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BYOD policy working in schools, Norwin officials say

| Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012, 11:13 p.m.

Students who bring their own electronic devices to class often are more engaged in classes, according to Norwin School District officials.

Last week, during a business education roundtable discussion, teachers and administrators said the use of personal devices helps get more students engaged in their classes.

“The operational aspects of most districts has been when students come to school, as soon as they enter the front door, they must shut everything down,” Superintendent William Kerr said.

“That's not the world today – their world is wired, 24/7.”

This year is the first district officials have permitted students in Norwin High School and Norwin Middle School to bring their own laptops, digital tablets and other Wi-Fi-capable devices to school.

Over the summer, district upgraded the wireless Internet networks in the two schools and repealed a policy prohibiting students to bring Internet-enabled items, including laptops, digital tablets and smartphones to school. The new policy allows students to bring the aforementioned items to school for educational purposes.

The policy prohibits students from using personal wireless networks but allows them to use the school's wireless network, said Michael Choby, Norwin High School assistant principal and coordinator of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, education.

By connecting to the school's networks, student devices filter through the same firewalls and prohibitive software enabled in the school computer labs, Choby said. The software keeps students from accessing social-networking sites or sites containing pornographic or other objectionable materials.

Students with smartphones, such as iPhone or Android models, must keep their phone in “airplane mode,” which disables calling and text messaging. Choby said smartphones, which often allow for Wi-Fi access, also could connect to the schools' wireless network.

Tracy McNelly, assistant superintendent of secondary education, said the devices allow teachers to expand upon their lessons. She said use of the devices encourages students to learn how to properly find and share information and collaborate with their peers.

“We use our own devices to communicate with people around the globe, and we want to share those experiences with our students,” McNelly said. “It helps to get our students really involved in learning.”

Stephanie Reilly, who teaches geometry and electricity and magnetism at Norwin High School, uses smartphones during class to run polls, where students are able to anonymously text answers, which she views instantly.

The polls allow her to assess how well her classes understand a topic and provide, if needed, additional content for clarification, she said.

Out of her 140 senior class students, Reilly said, only two do not have their own Wi-Fi-capable devices. When students do not have their own devices, Reilly said, she has students work in groups or supplies laptops.

McNelly said approximately 90 percent of students are able to bring their own devices into school, and do so on a regular basis.

“We were shocked to find that many children were connected somehow,” McNelly said.

Administrators plan to ask residents to donate old smartphones, which can access the schools' Wi-Fi system, to use during classes, McNelly said.

School board Robert Perkins said he has received some feedback from district residents indicating children who cannot bring in their own devices are embarrassed.

Perkins said he hopes to find a way to make sure those students are able to access devices.

“I think 90 percent with devices is great, but I feel bad for the 10 percent,” he said.

Brad Pedersen is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8626, or bpedersen@tribweb.com.

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