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A sign of the times: "Bring your own technology"

POSTED: August 27, 2014 10:37 a.m.
Zac Taylor/Barrow County News

Students from Sims Academy use their cell phones to help learn with new technologies.

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For those who went to school in the not too distant past, where a drawer in the teacher's desk usually served as a repository for any cell phones confiscated from students trying to sneak a peak at a text or missed call, a trip to one of many Barrow County School System classes may cause a double-take.

That's because a visitor could very well see a number of students with their cell phones in their hands, using them in full view of the teacher.

It's a scene becoming more common as the school district further implements a Bring Your Own Technology policy that is modeled on the successful Forsyth County Schools program, which allows students in certain classes to utilize their own phones, tablets or even laptops to research a science question, or prepare a class presentation.

Those at the system in charge of the program rollout are now working to expand the program and get even more teachers on board as the district furthers its mission of utilizing 21st century technology throughout the system, from the elementary schools to the high schools.

"(The program) is in the process of being 100 percent rolled out," said assistant superintendent Jan Masingill, who is in charge of teaching and learning.

In fact, the district might have moved even faster on the rollout if not for the need to upgrade the internet infrastructure first, so that as many students as possible could be on their devices without slowing down the system.

Caroline Bucky-Beaver, who helps oversee the BYOT and other technology programs, noted that the infrastructure upgrade is still ongoing, and that while there are still some problem areas in a few of the schools, that the district's technology personnel are working on it.

"Certain areas are still not good (for service)," she said, "but we're hoping to hash out those issues."

Masingill and Bucky-Beaver have also been working on the other big issue with the BYOT rollout: Getting some of the more hesitant teachers on board.

It's the biggest issue to solve as Masingill said the system wants to have all teachers using some form of BYOT in at least a few areas within the next few years.

"It's been a voluntary program," she said. "Now we're expecting teachers to at least stick a toe in the water.

"We're encouraging teachers to require some level of integration. They need to take a step if they have not done so."

Some teachers, however, have taken much more than just one step into BYOT integration, and Masingill is putting together a program that will utilize the knowledge of those teachers already efficiently utilizing BYOT, which includes a number of teachers who cut their teeth in mobile technology integration in the Direct 2 Discovery program with Georgia Tech.

"We're identifying lead teachers in each school to serve as digital coaches," she said.

It's not an extra job, she said, but more a mentor for the BYOT program, available to answer questions and help out other teachers who are not yet as far as the leading edge in utilizing BYOT.

Masingill and Bucky-Beaver are both confident the program will do a lot to help turn the BYOT program from something still resembling a pilot program to one not too different than Forsyth County's oft-recognized model.

It's a plan many years in the making, one that began, Masingill noted, with talks with community groups. Those included many of Barrow's top employers in the chamber of commerce, who, she said, mentioned mastering 21st century technology as one of the main skills they would like to see future graduates have.

The reason to accomplish that goal with the help of BYOT, as opposed to another plan some regional districts have implemented of giving every student a chromebook (a small laptop) at a certain grade level, has a lot to do with their desire to see collaboration.

Not everyone brings a smart phone, tablet or laptop even in the BYOT-approved classes, but Masingill said that gives students a chance to collaborate and figure out what device is best for solving a particular problem or presenting a certain presentation.

"When you bring it into the classroom," said Masingill, "you bring a spirit of collaboration with it. We want to see that -- a lot of dialogue and problem solving."

On a recent school day at Sims Academy, that spirit of collaboration was on full display, with groups of students in a science lab hovering, as a group, over a few smart phones to help research how to solve the particular problem they were working on.

Now Barrow administrators just want to start seeing even more of that.



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