Some places are naturally no-go zones for cell phone and mobile devices.
But starting this week, Coffee County Central High School will no longer be one that prohibits the use of students’ devices, instead implementing a system that will welcome students’ technology to be used in the classroom.
“Actually, I think we’re getting to a place where technology in the classroom can’t be ignored anymore,” said CHS principal John Bush.
“I am very excited about incorporating additional technology into our classrooms and teaching our students how to use their devices responsibly and as an additional learning tool.”
-Dr. LaDonna McFall, Director of Schools
The plan designated BYOD, or “Bring Your Own Device,” will allow students to use the campus’ newly upgraded wireless system to access the Internet via portable personal devices like tablets, smartphones and laptops.
According to District Director of Technology Randy Damewood, “What makes BYOD so effective is that a student may already have a device and know how to use it. It will give the student a chance to use these devices to develop the skills they need to be successful in the future.”
“We’re not even ahead of the curve. We’re on the front end of it, maybe.”
-Randy Damewood, Director of Technology
BYOD will provide more that a quick-access resource for fact checks.
“It’s a lot more that a kid being able to Google how many pyramids are in Egypt,” Damewood said. “What’s the point in that? There’s no reason they can’t use it for a quick reference, but there’s also some powerful tools.”
Google Apps for Education accounts have been setup for each student. These applications offer teachers a wide range of instructional options, like exit quizzes that instantly tell how each student grasped the day’s lesson or the ability to have students work on collaborative projects and virtually prepare then submit assignments.
Damewood says the Google system “is a comprehensive suite that allows teachers and students to interact digitally and allows students to collaborate on projects learning important skills to prepare them for life after school.
“Students will have access to document creator, presentation tools and email that can be accessed at school and home. And it’s completely free for the school and the kids.”
To collaborate on projects, students only have to bring up the online application and contribute to the document, without having to purchase any compatible word processing programs.
One possible snag is that students must have devices in order to use the system.
“That’s an issue: that not every kid that walks in is going to have a device.”
According to a recent school-wide poll, about 1,000 students, or almost two-thirds of the student population, said that they had access to a device to bring to school.
“Students will be divided into groups or be given alternative form of technology in order to still have the chance to participate,” Carney said.
To get ready for over 60 percent of the student body to daily access the Internet, the technology department expanded the school’s wireless coverage and increased the bandwidth to meet the needs of BYOD.
According to Damewood, “The initiative will put the latest technology in classrooms that might have otherwise gone without it, keeping CHS students on a level playing field with their peers in neighboring school districts as they prepare for post-secondary study.”
To aid those students less tech savvy, a student tech squad will be available during lunch to help.
To lessen the school’s liability the tutors will never touch the students’ equipment.
“We’re going to try to get as many devices as we can for teachers’ checkout — not student checkout, teachers’,” Damewood said.
These devices will be available for special assignments or projects.
Maintaining online safety
No system is foolproof, says Damewood, but what gives the system a security advantage is the control it offers about what the students can do online, as long as they use the school’s network.
“Because they’re apps and it’s a domain, it’s still the school system. They don’t go to their personal Gmail account.”
Damewood said that the students’ email accounts are isolated from the outside, only allowing communication with faculty, staff and other students.
“We have our filters, but no filter is perfect. Smart kids are going to be able to get around it.”
Students are required to use the school’s Internet service instead of their personal cell phone’s.
But the responsibility ultimately lies with the student.
“What keeps a student from breaking through a locked door? It’s locked, but they can still break in,” Damewood said.
Instructor Nicole Carney English 3 teacher at CHS adds that she hopes students will be so involved in her lessons that they will not be distracted by their phones, though she realistically anticipates that some students will push their boundaries.
“Part of the responsibility of a 21st century learner is to acknowledge and practice responsible and appropriate Internet uses,” she said.
“With this responsibility students will be taught netiquette as well as how to be a responsible Internet consumer, this responsibility will be followed up in the Coffee County School System’s Acceptable Use Policy.”
Even the most valuable tools are worthless sitting on a shelf. To ensure that each instructor can make the most of the system, administrators are taking the teachers back to class during a several professional development lectures
Heading one of the classes is Nicole Carney.
“As educators we are trying to incorporate as much technology for digital natives in order to meet the needs as 21st-century learners and that challenge will come with some kinks and problems, but teachers and students are always learning and improving,” she said.
The move may be an awkward one for many, but the push is to get each teacher to incorporate the technology.
“I really believe the apprehension many educators had with technology in the past wasn’t an ideological opposition, but was simply an issue of a lack of their own personal knowledge and confidence in using it,” Bush said.
Continue reading in this week’s print edition of the Manchester Times.