ENCINITAS — Some schools are buying laptops or tablets for all of their students. But the San Dieguito Union High School district opted for a growing alternative — B.Y.O.D. (short for bring your own device.)
With this alternative, teachers have the option of allowing personal devices in their classrooms. Some teachers at San Dieguito are even taking the extra step of asking students to bring in iPads and smartphones to incorporate the technology into lessons. It’s a dramatic difference from just three years ago, when cell phones were forbidden on campus.
B.Y.O.D. was all the rage Monday at Torrey Pines High School in Abby Brown’s advanced math class, where students worked on projects with a variety of their personal laptops, tablets and smartphones.
“One of things that struck me is how many students have a smartphone,” Brown said. “Especially this year, the number of students with technology is just at a whole new level.”
Given that the devices have different operating systems, occasionally a couple of the students in her class won’t be able to run a program or open certain kinds of documents. Brown, however, said “we usually find a quick workaround for that.”
Brown noted that the devices occasionally pose a distraction. She catches students checking their email, for example. But Brown said that’s an exception — students are usually on task.
“I’m constantly surprised by how much they’re learning and their ingenuity with technology,” Brown said.
In 2011, the district officially updated its acceptable use policy to allow devices in classrooms. Yet, B.Y.O.D. really only took off this year due to San Dieguito’s revamped wireless network, and with a push from district officials.
Kevin Fairchild, technology and learning specialist for San Dieguito, said B.Y.O.D. is preparing students for the connected, technology-driven business world. And students in some B.Y.O.D. classes are learning quicker thanks to educational apps they otherwise wouldn’t be exposed to.
Fairchild said there’s another major plus: The price of B.Y.O.D. is much less than buying technology. He said the cost of purchasing devices like iPads for each of its 12,000 students is prohibitive. Also, there’s the risk of the technology becoming outdated in a handful of years.
“We believe this is the best fiscal, as well as educational policy,” Fairchild said.
Fairchild said that an estimated 15 percent of classrooms in the district incorporate B.Y.O.D. into lessons, but that number is expected to ramp up in the coming years.
San Dieguito’s approach toward devices is in contrast with that of the EUSD (Encinitas Union School District), which spent $1.7 million in bond money on 3,500 personal iPads for its third through sixth graders. Currently, EUSD is exploring whether to buy iPads for its kindergarten through second grade students.
Echoing other critics, Richard Clark, professor of educational psychology and technology at the University of Southern California, said both B.Y.O.D. and large-scale school iPad programs are all about technology for technology’s sake.
“You have to ask if this technology is really solving any problems, or if it’s just creating new ones like providing students with another way to be distracted.” Clark said.
Clark added that he’s not against technology — only that districts aren’t putting enough emphasis on the curriculum.
“The content is what’s important — not the technology,” Clark said. “I think school districts have lost sight of that.”
Clark noted B.Y.O.D. is less expensive than buying iPads for an entire district. But with so many different devices, it takes more time to get everyone on the same page — essentially putting technology before education.
However, Joel Van Hooser, technology supervisor for San Dieguito, said that the district recommends apps that are friendly with nearly all devices. In the event that someone can’t connect to the network, San Dieguito has a troubleshooting page that’s a “one-stop shop that solves 99 percent of issues,” Van Hooser said. After that, for those who are still having problems, media techs are available at each of the schools.
Van Hooser said that the district’s wireless network does allow access to much of the Internet. High school students can even search for YouTube videos and login to social media websites like Facebook, yet inappropriate websites are blocked via a service called Lightspeed.
But he acknowledged that students with smart phones who have their own independent wireless network can get around the district’s restrictions.
“It’s up to the parents to filter those devices,” Van Hooser said.
Van Hooser said that he wasn’t aware of another county district emphasizing B.Y.O.D. to the degree that San Dieguito is. Indeed, the district offers teacher training in how to best manage classrooms with different kinds of devices, as well as advice on building technology into lessons.
Van Hooser noted that recently at Canyon Crest Academy, a school with 2,100 students, 2,400 devices were logged onto the network at one time.
“Way more students are using the network this year; the philosophy is, ‘Build it and they will come,’” Van Hooser said.
With B.Y.O.D. becoming more popular, the district plans to expand its network by purchasing new servers and other infrastructure.
Also, schools already have laptops to checkout for students who don’t have their own devices, and San Dieguito is looking at buying 150 more. Because the details of the network upgrades and laptops purchase are still being worked out, Van Hooser said there isn’t a concrete cost at this time.
The cost of San Dieguito’s wireless network for each of the past three years was requested, but was not returned by press time.
Rick Schmitt, San Dieguito’s associate superintendent of business services, said that the district updated its acceptable use policy to accommodate B.Y.O.D. to “bring the district into the 21st century.” Further, he cited results from a recent survey from the education group Project Tomorrow showing that San Dieguito students prefer to use their own devices to complete schoolwork.
To get the word out about B.Y.O.D., Schmitt said the district has educated parents about the approach at back-to-school-nights and at parent-teacher association meetings.
Chris Faist, a seventh grade teacher at Carmel Valley Middle School, said that he’s asked his students to come to class with their devices this year to increase engagement and save paper. Typically, 10 out of 30 students comply with the request, but more would if they had the OK from their parents, he believes. Faist has reached out to parents to let them know about what he sees as the benefits of iPads in education.
“Unfortunately, I think many parents believe the iPad is only for games,” Faist said.
“They don’t want their device in a classroom for that reason,” he added. “I’ve tried to educate parents that iPads have so many apps that help students create, not consume, content.”
Initially, Faist feared that there would be a divide between students who bring in devices and those who don’t. But he said that hasn’t been the case, though he noticed the devices do distract from his lectures once in a while.
Back at Brown’s class at Torrey Pines, senior Kathy Li said that regardless of whether the devices are distracting, students realize that surfing the Web in class means homework later.
“If we don’t use our time wisely in class, we have to make up for that outside of class,” Li said.