Schools can successfully implement the practice of allowing students to use their own technological devices on school networks. Early next month, our school will mark the one-year anniversary of our implementation of a policy that allows our students to use their own laptops, tablets, iPods, and smartphones on our school WiFi. Last February, I posted "Lessons in Providing Students Wireless Access in Our School Building." In that post I described what we learned early in that implementation after three weeks.
Now, after almost a year's implementation, I would still stand by those lessons we learned early in the implementation process. Now, a year later, here's my revised list of suggestions for those considering a BYOT (Bring Your Own Technology) initiative.
1. Educate your parents on the kind of access you're providing students. During the course of the past year, several times I've had to explain to parents that our school is still providing students with filtered access. Though they are using their own devices, our filter is set up to provide some level of protection. This meant a great deal for those parents who were afraid that students could access anything while at school. When you implement a BYOT initiative, it's important that parents understand what you mean by WiFi access and what actions will be taken should students access unacceptable content.
2. Educate students on responsible use of their WiFi access. Ethics and responsible use of technology should be part of what we teach students anyway. But as you implement a BYOT initiative, teaching ethical use of technology, even with their own devices becomes an integrated part of what the school does. Any new BYOT initiative should include an ongoing focus of ethical use of WiFi access and technology in general.
3. Be prepared for technology glitches, even after a year's implementation. Even though most kinks in the system work themselves out over time, there are going to be issues. For example, when we implemented the use of an iPad lab a couple of months ago, IP address assignments by the hardware and software was suddenly an issue. It's vital that school leadership and teachers work through these problems as they occur. Often all that's needed is a software adjustment, but be prepared for the need for additional hardware. As with any technology implementation program, expect problems and be prepared to deal with them.
4. Make sure students understand teachers control the classroom environment. Students need to know up front that when a teacher asks them to close their laptop or put away their iPod, they are to do so. While you want teachers to engage students in the use of technology, there are certainly times when students need to unplug. On the one hand, you want students engaged in technology use, but on the the other, technology-savvy teachers need to be able to guide that use. School leaders need to make it clear to students that teachers determine when use of their devices happens.
As I indicated a year ago, schools have no choice but become 21st century learning environments. A solid implementation of a BYOT (Bring Your Own Technology) initiative should not be optional, but standard practice. We have had a year of successful, mostly-trouble-free implementation. Twenty-first school leaders no longer have to ask students to unplug when they walk through the front doors if they effectively implement a BYOT initiative.