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Edgerton debates letting students bring wireless devices to classrooms

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NEIL W. JOHNSON
March 10, 2012
— The Edgerton School District might relax its technology policy and allow students to bring their personal cellphones and other wireless devices into the classroom.

The school board Monday could vote on a change proposed by district administrators to immediately allow classroom use of students’ personal smartphones, iPads and other wireless devices.


Like other school districts statewide, Edgerton has a policy that bars students from using personal wireless devices in school or connecting the devices to the district’s computer network.


Under the proposed change, the district would waive that policy and give teachers discretion to allow students to use their cellphones or other wireless devices in class for learning and research.


District administrators say that the move would give teachers and students access to tools that could improve instruction and learning at a time when the district has limited access to wireless technology.


Administrators view the change as a pilot project that comes as the district considers an overhaul of its technology infrastructure—a plan that’s linked to a spending referendum that the district could put on the ballot in November.


The referendum could ask taxpayers for up to $2.5 million to install a district-wide wireless network and replace aging district computers and other technology equipment, some of which is more than 10 years old.


Wireless technology is limited to just a few spots in Edgerton schools, including parts of Edgerton Middle School. Edgerton High School has no wireless access.


Under the policy waiver, students could connect their cellphones or other devices to their own wireless networks or tap into available district networks, provided their devices met district security standards.


The district has developed no clear plans for wireless technology-aided learning, but Edgerton High School Principal Mark Coombs said the district would learn as it went.


“The goal is to get this going and troubleshoot and experiment. With the referendum coming up, hopefully it passes and we’ll see our infrastructure change quite a bit,” Coombs said. “We want to learn what that could look like.”


Technology Director Dan Johnson and Edgerton Middle School Principal Jerry Roth said a district technology team would follow the project and seek input from teachers and students on how the wireless devices are proving useful in class.


They said the study could serve to justify future district spending on classroom technology such as laptops or iPads.


“It’s kind of a discovery process at this point,” Roth said.


Coombs said use of student wireless devices could be as simple as looking up a word on an online dictionary or doing an Internet search of a current event.


“If a kid is in a classroom and has the need to Google something, why not just let them use their (wireless) device?”


Coombs said he believes that the high school will see limited use of wireless devices initially because it will take a while for teachers to learn how they want to incorporate the devices in lessons and class work.


“I don’t see it as the first day, it’s going to be widespread and everybody’s going to be using it (wireless devices),” said Coombs.


Under a new set of rules, administrators say, individual teachers and staff would control whether to allow the devices in their classrooms and when and how students could use them.


When not being used, the devices would have to be turned off and put away, administrators said. Roth said that would curb students from sending text messages, playing video games or making phone calls during class.


If students didn’t follow rules, staff could use existing sanctions, which include confiscating the devices for as long as three weeks.


Coombs doesn’t foresee problems with enforcement. He said high school staff has confiscated only a few student cellphones this year. Roth echoed that belief.


“Kids don’t like to lose their technology. They honor the rules pretty tightly,” Roth said.


One potential problem, some board members have pointed out, is that not every student owns a wireless device, and not all parents in the district can afford to purchase one.


A district survey shows about 43 percent of students at the high school own cellphones with Internet access.


Edgerton High School Assistant Principal Clark Bretthauer suggested that teachers could direct use of the devices toward group work so students who don’t own a device could share in learning activities.



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