More than 40 concerned parents turned out for a Bring Your Own Technology Parent Meeting Monday night at the Upson-Lee Fine Arts Center. Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) is a program the Thomaston-Upson School System is starting this year in which students in all grades are encouraged to bring their wi-fi capable cell phones, tablets, and laptops to school for use in their classes.
Monday’s meeting was an effort to address some of the concerns of parents about letting their children bring electronic devices to school. A panel made up of school personnel, along with a parent and a student, talked about the program, then answered questions from the audience.
Dr. Larry Derico, Director of Curriculum and Instruction for the school system, opened the meeting by explaining the process the system went through in deciding to implement the BYOT program. He said they started looking at the program last year, and visited other school systems that have already implemented the program to see the pros and cons of students using their own devices.
“Our goal to be able to enhance their learning and to teach them how to use the technology responsibly,” said Dr. Derico, who added that it may very well be the adults who actually learn more. “We adults are immigrants to technology,” he said, “but our students have been born into it.”
Shad Seymour, Principal at Upson-Lee North Elementary, said he was apprehensive about BYOT at first, but after seeing it in use in other school systems, realized Thomaston-Upson was being left behind.
“It was apparent that we were behind in enhancing the learning of our students,” said Seymour. “BYOT will not replace teacher instruction; it is an aid to help teach students with the most up-to-date information available.”
Matt Bentley is a teacher in the 9th Grade Academy at Upson-Lee High School. He gave a recent assignment as an example of the difference BYOT makes. He said he gave an assignment last year that the students had to complete by looking up the information and writing it down on paper. He said only half the class completed it. This year, he gave the same assignment, but let them use iPads in his classroom to do the work. One hundred percent of the students completed the assignment, and he said they have told him that using the devices “makes learning fun.”
Luke Haney is an 8th grade student at Upson-Lee Middle School. He said students are enjoying using their devices and so far have used them as calculators and dictionaries. He said he felt the devices will help students learn better. He also said that when there are students who don’t have the devices, there has not been any problem with the devices being shared. But, Haney added, the only downside he sees is that if another student damages a device, it is neither their responsibility nor the school’s responsibility to repair or replace the device.
Eric Logan is a parent with children attending Upson-Lee South Elementary. He also teaches Informational Technology at Georgia Tech and Clayton State College & University. He said on the college level, when he sees students arriving, he can tell the difference between the ones who have a technology background and ones who don’t by how they do their work. He added that using the devices in school also teaches responsibility for their usage and what the program is not to be used for.
Following comments by the IT coaches for Pre-K through 5 and 6-12 grades, the floor was opened for questions. One parent wanted to know if the school system would filter the content that the students can receive on their devices. David Eubanks, the 6-12 IT coach, said the content still goes through the school system’s filter and can be blocked, just as it is on the school’s computers.
Another parent asked what the process is if a device is stolen. Jaime Joiner, the IT coach for grades Pre-K-5, said it is the same as for any other theft. The school system will investigate the theft and if the thief is caught, will follow school system procedures.
One parent was concerned about the students being taught to use the devices responsibly and the possibility of the program penalizing students whose parents can’t afford such devices.
Eubanks replied that the state has requirements that schools cover digital citizenship in their classes and ways that electronic devices should and should not be used. He added that the school system does not expect every child to have a device. He said in some cases the schools will provide devices and in other, students with the devices will be encouraged to share them.
Students at Upson-Lee North, Middle and High schools are already using their electronic devices in class. Students at Pre-K and Upson-Lee South won’t begin using the devices until the second nine weeks, and it will be up to the teachers in those grades if they want students to use them.