In an effort to get by during a time of limited technology resources, the Wake County school system will experiment with letting students bring their own smartphones, tablets and laptop computers for classroom use.
Wake school administrators unveiled Wednesday the details of a "Bring-Your-Own-Device" program that will be piloted at 13 schools this school year to test the viability of having students use their own devices. Depending on how the pilot program works, administrators said they may allow all 171 schools to have a BYOD program.
"We've been very thoughtful in how we approach this particular initiative because we know there are a lot of great things that can happen from this, and we also know there are some challenges we'd like to sidestep," Marlo Gaddis, Wake's senior director of instructional technology and library media services, told the school board's student achievement committee on Wednesday.
Those challenges include addressing the issue of low-income students potentially not having devices that they can bring to class. James Sposato, principal of Wakefield Middle School in Raleigh, said one of the ways the school will address the equity issue is have students share their devices.
Administrators say a BYOD program can fill in the gaps as the district works toward the goal of having one computer for every three students.
More than half of the nation's school districts - 56 percent - already have BYOD programs, according to a survey by the Center for Digital Education and the National School Boards Association
Some districts such as Wake, which is the largest in North Carolina, have opted to slowly implement the program. In Durham, Lucas Middle School is piloting the program for the district.
Gaddis said officials had opened the pilot to all of Wake's schools, with 13 being accepted. The pilot schools are Cary, Green Hope and Holly Springs high schools; the Vernon Malone College and Career Academy; the N.C. State Wake STEM Early College; Davis Drive, Lufkin Road and Wakefield middle schools; and Brier Creek, Lake Myra, Morrisville, Salem and Sycamore Creek elementary schools.
"One of our challenges now is holding teachers back because they're very excited," Sposato told the board.
Most of the schools will begin in January. But Cary High will start Nov. 24, and Lake Myra Elementary in Wendell will start in the beginning of December.
With the exception of Lake Myra, all the other schools in the pilot have relatively low percentages of students receiving subsidized lunches, which is a measure of family income. Administrators said the schools involved have to work though how they will handle the equity issue.
To help teachers make the transition, Wake has been working with N.C. State University's Friday Institute to provide training.
Gaddis said the school system also has adopted some guidelines for the pilot. For instance, students will be responsible for their own devices, including troubleshooting and any damage incurred at school. Teachers are not supposed to touch the students' devices.
Students will be required to connect into the school's Wi-Fi network to ensure that they're using the district's Web-filtering software.
In gearing up for the BYOD expansion, Wake is asking parents across the district to take the national 2014 Speak Up Survey ( bit.ly/1xDGhZI), which includes questions about what technology families have at home.
Spostao said the pilot acknowledges "it's pretty much BYOD already."
"A good number of kids have their devices in their back pockets," he said. "We want to teach them the power of those tools beyond simply entertainment."