Hillsborough to let some students use cell phones in class
TAMPA, Dec 13, 2012 (Tampa Tribune - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Use it and lose it -- that's been the motto when it comes to cell phones in classrooms at Hillsborough County public schools.
But beginning next spring in a planned pilot program at a handful of schools, students will be urged to use their cell phones in the classroom.
Not to mention their laptops, tablets, e-readers and other devices, too.
The Hillsborough County School District is exploring a BYOD -- bring your own device -- policy because the district can't afford to buy its own technology to put in every student's hands. It would cost an estimated $95 million to make sure every student had some type of personal technology.
"This is something we are compelled to do," said board member Doretha Edgecomb. "We don't have a choice any more."
A recent district survey of 2,000 students in grades three through 12 found that 70 percent of students own a laptop while 58 percent have a smart phone. The overwhelming majority of those students said they would like to be able to use them at school as part of their classwork.
The thinking is that if so many students already are bringing their devices to school and leaving them in their locker, pocket or purse, why not let them use them in the classroom setting Not to text their friend in another class or across the room, but to do work for the course.
"These students are used to using technology in everything they do all day long," said Dave Brown, principal of Strawberry Crest High School, one of the eight schools that participated in the recent survey. "They have everything at their fingertips."
At a workshop today, board members heard about successes with such a program in Pasco County schools, particularly at Wiregrass Ranch High.
Wendy Briggs, supervisor of instructional media and technology in Pasco, said the district policy was changed three years ago to allow the use of personal devices at a teacher's discretion.
"They are powered up everywhere they go, then we ask them to power down the minute they walk in the school door," Briggs said of the county's 67,000 students. "And that disengages them. They live in a digital world, and it doesn't make sense to ask them to turn them off."
Not everyone has a cell phone to turn off, however. So what does the district do about students who don't have the same technology
"That's one of the questions that needs to be answered," Brown said. "That has to be addressed."
The plan in Hillsborough is to allow the devices to be used at a handful of schools that have full wireless access beginning April 1. Teachers would undergo training on the policy a couple of months before that.
Schools that are potential sites for the pilot project are Bailey and Deer Park elementaries, Barrington and Burnett middle schools, and Hillsborough, Middleton, Strawberry Crest and Steinbrenner high schools.
Board member Susan Valdes is worried about the lack of diversity in that list of schools because two of them have International Baccalaureate programs. She's also concerned that it might create a competition where more students might want to go to a school which has such a policy.
Board member Stacy White said he has concerns about student conduct and possible misuse of the devices in class. He wants to make sure teachers have the proper training and know what they can do if a student is doing something that violates policy.
"They could seize that device just as they could a hard copy of something," White said.
Equipping the entire slate of the district's schools with wireless capabilities would be an expensive proposition. It would cost an estimated $11 million, of which $4 million might be covered by a federal grant.
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