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Grand Forks school district moves forward with bring-your-own-device initiative

From left, Madeline Broedel, Bradley Dawson, and Riley Petersen use school laptops as part of a group research project on Monday, May 18, 2015, in Grand Forks, N.D. (Logan Werlinger/Grand Forks Herald)1 / 2
From left, Fatmata Coomber, Fatema Suleiman, and Farruzah Hutchinson look through photographs of the old Grand Forks Central High School gym for a research project on Monday, May 18, 2015, in Grand Forks, N.D. (Logan Werlinger/Grand Forks Herald)2 / 2

All Grand Forks high school students can use their own computers in class starting this fall.

With recent approval by the Grand Forks School Board, the district is moving forward on a new bring-your-own-device (BYOD) initiative that has previously been allowed at teacher discretion.

"This is a tremendous resource students bring to school every day and don't use," said Scott Conrad, a district curriculum technology partner and summer school teacher.

District technology officials say the new initiative allows students to take ownership of their own learning, have real-time access to information and learn in a classroom that advances the skills needed for their future.

Parents of students in grades eight through 11 will hear more details this summer, and student expectations will be established and communicated this fall, district technology director Joel Schleicher said.

Grand Forks is joining at least one North Dakota district that has the initiative and a growing number nationwide.

Some Central High School students say they welcome the opportunity. But they also wonder how the district will manage equal access to devices, productivity and theft problems.

"Even now, people just kind of take stuff," junior Fatmata Coomber said. "But I feel like it would be good for the classroom because it helps a lot."

Initiative

The initiative means students can use their laptops to complete activities, homework, research and other class-related work.

But personal devices won't be used for everything. Testing will only be allowed on school laptops, said Conrad. While students could use their own devices, it's safer and faster to troubleshoot if necessary on school-issued ones, he said. In addition, teachers still retain the power to ban using devices in the classroom.

District technology officials developed the initiative based on parent support, student response and the desire to expand the district's one-to-one technology initiative, according to district documents.

So far, the district provides laptops for fifth- through eighth-grade students only, for a total 2,064 students, Schleicher said. But with more high school students bringing their own, others will have greater access.

Central High School students have access to 350 computers through labs, libraries and through classes, Conrad said.

Several North Dakota districts have been developing or have a one-to-one technology initiative. East Grand Forks School District also allows individual high school teachers to offer BYOD, said Superintendent Dave Pace.

The decision isn't a guaranteed money-saver. The initiative has less to do with potential projected savings and more about using technology as a learning initiative, Schleicher said.

Plus, the tech department is also adding another 600 Chromebooks to be divided among the three high schools, he said.

Some teachers who use technology in class say they support the idea. For the past two summer school sessions, Conrad has allowed students to bring devices to class to pilot the concept. About half of his 20 students participated, though not consistently, he said. This summer, all students can bring their own device.

Parents appear to support the concept, too. In a 2012 parent survey, about a third of parents said they'd be very likely or likely to provide a mobile device for educational purposes, while 17 percent felt it was the school's responsibility. Statewide, the percentages were the same.

Student response

At Central High School on Monday, students said they favored bringing their own device.

The Advanced Placement students said they use their own laptops for homework nearly every night anyway, and some don't use it for much more than that.

But they had questions: What about students who can't afford to bring their own devices? What will happen if students steal or accidentally damage someone else's laptop? Will teachers confiscate their laptop like they can with cellphones, and if they do, for how long?

Conrad said it would likely be treated under school code as personal belongings.

"They always have the choice not to bring them, too," he said.

Student devices might also be more tempting to use for games instead of work, said junior Madeline Broedel, who brings her laptop to every class. But Conrad said he had "very few" occasions where he had to direct students back to work—they were taking a break from classwork—and the use of technology far outweighs the drawbacks. Students will be responsible if they're given the chance, he said.

Technology instructors are also preparing teachers for the initiative, checking how the Internet can be more accessible for families who don't have it and developing an informative website.

Conrad hopes students today shift their perspective of what a device can be used for—that it can be seen as a tool and not just as recreation, he said.

Jennifer Johnson

Jennifer Johnson is the K-12 education reporter for The Grand Forks Herald.  Contact her if you have any story ideas or tips and visit www.grandforksherald.com. 

(701) 787-6736
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