students in the national spotlight.

Should teachers and students be Facebook “friends”? Where should policy makers draw the line between appropriate and inappropriate teacher-student contact in the age of social media?

Seven years after Facebook’s debut, education leaders are still grappling with this thorny issue—and Missouri lawmakers thrust the debate into the national spotlight when they passed a law barring teachers from having any private contact with students online.

The law was proposed after an Associated Press investigation found 87 Missouri teachers had lost their licenses between 2001 and 2005 because of sexual misconduct, some of which involved exchanging explicit online messages with students. And in a June 28 story, we reported how technology has given educators direct access to students 24 hours a day. That, coupled with the casual tone of text or online conversations, can help blur the lines of appropriateness between a student and teacher, law-enforcement officials say.

But many teachers protested Missouri’s new restrictions, saying the law would hurt their ability to keep in touch with students. The law forbade teachers from having “exclusive access” online with current students or former students who are still minors—meaning that any contact on Facebook or other sites had to be done in public rather than through private messages.

“I am not a pervert and don’t wish to be treated as one,” Joplin middle school teacher Alana Maddock wrote in an eMail message to Gov. Jay Nixon in June, not long before he signed the legislation. “I am very responsible with my Facebook pages and don’t appreciate being assumed to be a danger to my students.”

The state’s teachers union sued to keep the law from taking effect, and a judge issued a temporary injunction in August, saying the law “would have a chilling effect” on free-speech rights guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution.

Facing concerns that the law would hinder the ability of teachers to do their job effectively, state lawmakers repealed parts of the legislation in October. Instead, they passed a new law requiring school districts to develop their own policies on the use of electronic media between employees and students.

But that isn’t the end of the debate. In signing the new bill into law, Nixon noted that schools might find it challenging to develop policies that prevent improper communications without also preventing appropriate ones.

Aimée M. Bissonette, a lawyer at Little Buffalo Law & Consulting in Richfield, Minn., said Missouri’s experience shows there needs to be clear boundaries established for teacher-student electronic communication.

“Teachers need to think about what prompted Missouri’s legislature to pass this law,” she said. “Many of the problems that have resulted from student-teacher interaction on social networking sites could have been avoided if the teachers involved had worked to create clear separation between their personal and school-related roles. … Communication with students doesn’t have to be banned, but there are ‘best practices’ teachers should embrace.”

For example:

• Staff members should be encouraged to establish separate sites and pages for personal and professional use, if possible. However, all material on the internet should be presumed to be public—and nothing should be posted if it’s considered truly private.

• Staff members should maintain separate eMail accounts for professional/school and personal communications.

• Staff members using social networking sites, either for school or personal use, should always bear in mind that they represent the school in all interactions at all times. Staff members should avoid any use of such resources in a manner that could reflect negatively on the school.

“If schools have these discussions with teachers and staff, cover these issues in staff development, and draft workable policies, they can prevent a multitude of problems—and avoid legal liability,” Bissonette said. “They also will demonstrate to the legislators of their respective states that they are taking responsibility for the issue of student/teacher electronic communication and [that] legislation is not needed.”

See also:

Technology plays role in inappropriate student-teacher relationships

Missouri teachers protest social media crackdown

How far should policy makers go in trying to protect kids online?

Missouri teachers sue over social networking law

For educators, painful lessons in social media use

Missouri judge blocks Facebook limits for teachers

Ten ways schools are using social media effectively

Missouri repeals law restricting teacher-student Facebook interaction

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

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