February 14, 2013

eTech Ohio Highlight: North Canton City Schools Presents Roadmap to BYOD

Eric CurtsBy SunGard K-12 Staff

In January 2012, North Canton City School District rolled out a BYOD program at Hoover High School. At eTech Ohio, Eric Curts, technology director for the district, presented highlights of the program, shared a wealth of resources, and offered wisdom gained during the past year. John Fano, network manager from the district, assisted in the presentation.

The session—which was both insightful and informative—offered a roadmap for BYOD implementation. Curts’ PowerPoint slides are posted on the technology team’s BYOD website, which also includes a timeline, frequently asked questions, school policies, helpful resources, and links for further learning. You’ll find the slides on the “Information” tab on a page titled “Timeline.” For those of you who hate to search, just click on this link.

While we love to think we could report it as well as Curts said it, we know better. So instead, we’ll share some quotes from the presentation. Caution: In order to appreciate the full meaning of Curts’ advice, please read the following with a touch of irony and an enthusiastic passion for the opportunities that technology brings to education.

Words of Wisdom:

Google Apps.Google Apps is a big part of our BYOD because it opens the doors for a lot of things when you move into the cloud … when you no longer have to have certain software installed on a certain computer running a certain operating system. When it’s all web-based, it opens up a lot of possibilities.” Curts leads a Google Apps user group, the website for which can be found at http://www.appsusergroup.org/.

Defining BYOD. “What is BYOD? In our district, we did not put any limitations on it. Our definition is that it’s any personal device that the students would bring to school to be used hopefully for educational purposes—including laptops, netbooks, tablets, e-readers, cell phones, MP3 players, and more. What do I mean by more? It’s not safe to define this list because it’s always going to change.”

Reasons to Choose BYOD. “Why on earth would you want to consider BYOD?” Curts followed this rhetorical question by offering the following list of reasons for implementing a BYOD program.

  • Access to more devices than the school can provide. “They’ve got stuff at home better than we can provide them.”
  • Student comfort level with their own devices. ”It’s their device. They don’t have to figure out how to take a picture with it or how it turns on.”
  • Student care for their own devices. “We all know how much they care for our school-provided devices. Ahhh, the things I have found inside of CD drives.”
  • Modern personal devices have powerful applications in school. “My phone is more powerful than some of the computers in my school.”
  • Opportunity to teach proper use of personal technology. “Eventually, the students have to learn how to properly use their personal devices in their life. I would rather them learn it now, when we can help them. BYOD is hard. And, this is the problem—kids don’t get this. They really don’t.”
  • Potential cost savings for schools. “There are costs. You just can’t do BYOD and think it’s going to be free. We had to upgrade our wireless quite a lot to be able to have the access throughout our building.” The school worked with Meraki Wireless on this project.
  • Student and parent interest. “This is not something you have to bend people’s arms and say, ‘Hey, c’mon. We want you to do this.’ Students have been asking for years to be able to bring in their devices. And, we’ve had parents wanting [this too].”
  • You already have an unofficial BYOD program. “You already are doing BYOD, whether you realize it or not. They have the devices. They are already in your school now. They are running a covert BYOD program, whether you like it or not. You might as well just admit it and make the best of it.”

Student Survey. In advance of implementing the program, the district’s technology team surveyed students about their technology—72 percent said they owned a laptop, 28 percent owned a tablet, 18 percent owned an e-reader, 50 percent owned a smartphone, and 71 percent owned a media device. “When they said they owned it, I don’t know if they really owned it or if their parents owned it and [the students] just thought they owned it. Only 9 percent of the kids said, ‘no,’ to all those devices. So about 90 percent had at least one of them. Some of the kids had all five. About 90 percent said they would bring them to school.”

Parent Survey. The technology team also surveyed parents. “Their number [for whether they’d allow their students to bring in the devices] was lower. It was about 70 percent.”

BYOD Pilot Results. “The pilot was very successful. And, I guess what I mean by that is: Nothing bad happened. There was fear if we opened this up, it would be pandemonium. It wasn’t. The kids did a good job.”

Wireless Network. The school wireless network is throttled for video, gaming sites, streaming music, etc. “Throttling means that we put a limit to the amount of bandwidth that can be used for streaming video. We don’t block them, but we throttle them. There are a lot of good reasons for [watching] YouTube [in the classroom]. There are also a lot of cat videos on YouTube. We don’t want [students] just watching cat videos.”

“We actually have three WIFI networks. The one for the student is [throttled]. For the teachers, there is no throttling whatsoever. And, we have a guest/visitor network for people who come into the building—coaches or people who come in to do presentations—which is actually more restricted than the student [network].”

Professional Development. Professional development for teachers is key to the success of a BYOD effort. “We really need them to start thinking differently. If we roll out BYOD and a couple years from now, every student has a device … and the teacher is up front teaching and [students are using them to take] notes … so what. They’ve taken 25-cent pencils and replaced them with $200 phones and tablets, and they’re doing the same thing. This needs to be transformative. We need to ask, ‘What can we do differently with the technology that we couldn’t do otherwise?’ We need to think of other ways that we can teach instead of doing the same things with the devices.” The “Uses” section of the BYOD website features some creative ideas.

Student Success. “Students are finding ways to use technology that works for them—things that make it easier for them to learn. And, we’re no longer stopping them.”

Equity. Equity is always an issue with BYOD. Curts offered a few suggestions for addressing this issue, such as sharing the devices and doing group activities that don’t require everyone to have a device. The school district also launched the program, Smartphones for Smarter Kids, through which the district accepts donations of old smartphones. Curts will wipe the content from the donated devices and connect them to the school wireless. He hopes eventually to be able to provide them in packs of 10 to teachers.

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