PA Schools let students bring mobile technology into the Classroom
But in some classes, students are bypassing the cart. Instead, they’re reaching into their pockets and pulling out their smartphones or dipping into backpacks for their laptops or tablet computers.
Lower Dauphin is among several schools in the midstate coming to terms with the rapid development of mobile technology by allowing students to use their own equipment in classes.
On one hand, the policy changes reflect the modern world, where smartphones have become part of daily life, especially in business. But it’s also an attempt by the districts to come to terms with fiscal realities. Tight budgets mean there might not be money for laptops or personal computers.
Saving money was one of the prime motives in the Derry Township School District. After the board last year axed a $500,000 initiative that would have purchased laptops for high school students, it allowed students to use their devices in class.
The hope is that by allowing students to bring in their own devices, Hershey High School will be able to free up resources for students who don’t have access to computers.
“We are not going to exclude anyone,” Derry Superintendent Richard Faidley said when he announced the program at a school board meeting in March. “By doing this, it allows us to re-purpose our own devices.”
The shift is also a 180-degree turn for some districts that had implemented strict no-phone policies. But educators say students need to know how to use the devices, not only to find and analyze information, but to do so in a socially acceptable manner.
Over the last few years, other districts, including Central Dauphin and Cumberland Valley, have looked at altering their policies toward smartphones.
At Cumberland Valley, students can use their phones in the corridors and at lunch as long as they put them away during study hall, detention or class, or unless the teacher wants to use the phones as part of a lesson.
“Ultimately, it was more important to protect instructional time than to fight [cellphone use],” said Tracy Panzer, school district spokeswoman.
It’s an area where educators can’t ignore a fact of life: Not only is the technology here and in the hands of their students, but in many cases what a student carries in a pocket might be more powerful than what the school can provide.
“The kids all have these devices and are doing it already,” said Joe McFarland, director of curriculum at the Derry Township district.
Derry is also using technology in other areas, such as having some special-needs students use tablet computers. Pilot programs use online textbooks, and teachers are integrating Web-based resources, such as instructional videos, into their lesson plans.
Luke Fenstermacher, a 17-year-old senior at Lower Dauphin High School, said he was happy the school was trying to work with the students regarding smartphones.
“I think they have to find a way for it to work. ... It’s happening anyway,” he said. “[The school is] really making a big effort. ... They’re really trying.”
Before the change, the high school had an “off and away” policy for phones in classes. Now, if they register them with the school, students can use them for educational purposes.
Hershey High School’s program allowing students to use smartphones, laptops or tablet computers is in its infancy. The school’s staff is collecting feedback from students and teachers, which it will review over the summer.
As with any new program, there are growing pains.
At Lower Dauphin High School, some students, especially seniors who are close to graduation, expressed wariness of the program.
Students mostly cite privacy concerns: To use smartphones or other devices in class, they are required to register them with the school and use the school’s network.
Using the school’s network automatically filters out some Internet content that might be unsuitable for students, but students are afraid that using the district’s network also might allow educators to track their Web browsing.
Derry Township district officials said they are monitoring traffic to see if students are attempting to access blocked content. Administrators said they’ll deal with issues as they pop up. The same goes for violations of rules concerning cellphones.
At Cumberland Valley, Panzer said problems with phones decreased after the district enacted its new policy. Updating the policy helped because students knew what was expected of them, and it allowed for uniform enforcement.
While students at Lower Dauphin said they’re encouraged by the district’s stance, some are more likely to rely on their smartphones’ data stream and circumvent the district’s network.
But they’re not really allowed to do so, which puts teachers in a Catch-22 situation: They can take time out of their instruction periods to police smartphone use, turn a blind eye to the practice or just tell students not to use them.
Along with teaching students how to use the devices to quickly find and process information, educators are trying to develop policies to teach students technology etiquette.
Administrators at Derry Township are hoping that as younger students move into the program, using the school’s system and rules will become the social norm.
“That’s the expectation we’re setting,” McFarland said. “Any time you begin something new you get a lot of concerns, a lot of what-ifs.”
Educators also have to figure out how to use them in classes.
While a smartphone might not be the ideal for reading an online textbook or typing a paper, students have already found uses for them in school, often before the schools gave their blessing.
At Lower Dauphin, senior Ashlee Krulock said having her smartphone is handy for study halls, when she can check her test scores online or use the device’s Internet access to help her with homework.
“It makes things easier,” she said. When studying anatomy, instead of needing to flip through her textbook to look up the definition of a word or an organ’s function, she can quickly find it online.
It doesn’t help her when she has to take a test — she still has to know how the body works and systems interact — but it helps her find basic knowledge quickly when she’s studying.
By doing so, she’s engaging in what educators term “21st Century Learning,” which focuses more on critical thinking than rote memorization.
The idea is a core principal behind the pilot program at Derry Township, McFarland said.
“When we were in school, there was more of a need for memorization, because that knowledge wasn’t at your fingertips,” he said. “There are bigger concepts that are more important. ... We want to create adults who think critically and solve problems.”
It’s also more reflective of the environment outside the schools, where students eventually will be working. “Googling” has become a verb in the modern lexicon, and the schools are moving to reflect that.
“So it’s more real-world learning, more engaged learning,” he said. “It’s been a real paradigm shift for education.”
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