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More study needed on mobile devices

As the Meriden school system prepares to adopt a Bring Your Own Device policy, superintendents in Wallingford and Southington believe more time is needed to address various challenges before their respective students are allowed to use electronics.

The Bring Your Own Device initiative allows students to bring in and use devices such as tablets, laptops and smartphones.

The only area school system that has adopted the program is Cheshire, where middle and high school students are allowed to use electronics. Meriden schools will complete a Bring Your Own Device pilot program in the winter, with the Board of Education expected to pass a policy later this year.

While Bring Your Own Device isn’t available at all schools, the four school systems believe students will find academic benefits from using the devices.

As in Meriden, Southington schools completed a pilot program of Bring Your Own Device last year, and found it to be a “great experience,” said Southington School Superintendent Joseph V. Erardi Jr. Both school systems conducted research, which found the program to be beneficial to students and teachers.

“The underlying question always is how is it enhancing teaching and learning,” Erardi said. “The measurements of productivity from students is what we looked at. The staff did a really nice job of that.”

Within the first 26 days of the school year, Meriden conducted a survey, which was completed by 329 parents, 152 staff members and 2,054 students. Eighty-six percent of the staff members found the program favorable, while 14 percent didn’t like or prefer it. Ninety percent of the students felt the program was helpful in their learning.

But while there are positives to allowing the use of electronic devices, there are also a number of challenges. From security and making sure there’s enough bandwidth to support the devices to ensuring students are using the devices for academic purposes, a variety of things have to be addressed before a formal program or policy is adopted.

Allowing students to use electronic devices in a classroom means administrators and teachers are trusting them to be “good digital citizens and are using it for intended purposes,” eriden School Superintendent Mark D. Benigni said.

In California, the Los Angeles Unified School District is preparing to give every student an iPad — an initiative that will cost $1 billion. However, students at Theodore Roosevelt High School, in Los Angeles, Calif., were able to bypass a security system, allowing them to browse the Internet and to use social media apps, such as Facebook and Twitter, according to a Los Angeles Times article from Sept. 25.

To address this issue and to make sure students are using the devices responsibly, Benigni said it comes down to making sure they’re being engaged in the classroom.

“We always had those issues with kids pulling out their phones when they were banned and not allowed in the school system,” he said. “Quality lessons that are participatory and engaging students eliminates those problems.”

He added during down time, such as lunch, students will be given flexibility to be allowed to check texts and emails.

Rather than letting students bring in devices, both Wallingford and Southington school systems are purchasing Google Chromebooks for student use. Erardi said students in the alternative high school in Southington are using the Chromebooks, and the program is being monitored to eventually make a recommendation to the Board of Education about doing the same at the high school level.

In Wallingford, School Superintendent Salvatore Menzo said the Chromebooks allows administrators to “control” what a student can and cannot do.

“The value added piece on why we purchased them is because you can lock down onto domains to which students can navigate to,” he said. “On the Chromebooks, they can’t go out and use Internet freely and it has the additional capacity to be certain that we disable the ability for email and a lot of the outside groups coming in.”

In addition to making sure students are being productive, the school system also has to be able to support the number of devices being used — a main challenge in Southington, Erardi said.

The Southington school system is presently in the second year of a three-year plan to increase the bandwidth throughout the town’s school system and “allowing all aspects of each building to be accessible as a wireless connection,” Erardi said. In total, Erardi added, the plan will cost “close to $500,000.”

Administrators in Wallingford have spent the past two years preparing for a possible scenario allowing students to use electronics in class, according to Menzo.

In December, the Board of Education approved $284,000 to upgrade wireless Internet access in the middle and high schools. Menzo added he is waiting to hear from the state if the school system will be awarded a grant, which would be used to expand Internet access in the elementary schools.

“We’re making certain if we were to move forward, we’re making sure” our infrastructure would suppot it, Menzo said. “Now we have the capacity to support it if a student brought devices.”

As Wallingford and Southington waits until the school systems are fully prepared, Meriden students will soon be able to use electronic devices in the classrooms.

“This is where learning is heading,” Benigni said. “It’s the future of learning.” (203) 317-2235 Twitter: @EricVoRJ

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