Once topping the list of items forbidden in the classroom, iPhones, iPads and other smartphones are now being welcomed in some Richmond County schools.
Three schools will launch the Bring Your Own Technology, or BYOT, initiative this year, which lets students bring personal smartphones or other technical devices to use in class.
Teachers will have the option to determine when students can use their iPhones to research a topic or whether to designate certain times in the school day, according to Assistant Superintendent for Elementary Schools Cheryl Jones.
“I think what we’d like is for it to stop being a secret,” Jones said. “Kids are looking things up already, and they’re interested, so we just see this as a way for us to greatly expand their learning in the classroom.”
Every school has wireless capacity in at least some areas on campus, but it is only school-wide at Hephzibah High, A. Dorothy Hains Elementary and Richmond County Technical Career Magnet schools. The BYOT initiative will begin at those three campuses, but the district plans to expand its wireless capacity throughout this year to offer BYOT to all schools in 2014-15, Jones said.
To participate in the program, approved by the Richmond County Board of Education Student Services Committee on Tuesday, students and parents will have to sign an agreement.
Jones said as BYOT expands in the future, the district will have to revise its cell phone policy to allow for extended use.
Students who don’t have their own devices will continue to be able to use desktop computers, laptops, netbooks, and other technology provided by the schools.
The district has about one computer for every two students, but most computers are housed in labs rather than classrooms. Many teachers also have iPads and netbooks for student use, but they are mostly used for group work or intervention purposes and there are no iPads assigned to individual students.
Jones said the BYOT program will help close the gap between the student to computer ratios in individual classrooms – where some rooms may only have three or four computers for students to share.
The BYOT program also allows technology to become more integrated in daily classes in a time when schools earn points on the state’s new accountability system for being more technology focused.
The program has been active in Forsyth County Schools for five years, and director of communications Jennifer Caracciolo describes it as “one of the most successful things we’ve done as a school system.”
Students are allowed to research topics on Google during class, take notes on the iPads or use their devices to stream educational videos. She remembered one class last year using an iPhone to call up a congressman during a group discussion.
“They do not know a world where there is not electronic devices,” Caracciolo said. “It’s not new to them. It’s new to our teachers.”
With Forsyth permitting high school students to text and make phone calls during class changes, Caracciolo said there is almost no abuse of the rules during class time.
“They don’t want to lose the privilege,” Caracciolo said. “They are not going to use their phones for the wrong things during class. It’s a conversation the students have with their teachers about trust.”
As the BYOT program expands in Richmond County, Jones said training will be implemented to help teachers manage the new use of technology and to help students understand what kind of research and information found on the Internet is legitimate.
“If you’re having a conversation with a friend, you’re going to whip out your phone and Google something because you’re interested in what you’re talking,” Jones said. “The students should be able to do the same thing as they’re learning.”