Saturday, December 8, 2012

School tests out ‘BYO Device’ program

School tests out ‘BYO Device’ program | Dec 6th 2012

SAYREVILLE — A pilot program to bring technology into school classrooms is stepping off on the right foot.

Currently in its second semester of trials, the “Bring Your Own Device” program at Sayreville War Memorial High School allows students in four select classes to bring in their own devices that connect to the Internet in order to enhance the classroom experience.

High school history teacher Chris Howard appeared at the Nov. 20 Board of Education meeting to report the effects of the program on advanced placement (AP) history courses.

“From what I can tell so far [in the semester], grades improved,” Howard said. “I found that the students had more time to understand the material. Pen and paper is great, but when children can manipulate information in ways they find more appealing, their grades shot up.”

Howard set up his classroom in a manner that could be replicated by the rest of the high school. This infrastructure included schoolwide wireless Internet access, restricted wireless capabilities so that certain websites could not be accessed during class time, and handson IT support that resolves issues as they arrive in the classroom.

“Our IT staff was absolutely amazing,” Howard said. “When I had an issue, an email would go out, and within minutes to an hour, someone was here.”

Howard said that the “Bring Your Own Device” program allowed students to use the Internet to do group projects in class and look up primary resources and documents online. This also allows for easier absorption of material, he said.

“I’m using ‘Bring Your Own Device’ as a tool, with a toolbox full of things,” Howard said. “Everything I’m using in my class is put out there electronically for the class to use.”

Howard said he believes that by using this infrastructure, it will be easy to incorporate the “Bring Your Own Device” program into all classrooms.

“Tech literacy vastly improved, class projects were above and beyond expectations, and students were teaching each other about the technology,” Howard said. “This program is prepping our students for careers that will most likely use some technology, and it works for college prep as well.”

The biggest issue that Howard ran into was the students’ access to devices. He said that he was able to partner students who did not have devices with those who did. Laptops, which the majority of “Bring Your Own Device” participants used, were difficult for students to bring in along with their books and other class materials.

“For a lot of students, lugging in a laptop along with their books just to use it for one period was a big deal,” Howard said. “When I asked them if they’d bring their laptops if their books were electronic, they were excited.”

Other questions from the school board included behavioral concerns, such as compliance with the school’s existing technology policy and the possibility of students visiting inappropriate websites during class. Howard said that texting in class was a problem for students who used smartphones as their device, but he found easy solutions to curtail those behaviors.

“Going around the room helps that,” Howard said. “Of course, little minor issues came up, like students playing games, texting, and going on websites. Those with laptops face me, so I see their screen. When I was in school, we had papers and pens for passing notes, so these problems were nothing above average.”

Overall, Howard said that he “loves” the program and believes that it can be implemented throughout the entire high school, although there are no plans to do so at this time.

“This isn’t a fad; technology is getting bigger, stronger, faster and better,” Howard said. “We need to embrace it.”

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