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Midstate school districts challenged with new technology policies

As local school districts prepare to roll out new technology policies, they are also preparing for the challenges and issues that will come with it.

 

Internet access is something that Carlisle Area and Cumberland Valley school districts will face. Amy Lena, a curriculum, instruction and technology coordinator for Cumberland Valley, said pamphlets were sent to homes with information on inexpensive Internet services available in the area.

 

Stephanie Douglas, director of technology at Carlisle Area School District, said the district is encouraging students to visit kiosks throughout the borough for Internet use. Those include Internet cafes, establishments with Wi-Fi and the Bosler Memorial Library. She also said the library will be open before and after school on select days for students to access the Internet with their devices.

 

“We’re trying to create that level playing field with our students,” Douglas said.

 

Douglas said she doesn’t know if it will be a huge issue, but she said there are probably students out there that don’t have Internet access for any number of reasons. That could include parents not wanting Internet in the household, or cost restraints. She said homework could be assigned to be completed on devices provided to students. In the event that students can’t find Internet access, she said alternative assignments would be assigned.

 

“Because we’re relying on online content, that could be a challenge that we have,” she said in regard to ensuring students have Internet access. “Hopefully, the number of those kids is minimal.”

 

Providing enough staff time for teachers to get acquainted with the devices is another challenge Douglas said her district has faced.

 

Kent Smith, superintendent at Susquenita School District, said his district has been successful in preparing teachers. He said representatives from Apple have come to the district to provide professional development. The district has also provided professional development days in the summer so teachers can get acquainted with the MacBook.

 

Smith said the district has a technology coach, along with the IT team, to help teachers and students with issues as they come up.

 

Distractions or tools?

When it comes to working with students, it wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine how the devices could become a distraction in the classroom. Applications can lead students away from education and into Facebook or other social media.

 

Lena, however, is not concerned about devices distracting students.

 

Lena said a policy in place at Cumberland Valley High School regarding cellphones has her convinced that students will be responsible with the devices. Students are able to use their cellphones while in the hallways and at lunch with teacher approval. Lena said discipline has gone down as a result of the policy.

 

“I think that has helped, but it is still concerning, because we’ve never allowed that in the middle school,” she said.

 

Lena said strategies are being given to the teachers, such as instruction for students to place their devices with the screen down on the corner of their desk. While she said some teachers are concerned that students will be distracted, Lena said most feel that the good outweighs the bad.

 

Smith said Susquenita School District is taking an open approach with their devices, but students will know what they can and cannot do with their devices in the classroom.

 

“We are leaving the devices pretty open to our students,” he said. “We’re doing so because we don’t want to restrict the use of these tools when we give them to the students. We have established consequences for those that violate policy.”

 

Handling the issues

Smith formerly worked at Conneaut School District, where he said a similar 1-to-1 policy was being formed at the time of his departure. From that experience, Smith said he was able to learn from his former district’s mistakes when helping to create the policy at Susquenita.

 

“We, from the planning stages, tried to identify all the things that could potentially be roadblocks,” he said. That includes keeping students from prohibited sites, securing devices and ensuring guidelines were in place. He said the Acceptable Use Policy at Susquenita is “one of the strongest that I’ve ever seen.”

 

Bruce Gordon, technology director at Mechanicsburg Area School District, said the district will attempt to find the balance between instructional and personal use. He said he does not have an idea of how staff members feel in terms of devices being a distraction in the classroom, but said the district’s Acceptable Use and Electronic Devices policies lay out guidelines for any possible issues. Both Gordon and Douglas said schools in their districts will provide devices for students that cannot bring one.

 

As far as handling any issues, Douglas said the solution lies with communication among teachers.

 

“We’re going to learn from each other,” she said. “Our teachers are our best assets in a school district ... We need these teachers to talk and work together to make this a success.”

 

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