Classroom learning reaching new heights due to BYOD
By Ken Jackson
Within the past year or so, the Osceola County School District has spent $6.7 million of its own money to upgrade infrastructure on its campuses and in its main Data Center to allow students to use their own technology in the classrooms through the district’s Bring Your Own Device initiative.
It may turn out to be the best money the School District has ever spent.
District officials said they have heard and seen great stories of students engaged in lessons made visual through digital learning, with the children using their devices such as smart phones, laptops and tablets to participate in ways classroom teachers are raving about.
The School Board heard from three of those teachers at the March 4 board meeting who have found programs to link themselves with the students and, as Kelly Cotton, a history teacher at Celebration High School said, “they use these devices to my advantage.”
“Now we can prepare student for what they’re going to face out in the real world,” she said. “Before we did this, most of them knew Facebook and Twitter, and that’s about it.”
At the meeting Cotton showed off how her classes use Socratic, a free web-based application to ask questions and poll her students. She said while not all of her students have devices they can bring every day, those who don’t can partner up with those who have devices and work as a community, one of the tenets of the new Common Core standards.
Jennifer Ludwig, an eighth-grade teacher at Westside K-8, said her students can take tests on devices.
“It’s easier to use their own devices, they’re familiar with them, and they actually get excited to take a test. When has that ever happened?” she said. “And I’m making fewer copies, which the district has to love.”
Angela Marino, the district’s chief information and technology officer said that while she knew access to the Internet wasn’t the heart of what could be accomplished through BYOD, the things teachers and students are able to do now weren’t even considered a year ago.
“We’re seeing levels of project-based learning that we didn’t think would be possible,” she said. “Teachers using the technology don’t have to do the lecture portion of a lesson. We’re seeing that students grasp concepts better from seeing it rather than hearing it in a lecture.”
Marino said a majority of the money was spent to make middle and high schools BYOD-ready. Funding wasn’t available to bring elementary schools on in the first round of upgrades — schools are working on their own to pursue grants to purchase equipment like tablets — but elementary teachers still are reaping the benefits.
Christine Martinez, a fifth-grade teacher at East Lake Elementary, said the technology is part of every day in her classroom.
“I’ve learned it’s better than working out of a textbook, and with their devices the kids are in charge of their learning,” she said. “It’s a chance for them to ‘show off how smart I am.’”
Media and Instructional Technology Services Director Mel Pace said that with an entire class connecting to material through their devices, teachers now can gauge if they have to slow down their teaching, or if they can
“What’s remarkable is how intense these kids are using their own device. We have some they can use but they know how to use their own so well and where to find everything,” he said. “It’s been amazing, the level of the feedback we and the teachers are seeing.”
When the plan to allow students to use their own devices to access the district’s network was first hatched, some saw it as a double-edged sword, assuming teachers would have to watch for those wasting time texting or on social media.
The district put in the policy that students must connect using the district’s network, which filters nearly all inappropriate content.
“We’ve found the kids don’t have time to get sidetracked,” Pace said. “We let the schools create policy on allowing texting and some of them do, and the kids are texting about schoolwork.
“But we’ve told the teachers that they are in charge, that if students take advantage of the access, they can go back to note taking on paper, which would be a punishment now that they have the access. It creates a level of peer pressure to do the right thing. I tell teachers the minute you begin to respect their technology, their level of respect for you will go right up, too.”