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BYOT Powers Up @ HMS

“Bring Your Own Technology” Policy at Huston Middle

When it comes to having Internet-ready technology in the classroom, Huston Middle School educators have just two words for students: Bring It.

In what could be seen as a complete reversal of longstanding school policy prohibiting the use of electronic devices on school grounds, Huston Middle School are not only allowed, but are actually encouraged, to bring their iPhones, Kindles, tablets, and related technology to school. The reason? To help them learn.

The new “Bring Your Own Technology” (BYOT) initiative allows HMS students to possess their privately owned electronics on campus and use them in approved learning situations at the teacher’s discretion. According to district educators, access to mobile technologies connects learners to a world of information, references, and collaborative resources on the Web. Internet-ready technology can be used constructively in the classroom to support learning activities that are part of daily classroom instruction. “For students, the biggest benefit is immediacy,” says HMS assistant principal Ken Pruett. “It brings information to them immediately without having to schedule lab time, or a laptop cart, and wait days to start their research.”

BYOT was introduced at the high school earlier in the school year. In February and March 2012, the middle school prepared for the initiative by conducting a series of meetings with teacher, parent, and student advisory committees. “We really did a lot of groundwork for how we were going to roll this out, addressing all questions and concerns,” says Mr. Pruett. Students were permitted to begin bringing in their electronic devices on April 16th, and in the first few weeks alone, more than 200 students and parents signed a BYOT Agreement Form making them eligible to use their technology in the school. “Now, teachers don’t have to hunt for them (devices), and students don’t have to hide them,” says Mr. Pruett.

Mr. Pruett says that middle school parents were excited about BYOT, but their biggest concern was theft. To remedy this problem, HMS students are now permitted to carry book bags to help with security, and the school held assemblies on how to secure the valuable electronics. Anti-virus software is also required on all devices used on campus. Usage policies and guidelines were established, and administrators reserve the right to confiscate devices if they are used improperly. If a student shows no activity on their Internet connection for 40 minutes or more, they are bumped off the network because of limited wireless capacity. The district will monitor how students use the technology, and develop plans to support usage trends. According to Mr. Pruett, the most popular use so far is Dictionary.com.

Burrell is working on minimizing the disadvantages for students who, for economic or other reasons, do not have access to the latest iPhone or Kindle. The district is looking to secure technology grants that would allow more Internet-capable technology to be checked out through the school library. Also, as participation in BYOT increases, school-owned laptops and other devices should become more available for general use. BYOT could also translate to substantial savings on technology purchases for the district long-term.

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