Dist. 1 embraces 'BYOD' concept
COAL CITY — On any given day, students roaming Coal City High School's halls or sitting in classrooms can now be spotted with smart phones, tablets and laptops in tote.
The flurry of devices is the result of the newly implemented "Bring Your Own Device" policy put into place as Coal City Community Unit District 1 officials move toward complete implementation of its 1:1 program, which seeks to match students with devices like tablets or Google Chromebooks at a ratio of roughly one device per student.
Principal Mitch Hamann said the policy was officially rolled out to students Sept. 19 after administrators met with students to discuss its purpose and held a program to register the devices. Hamann said he didn't initially expect all 600-plus students to come that week bringing laptops, but the program did draw student interest, with many stopping by to pick up forms to register their devices.
"I think students are excited that the opportunity's there," he said. "A lot of kids have the software to do projects a little differently — it's nice that they can bring their own device."
He said students also sometimes have a higher level of comfort when dealing with their own technology.
Hamann acknowledged that the side of teachers may be more mixed, but overall it's been well-received.
"From an overall standpoint, our teachers are really good and open to new initiatives," he said.
He said integrating the technology with the classroom is a response to the environment students are growing up in.
"We understand (that) today's kids are wired different — things are done differently in 21st century classrooms," he said. "... Kids like to be interactive, they like to be hands on. This is a way to do that."
While given some leeway, Hamann said the devices are not without rules. Students still must abide by school policies when it comes to use in the classroom. The school has also partnered with Coal City Police Department to tackle another concern with devices — dealing with missing or stolen property. The school has requested students fill out a form with information and device serial numbers to making sure there is information on file to help students report problems.
He said students who don't have a smart phone or a tablet will not be left without the technology — the district is also purchasing Google Chromebooks, laptops that are optimized for Internet browsing, which will be available to students through checked-out carts.
"If anything, it helps free up that technology for more kids to use it," he said.
A few weeks into the BYOD policy, Jason Smith, Dist. 1's director of business services and technology, said so far, students have embraced it.
"What we're hearing from the kids is that they love it," he said.
Smith, who has overseen the 1:1 program along with members of a technology advisory committee, also said he was also proud of the high school staff's hard work with adapting to the program and willingness to learn more through professional development sessions.
"The staff is becoming more comfortable with it," he said. "It's a big paradigm shift."
So far, the district has had pilot classrooms and approved funding for devices and the technological infrastructure for multiple users to access the Internet. Smith said in the next step of the 1:1 rollout plan, in mid to late October, Coal City Middle School will come on board with BYOD. Next year, all K-4 classrooms will be equipped with iPads, while Chromebooks will be available for grades 6-12.
He said that the 1:1 program ultimately seeks to change how learning is done. If a teacher asks students for information, for example, students are encouraged to seek out information with technology and build on it, rather than learn through lecture and note memorization.
"A student can grab their device and go and add to the conversation," he said.
Depending on the device, the student can go further in a project by creating media with other students, like making a video and uploading it to YouTube.
He said teachers are being encouraged to use technology strategically to engage students and help develop important real-world skills.
"We're trying to create opportunities to collaborate, create, communicate and critically think," he said.