By Terri Darr McLean
Graves County and Knox County schools had different reasons for allowing students to use their personal electronic devices in the classroom, but both have found similar benefits.
In Graves County, where a few classroom teachers had been experimenting with BYOD, the school board took the step to implement the full program in Graves County High School in August. So far, “everything I see and hear indicates that it’s working out really well,” said board Chairman Ronnie Holmes.
“We refresh technology in two schools each year. So, with 10 schools, that’s once every five years. When it’s the high school’s turn, that’s a pretty big deal because our elementary schools have 400 students or less but our high school has nearly 1,400. Plus, technology changes so quickly. We finally decided, ‘Look, so many high school kids already have iPhones and other devices so why not just let them use their own technology,” said Holmes, who also is a KSBA board member.
Although about 40 percent of Graves County High School students don’t have a personal device, they can use school computers or share.
“You’d be surprised at how many students willingly share their devices and what a collegial atmosphere that creates,” said district technology integration specialist Amanda Henderson.
PHOTO: Monica Brown, a fifth-grader at Knox County Schools’ Flat Lick Elementary, uses an app as part of her reading lesson. Photo by Frank Shelton/Knox County Schools
Besides the usual uses for the devices, Henderson said they also are encouraging students to create, collaborate, communicate, and use their creativity and critical thinking skills through projects using BYOD.
For example, Henderson said, the orchestral strings teacher is saving three weeks of class time by having students upload their assigned musical pieces to YouTube, where she later can view the videos, score them and give feedback to the students.
Knox County Schools’ BYOD policy, implemented this school year, represents a drastic change from the previous policy that banned personal devices. The reason for the change?
“Changing our thinking as adults,” said superintendent Walter Hulette.
“One of the high schools actually had a 10-minute break, during class changes, where we allowed the kids to use their phones. When we would watch them during that period of time, we just started thinking, ‘Why are we banning them from the very thing that all of us use?’ … It made very little sense to me,” Hulette said.
Increasing student accessibility to technology was also a big driver behind the shift in the high-poverty district.
In addition to the student-owned devices, Knox County schools all have some iPads, iPods, Kindles, and traditional computers to fill in the gap for students who do not have devices of their own.
“I was very excited about getting BYOD in our district,” said school board member Carla Jordan. “It actually saves us some money. We can’t afford to provide the needed technology for every student in the district.”
In addition to all the “normal” uses for student-owned devices in school, Knox County is considering some innovative ways to use them as instructional tools. Hulette is especially excited about the possibility of installing WiFi on buses so students who might have an hour-and-a-half bus ride will be able to use their devices for homework, studying and other educational tasks.
“We’ve got children on there so let’s provide them with something else besides a scenic bus route,” Hulette said.