By Wayne Dominick
While many districts wrestle with how to deal with students who bring electronic devices to school, the Anderson County system has taken the opposite approach. It encourages students to bring their own laptops, tablets and smart phones.
Anderson County Chief Information Officer Brett Foster told clinic attendees at KSBA’s annual conference that school district leaders made the decision based on two important factors.
“We realized that, No. 1, it would be cheaper to have students bring their own devices. Secondly, and speaking as an educator, it made sense that students would be more engaged using devices they already know how to use. We wouldn’t have to take time to teach them how to use the devices,” he said.
PHOTO: Anderson County Chief Information Officer Brett Foster, center, answers questions following his workshop presentation.
Foster cautioned the group that even though the program does not have the expense of purchasing or leasing devices for every student, it does have some substantial costs. “You can’t just decide to do this and tell all the kids to bring their computers to school tomorrow. You have to make sure your network can handle the increased traffic,” he said.
To get Anderson County’s schools ready, Foster said it took extensive work to replace network cables, switches and wireless access points. “You have to make sure the network can be accessed anywhere in the building, not just the media center or computer lab. If you don’t have good coverage or the network is unreliable, you’re setting yourself up for failure,” he cautioned.
To ensure that the schools’ network was ready, Foster said he and his technicians spent more than a year upgrading the system and installing more wireless routers. By the end of the project, they had more than doubled the number of access points.
Another major expense was software that enables district personnel to monitor and filter what students can access on the network. The district uses Authentication Gateway, which requires students to register their device on the network.
“Once a student signs up, their device is registered and they can access our network from any building, and we can see when they get on, where they got on and what they’re doing,” Foster said.
The next step before starting the program was revamping the district’s Acceptable Use Policy.
“We looked at our AUP and decided if we wanted third-graders to obey it, it had to be written so they could understand it. So we pared ours down, posted it on the Web so anyone can find it, and explained it to our students.”
In addition to requiring students and parents to sign the policy, the district requires students to get a Digital Drivers License. “The Digital Drivers License is a program developed by UK to teach students how to be good digital citizens. Once they complete the program, their teacher is notified by email and they can bring their devices to school,” Foster said.
To help those students who do not have their own devices, the district is looking at ways to invest in tablets and laptops.
“What BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) does is makes the number we need to provide much more manageable,” Foster said. “Instead of having to provide a device for every student now, between what we already have and what students bring, we’re looking at numbers we can deal with.”
He cautioned that just making sure every student has a device is not enough. “One-to-one is just a ratio. All it means is every student has a device. It’s up to you as leaders to make sure that they are being used and used properly.”
From what Anderson County board member Lee Hahn has heard, or hasn’t heard, the program is well received in the community. “To tell you the truth, I haven’t had the first call about it. And believe me, if they didn’t like it or had a problem with it, I’d hear about it,” he said.
For more information about the program, contact Foster at email@example.com.
To view Anderson County’s acceptable use policy, click here.
To learn more about the Digital Drivers License, click here.
-- Dominick is a writer from Frankfort