EPS adopts new policy allowing students to use personal technology in class

EVART — Rather than being scolded for having their cell phones out in class, Evart Public Schools students now are being encouraged to do so.

With the recent installation of a district-wide Wi-Fi network, the EPS board of education approved in September a "Bring Your Own Device" handbook that offers guidelines for how students can use personal technology like laptops, tablets and smartphones in class.

Evart Middle School principal Jason O'Dell, who has spearheaded the push to incorporate more technology in classrooms, is excited to see how the new policy impacts learning.

"The whole idea behind BYOD is to include technology as an engagement tool," he said. "Kids have been told for so long that they can't use it (in class), but they're technology natives."

The majority of students already have a device, he said, and the district is working to provide resources for those who don't.

"We don't require students to have a device," O'Dell added. "We're trying to meet that need here at the middle school by having desktop (computers) available for students to use, and we're getting ready to deploy a portable tablet lab."

Incorporating personal technology into lessons will allow teachers to take advantage of graphing calculator apps, educational games and e-textbooks, O'Dell added. The BYOD handbook includes a list of educational apps available for different subject areas. To start off the 2013-14 school year, O'Dell asked teachers in his building to designate at least one day each week as a "BYOD day."

"I see this as a way not only to engage kids, but to differentiate the room. Teachers will be able to target each student at their level," he said. "It's a way to help meet the needs of all levels of learners. Kids are excited about technology, there's no denying that."

EPS' BYOD handbook specifies that teachers maintain the right to regulate when students can use personal technology in class. The devices cannot be used to cheat on assignments, and the same network filters applied to any school computer will be in effect for devices connected to the wireless network.

Students and parents must sign an agreement to follow the guidelines of the handbook before students are allowed to use their devices in class.

Adam Stein, a science teacher at Evart High School, admits he is no "technology guru," but he has already seen the benefits of allowing his students to use their phones in class.

"It's a part of their life," he said. "I would say 90 percent carry (their phones) on them. They're really good about using them as they're supposed to. I think the engagement is great."

Stein, who is in his 17th year teaching at Evart, has students use their devices to research different topics and help with calculations and timing during labs. Smartphones can replace physical charts for metric conversions and the periodic table, he added.

"It's a neat thing that they have them. We just haven't used them (in class) before," Stein said, adding students are not allowed to have their phones out during tests and he still monitors their online activity during class. "We've had a policy for years about no cell phones, but it's just another tool. You can go to a computer lab, you can have them get out a textbook, have a discussion — or use their phones."