Education

Wake County expands Bring Your Own Device student program

Christian Washington, left, and Hanna Walker work together using an iPad to learn facts about octopi in Caroline Page's first-grade class at Brier Creek Elementary in December 2014 in. Brier Creek was one of the 13 pilot schools for Wake County's Bring Your Own Device program, which is now being expanded to more than 40 additional schools.
Christian Washington, left, and Hanna Walker work together using an iPad to learn facts about octopi in Caroline Page's first-grade class at Brier Creek Elementary in December 2014 in. Brier Creek was one of the 13 pilot schools for Wake County's Bring Your Own Device program, which is now being expanded to more than 40 additional schools. newsobserver.com

More than 40 additional Wake County schools will allow their students to bring their laptop computers, tablets and smartphones for use in class in the coming school year.

The Wake County school system is expanding its Bring Your Own Device program after reviewing the lessons learned this school year at 13 schools that piloted the initiative. Technology use shot up at those 13 schools as teachers and students adapted to the additional educational options made possible by having so many devices in class.

“Overall, it was a success,” said Marlo Gaddis, Wake’s senior director of instructional technology and library media services. “We have teachers with a better understanding of how to design learning experiences for students that are more student-centered and involve technology, and they understand better how to use the right tool for the right time.”

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. The programs help supplement the limited technology budgets that schools have to provide students with access to digital devices.

Some districts such as Wake, the largest in North Carolina, have opted to phase in the option before using it countywide. The pilot schools were Cary, Green Hope and Holly Springs high schools; the Vernon Malone College and Career Academy; the Wake STEM Early College; Davis Drive, Lufkin Road and Wakefield middle schools; and Brier Creek, Lake Myra, Morrisville, Salem and Sycamore Creek elementary schools.

Teachers received advance training from the district and N.C. State’s Friday Institute for Educational Innovation on how to incorporate and regulate the use of the student devices.

Under rules for the program, students bring their devices to school at their own risk. The school system isn’t responsible for damaged, lost or stolen devices. The students, not the teachers, are responsible for any technical support.

Students weren’t required to bring devices, so Gaddis said participation varied widely at the pilot schools. Teachers provided school technology to students who didn’t bring anything from home.

“It’s about making sure we have technology in the building to supplement lesson needs,” Gaddis said. “We’re not looking at 1-to-1 ratios. We’re looking at the ability to use technology in collaborative groups.”

In addition to BYOD promoting the skill of collaboration, Gaddis said it also helps students see that their personal devices can be used for more than just playing games.

Over the past seven months, students have used their devices for activities such as watching online videos, scanning QR codes to look up material, recording videos, taking notes and snapping pictures.

Kerri Traynor, a seventh-grade science teacher at Davis Drive Middle in Cary, wrote on the school’s BYOD blog about how her students shared their devices for a project on human body systems. She said BYOD helped make the students excited about coming to class and working on the assignment.

“Permitting the students to use their devices in the classroom allows the students to learn the way they live,” Traynor wrote. “The BYOD initiative has encouraged the students who would not necessarily participate in class to become more engaged in lessons.”

Teachers at Brier Creek Elementary in northwest Raleigh shared on the school’s BYOD blog how they’re using the Minecraft strategy game to teach students about language arts, math, social studies and science. Other activities have included fourth-grade students making video “book trailers” about the hunt for John Wilkes Booth after reading “Chasing Lincoln’s Killer.”

In a survey of the pilot schools, 88.2 percent of teachers said students now use technology in class a moderate amount or a great deal compared with 58.7 percent before the program.

The program wasn’t free of problems. Teachers and students faced technical issues at times such as difficulties logging on to the Wi-Fi network and getting websites and applications to load properly.

For the next phase, 24 schools will join the program in the fall, and about 20 schools will be chosen to begin in the spring.

Gaddis said there’s no timetable for implementing BYOD in all 171 schools. She said that expansion requires working through issues such as making sure schools are capable of handling large numbers of students using the Wi-Fi network.

“We’re making sure that we match a desire to do this work with equity and access in the school and infrastructure readiness,” she said.

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Expansion of Wake’s BYOD program

The Wake County school system will add 24 schools to the Bring Your Own Device program in the fall and about 20 schools in the spring. Those starting in the fall are Athens Drive, Knightdale, Millbrook, Phillips, Southeast Raleigh and Wakefield high schools; Centennial Campus, Durant Road, East Cary, East Wake, Fuquay-Varina, Leesville Road, Rolesville, Salem and Zebulon middle schools; and Brassfield, Forest Pines, Fuquay-Varina, Hunter, Jeffreys Grove, North Forest Pines, Oak Grove, Penny Road and Underwood elementary schools.

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