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Good idea? Schools ask students to bring their own technology

By MATT RICHTEL
New York Times News Service

Educators and policymakers continue to debate whether computers are a good teaching tool. But a growing number of schools are adopting a new, even more controversial approach: asking students to bring their own smartphones, tablets, laptops and even their video game players to class.

Officials at the schools say the students’ own devices are the simplest way to access a new generation of learning apps that can, for example, teach them math, test them with quizzes and enable them to share and comment on each other’s essays.

Advocates of this new trend, called BYOT for bring your own technology, say there is another advantage: It saves money for schools short of cash.

Some large school districts in Central Florida and near Houston and Atlanta have already signed on, and they are fielding calls and providing tours to administrators from hundreds of other districts that are considering whether to follow their lead.

But BYOT has many skeptics, even among people who otherwise see benefits of using more technology in classrooms.

Roy Pea, a professor of learning sciences at Stanford University, also has doubts. He is the co-author of a White House-backed National Educational Technology Plan published in 2011 that advocates for technology-centric classrooms.

But he said the BYOT approach could be counterproductive if teachers were forced to build lessons around different devices – in effect, subverting curriculum to technology.

“Why are they so happy to have these devices when just a few years ago they didn’t want them in the classroom?” Pea asked about school administrators.

The Volusia County School District in Central Florida, bordering Daytona Beach, is one of the places that used to have signs around its schools that admonished students: No cellphones allowed. But the signs have been replaced during the last two years with new ones that read: BYOT.

Volusia school officials say that they realized they should take advantage of, rather than fight, students’ deep connections with their devices. At the same time, the district found that the cost of providing and maintaining computers for students was becoming prohibitive.

Since the change, Volusia officials say, they have not encountered many tech support problems or complaints from teachers. Rather, students are more engaged, they say.

“It’s almost like bringing your homework,” said Jessica Levene, manager of learning technologies for the Volusia district, where 21 of 70 schools are using BYOT. “Make sure you have your device and that it’s charged.”

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