Garner Cleveland Record

August 16, 2013

Wake may encourage students to bring computers to school

The Wake County school system is considering starting a program in which students would be encouraged to bring their own tablets, smartphones, laptop computers and other mobile devices to school for classroom use.

Wake County teachers could be asking students to use personal iPads and smartphones in class – the very devices that they’re supposed to keep hidden from view during the school day now.

School administrators are studying whether to encourage students to bring their own tablets, smartphones, laptops and other mobile devices to school so that they can be connected wirelessly to the Internet for classroom learning. The change would add Wake to the growing list of school districts around the world who’ve adopted “bring-your-own-device” programs to compensate for not having enough computers for every student.

“We’re simply not taking advantage of a powerful tool,” school board member Tom Benton said at a committee meeting Thursday. “We’re falling behind.”

But Wake school leaders also said Thursday that many issues remain to be resolved before the program can become a reality. Those challenges include making sure schools have enough wireless capacity, developing policies for the devices’ use, and determining what to do about students who don’t have their own computers.

David Neter, Wake’s chief business officer, said the system will have to determine the cost of making sure the schools can handle the resulting technological demands. Neter said that all of Wake’s 170 schools have basic wireless capacity, but many don’t have the ability to allow all their students to connect at the same time.

With money an issue, school board member Jim Martin said the state’s largest school district can at least explore policies on regulating classroom use of these wireless devices.

Current board policy bans most uses of wireless devices during the school day. An exception is use for instruction under the supervision of a teacher.

Those without devices

Another question concerns how to handle an equitable supply of devices. Some school districts have bought computers for low-income students to supplement their bring-your-own-device programs.

Todd Wirt, Wake’s assistant superintendent for academics, said that officials could feel confident that the vast majority of students attending some schools would be able to take advantage of a bring-your-own device policy. “But how do we compensate for a school with 50 percent of the students who don’t have a device to bring?”

An upcoming $939.9 million school construction program, much of which would be funded by an $810 million school construction bond issue on the ballot Oct. 8, would help Wake buy enough new computers to have one for every three students. Wirt said they could use the classroom computers for the students who can’t afford the devices.

School leaders agreed Thursday to continue studying the concept and learn from how other school systems are handling the issue. Other districts that have adopted similar uses of technology, including Forsyth County near Atlanta, have said the practice has increased student achievement.

“It’s not an area where we’re on the cutting edge,” said Marlo Gaddis, Wake’s director of instructional technology and media services. “As Mr. Neter has said, we’re kind of late to the station.”

Distraction feared

Liz Vines, a Raleigh parent, said she’d be concerned that it could be a distraction for students, especially younger ones, to use their own devices in class. She also said she’s concerned about how the teachers would supervise the use of the devices and what would happen to students who, unlike her own children, can’t afford to bring them to class.

“I wouldn’t want them to bring them unless they all had them,” said Vines, whose children attend Enloe High School and Fuller Elementary School.

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