What’s important in a digital device initiative?

Student engagement and quality of “screen time” are important considerations in device deployments.

In recent years, many ed-tech advocacy efforts have morphed from emphasizing the need for schools to have ed-tech tools and devices to figuring out exactly which device, or mix of devices, meet students’ needs, and how best to manage those devices. But before determining which device or devices students should use, education leaders must first identify what they want students to be able to do with the devices, according to a panel of experts.

During a July 25 Project 24 webinar, school ed-tech leaders discussed the factors influencing their decisions to move to a one-to-one or bring your own device (BYOD) policy.

“Ultimately, the students will help lead the adults down the path that you need to go,” said Patrick Larkin, assistant superintendent for learning for Burlington Public Schools in Massachusetts. “The only wrong choice you can make is not getting all the stakeholders in on the conversation to choose the right device from day one.”

(Next page: How do districts handle the influx of technology?)
The Burlington district ultimately chose iPads as its preferred device, started its one-to-one program at the high school level, and then expanded to the middle school level, with plans to have the initiative encompass all K-12 grades.

Larkin said the district chose one device instead of a BYOD policy to help teachers move from having little to no technology to managing classrooms in which all students have devices. “It would be a lot for teachers to handle difference devices,” he said.

One goal of a device deployment or initiative is to stimulate student and teacher collaboration, and to ensure that students and teachers learn from and educate one another, Larkin added. Another is the quality of the time students spend using their devices.

In the Public Schools of Northborough and Southborough (Mass.), school IT staff focused on increasing wireless capacity, improving network infrastructure, and boosting bandwidth in anticipation of a one-to-one initiative, said Jean Tower, the district’s director of technology.

“We first just banned everything, but the real problem with that is that the more you say ‘no,’ the more it just goes underground–people find a way to get around it,” she said.

Next, the district allowed technology devices in school, but only under tight control, for specific instances and at very specific times.

Realizing that such control did not facilitate technology-enabled teaching and learning, Tower said the district now operates under a model of “welcome disruption.” This mindset, she said, came about when ed-tech leaders realized that students and teachers expect to have access to and use of their technology devices, and because schools today are trying to meet learners’ needs with fewer resources.

“If we don’t bring technology in, we’ll never have the opportunity to cultivate the culture that welcomes BYOD,” she said.Currently, the district has implemented a bring your own same device (BYOSD) policy using Apple iPads, while administrators determine how best to move to a BYOD initiative and avoid roadblocks that might crop up when students use devices with different operating systems or functionalities.

The district decided to allow students to bring their iPads after examining the ecosystem of apps and uses for them, and district administrators also took into consideration that the district was already, for the most part, an Apple district.

Administrators also are examining equity issues and determining how best to meet the needs of students who may not be able to purchase their own devices. Potential solutions include rental or purchasing programs run through the district, or maintaining a building set of devices for student use.

Tower said she hopes that the district’s current BYOSD policy will transition to a general BYOD policy.

Georgia’s Forsyth County Schools implemented a BYOD policy after technology was all but forbidden in schools.

“In Georgia, it was against the law to use a mobile device at school,” said Bailey Mitchell, the district’s chief technology and information officer. That has since changed, and Mitchell said that district ed-tech experts work with individual schools to identify their BYOD initiative’s instructional potential. Forty teachers from 7 schools, called the Trailblazers, collaborate and share best practices that are disseminated throughout the district.

“We found that you can’t take for granted that students, by default, know how to transition from their social device use outside of school to the instructional use of their device in the classroom–that takes some mentoring and some guidance,” Mitchell said. “Really, it’s about giving up some control.”

The district established an “outcome of responsible use” stating that it trusts students to act responsibly and use their devices appropriately.

“The advantage to students not having the same device is that it really enhances their ability to think differently about how they’d approach a problem or make choices because different devices have different authoring tools,” Mitchell said.

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