Durham school to allow kids to bring their own smart devices

Posted August 8, 2014 6:35 p.m. EDT
Updated August 8, 2014 7:02 p.m. EDT

— Texting, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram – for many school-aged children, that's typically what their tablets, smartphones and laptops are used for the most.

But Durham Public Schools wants to harness the power of students' personal technology and bring it right into the classroom with a pilot program – "Bring Your Device to School," or BYDS – launching this upcoming school year at Lucas Middle School.

"It's an initiative that's really focused on instruction and improving instruction for students, so each teacher gets to decide what level of participation they want to have," the school's technology facilitator, Laura Fogle, said Friday. "It's being driven from the teacher level, because we want it to be something they are doing to make instruction better."

Fogle says each classroom has a wireless access point that can support up to 30 devices and that network security will limit what websites and online content students can access.

Parents must sign an agreement that they are responsible for lost, stolen or damaged devices.

Students without devices, Fogle says, will have greater access to the technology the school already has.

"We have a large amount of tech already, but we don't have a one-to-one ratio – one device to each student," she said. "What this initiative will allow us to do, for all our students, is reduce that ratio, so that they will be fewer students sharing the same devices."

The idea of BYDS was tested out last school year in Elizabeth Agoranos' sixth-grade language arts class, and, despite a few technology issues that have since been addressed, was deemed to be a success.

About half of those students brought their own devices, Fogle says, and they were very motivated.

"The kids were really excited about it and very engaged," she said. "That is one thing that research has said about BYDS initiatives – that students are engaged and focused – and it makes their instruction more individualized and more student-driven."

Agoranos says students having a tablet or smartphone had another benefit.

"It was OK to use it, so it became less of a distraction," she said.

There's no clear timeline on when or if other schools in Durham might adopt the program – something put in place in Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools about six years ago due to budget cuts.

There, children as young as 5 are bringing their own devices to school.

The Wake County Public School System is also planning a similar BYDS pilot program at some of its schools. A spokeswoman said Friday, however, that a timetable for that will happen is still unclear but that it would not start at the beginning of the school year.