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Sunday, February 24, 2013

School systems moving steadily toward BYOD policy

As published in the Record Journal on Sunday February 24, 2013

By Jesse Buchanan
Record-Journal staff
(203) 317-2230

Area school districts are on the verge of allowing students to bring and use electronic devices such as smart phones, tablets and laptops in the classroom — and one district is already there.

“Bring your own devices,” as the effort is called by educators, hasn’t yet been implemented in Meriden, Wallingford or Southington, but Cheshire recently made the change in its middle and high schools. And all four school systems say there’s value in allowing students to bring familiar devices for research or note-taking.

The Meriden Board of Education expects to have a policy on student devices up for a vote by late winter, according to Assistant School Superintendent Michael Grove.

“Schools are reviewing the policy and making some changes,” he said.

Students could be bringing their electronics into the classroom by as early as spring. The high and middle schools have fairly reliable wireless Internet access, Grove said, as do some of the elementary schools.

Though details of the policy are still being formulated, Grove said teachers will have control over when and how devices are used in the classroom.

A pilot program in some Platt High School classrooms that allowed students to bring devices went well, according to Grove, and encouraged the board to consider a district wide policy.

After “very successful” pilot programs, Cheshire schools allowed middle and high school students to bring their own devices last month, said Assistant Superintendent Scott Detrick.

Wireless Internet was installed at both schools, allowing students with smart phones and tablets to do Web research. Installing wireless at the elementary schools is the next step to allow pupils in the lower grades to bring their own devices.

Students can also borrow Internet- connected devices from the schools’ libraries.

“If a particular lesson demands the use of a device, then they have access to that,” Detrick said.

The Cheshire Board of Education created policies for “bring your own devices” two years ago.

In December, the Wallingford Board of Education approved $284,000 to upgrade wireless Internet access at the town’s high and middle schools. The upgrades are needed to implement a BYOD program there, said School Superintendent Salvatore Menzo.

The district has policies in place but has put the effort on hold. Menzo said companies approached the district about devices in the classroom but wouldn’t say what the proposals were or which companies offered them.

A BYOD policy needs to improve education, Menzo said, and not just allow students to check their email in the halls.

“We want to make sure we take purposeful next steps,” he said.

Wallingford schools conducted a survey last year of parents and teachers on electronics in the classroom. Of 770 parents surveyed, 53 percent supported the idea of letting children bring electronic devices to school, while 32 percent said they wanted more information.

The survey covered 2,300 students, and almost 90 percent said they owned a device that can browse the Internet. Eighty-eight percent of students in middle or high school said they had a cell phone, with 58 percent of those students owning a smart phone. In the sixth grade, 61 percent of students had a smart phone, compared with 40 percent in 11th grade.

Using a variety of student owned electronic devices, Southington schools conducted a pilot program last year at the high, middle and elementary school levels. Technology Director Karen Veilleux said the pilot was successful at all levels and a report will be sent to the Board of Education next month.

Veilleux expects the board to pass policies on allowing devices district wide, although there are challenges, such as wireless Internet availability and teaching students with devices ranging from eight-year old laptops to the latest iPad.

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