How do you put an iPhone, iPad, or Android device into the hands of hundreds of Falmouth Public School students without spending thousands of dollars to purchase those devices?
The answer, according to Falmouth Public School technology director Wendy Haskell, is let students take the devices they already own out of their pockets and backpacks and use them in the classroom.
“Probably over 75 percent of kids have some sort of Internet-enabled device already,” Ms. Haskell said. At Falmouth High School that number is probably closer to 95 percent of students, she said. “I say to the principals and the teachers, why fight it?” Ms. Haskell said.
This year Ms. Haskell is overseeing the launch of a pilot program called “Bring Your Own Device” with 20 teachers and more than 400 students from elementary school to high school. The students will use their own smartphones, tablet and laptop computers in the classroom, along with additional iPads for students who do not own or forget their devices.
Participating teachers are in the East Falmouth, North Falmouth, and Mullen-Hall ele-mentary schools, Morse Pond, Lawrence School and Falmouth High School. The students range from 3rd graders to 12th graders and include special education students.
If successful the program could expand to more students next year, she said.
The teachers who volunteered to participate in the program have already done some training this summer. When the pilot program launches they will work with the students to integrate the technology into the classroom for research, collaboration, and creative projects.
“I am excited about it and I do think piloting the program is a good way to see what things would work for us,” she said. Ultimately it is not about the money or the technology, she said. “It is about whether it’s good for the students. I think it has a huge potential,” she said.
Bring Your Own Device is a logical solution to a complex problem, Ms. Haskell said. Teachers are already dealing with students pulling their cellphones out in class to text friends or go online, Ms. Haskell said. It may actually be more manageable to have the students take the devices out in the open where they are clearly visible when in use. The devices would be kept face down on the desk when not in use, she said.
She pointed out that texting is just the modern way of passing notes in class. If students are engaged in the classroom lessons, being distracted by the technology should not be an issue, she said.
But there are some obvious potential stumbling blocks too, Ms. Haskell said. The biggest is how to deal with students who cannot afford a smartphone, tablet or laptop. “If a kid can’t afford it, you don’t want to single them out,” she said.
“You don’t want to embarrass anyone.” That’s why each classroom will have a cart with 10 iPads for students to share, she said. In other schools where the program is successful, that has not been an issue because students often work in groups and share devices, she said.
Before participating, students and parents must also sign agreements to use the devices for school work. The school servers will filter the Internet content to make sure it is appropriate, she said.
Some of the other benefits of the program are that students already know how to use their own devices, which cuts down on the learning curve, she said. The students will also be more careful with the devices since they already own them, she said.
The Falmouth Bring Your Own Device pilot program cost about $25,000 to implement from the technology budget, Ms. Haskell said. But there are no ongoing expenses for maintenance and insurance for the student devices, she said. She purchased a cart of 10 iPads for each school, which combined with other iPads and devices already purchased through grants, should serve all the students.
Ms. Haskell plans to explain the program to the Falmouth School Committee on Tuesday, and launch it sometime next month.
The Falmouth program is one way to integrate technology into the classroom, but other school districts have taken different approaches. Earlier this summer Sandwich Public Schools purchased 450 Apple iPads for the freshman and sophomore classes and upgraded the computer infrastructure for $300,000. That money came from the school textbook budget, but Ms. Haskell said she does not think that is a sustainable solution for Falmouth. Upgrading the devices every few years would create an enormous strain on the school budget, she said.
Bring Your Own Device programs have already worked in schools elsewhere in the country and Ms. Haskell thinks it can work in Falmouth too. “I think Falmouth is prepared to embrace it,” she said.
Superintendent Marc P. Dupuis said the district will evaluate the pilot program and decide whether it is an effective way to integrate technology into the classroom.