2013-08-15 / Local & State

Pa. Schools Roll Out Policies Embracing Technology

By Travis Kellar


CARLISLE, Pa. (AP) – School is almost in session. It won’t be long before busloads of students are whisked off to various schools throughout the area.

What’s changing, however, is what may be in their backpacks.

Local school districts are looking to capitalize on the growing popularity of technological devices, from iPhones and iPads to laptops and smartphones.

The policies in place

Cumberland Valley School District will roll out a Bring Your Own Device policy for the first time in the upcoming school year. Students will be permitted to bring personal Internet-ready devices to use for educational purposes in the classroom. Amy Lena, a curriculum, instruction and technology specialist for the district, said there were four parent meetings on the policy in the last six months. Before that, a meeting was held with teachers, and technology was imbedded into professional development so teachers could see the benefits of the policy, Lena said.

Students were notified in May, and will be notified again in August, of their responsibilities with the policy.

She said the policy will enable students to take the use of technology “to the next level’’ with a simple click or tap of a screen.

“We’re in a digital age, and we’re in an age where students can technically look up any piece of information,’’ she said. With the policy in place, Lena said it will show students how to look up information more accurately and encourage them to analyze instead of memorize the information.

Mechanicsburg Area School District also has a Bring Your Own Device policy. With parent permission, students in 9th through 12th grade are able to bring their laptops, netbooks, tablets and other devices to school with teacher approval. Bruce Gordon, technology coordinator for the district, said the district rewrote their Acceptable Use and Electronic Devices Policies in 2012 for the new policy. The bring your own device policy, Gordon said, leaves the opportunity for a larger number of devices to be used at the district, along with giving students the opportunity to familiarize themselves with their devices.

Stephanie Douglas, the director of technology at Carlisle Area School District, said the district is beginning two technology programs this year. Along with a Bring Your Own Device policy, the district will begin a 1-to-1 program for freshman in the district.

“The district will provide each student with a laptop device to be used 24/7 to extend their learning opportunities,’’ Douglas said.

Douglas said the district piloted the Bring Your Own Device policy in specific classrooms last year. What was discovered was “serious digital divide’’ among the students, Douglas said. While some students had access to a variety of devices, others did not. As a result, she said the district wanted every student to have some sort of device to use at home.

She said the 1-to-1 program will be in a pilot year this year with freshman, and the uses and guidelines will be evaluated. She said it should be rolled out to the rest of high school students for the 2014-15 school year.

Susquenita School District will also use a 1-to-1 initiative for its students, and a 2-to-1 initiative with teachers. Superintendent Kent Smith said students in eighth, ninth and tenth grades will receive iPads this year. Students will be able to use them in the classroom, as well as take them home to use. He said juniors and seniors will probably receive devices within the next year or so.

Smith said students in eighth grade will use a combination of traditional textbooks and PDF versions to become more familiar with the iPads as they progress to high school. In ninth grade, he said students will begin to use the iBooks application.

Students aren’t the only ones getting devices – teachers will also receive iPads and MacBooks.

“We’re changing and looking primarily at the iPads because of what they’re able to do for the schools educationally right now,’’ Smith said. He called the iPads “the leader’’ in terms of providing educational apps to use in the classroom. “We will probably be developing our own textbooks with iBooks Author in grades 9 through 12.’’

Justifying the policy

For Smith, the 1-to-1 initiative in the district was a way to give students equal opportunities with technology in the classroom. He said the district did look at a Bring Your Own Device policy initially, but he said the district opted for its policy with iPads to give students something “truly functional and user-friendly.’’

Douglas cited a limited number of computer labs at the high school as a reason why the district used their combination of policies. She said more than 100 teachers try to reserve the space, and most can’t do so for consecutive days or on particular days.

“Essentially, every class is a computer lab,’’ Douglas said in reference to how the 1-to-1 policy will change classrooms. She said the Bring Your Own Device policy will serve a similar function. “Those students already have that device, and can supplement the technology that we already have in the classroom.’’

Lena said Cumberland Valley School District is using their policy to get more technology into the hands of their students. It enables students to use technology that is familiar to them, while meeting their educational needs. Despite the policy, the computer labs in the district will still be used.

“We will still have devices in our school,’’ Lena said. “We are not getting rid of our computers.’’

For Gordon, the Bring Your Own Device policy at Mechanicsburg Area School District “shows we are looking to the future where personal devices are almost ubiquitous.’’ He also said it places trust in students to make responsible decisions.

The costs

The districts that are using a Bring Your Own Device policy have not accrued a large bill. Douglas, Gordon and Lena each said their policies have no costs, since the wireless infrastructure for the devices has already been in place.

Douglas said it costs the district $285,000 for the 1-to-1 devices. Smith said it will cost Susquenita School District a little more than $200,000 in ongoing costs for the 1-to-1 initiative.

He said additional expenses are expected to ensure wireless and filtering capabilities are in place.

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