Embracing the digital world

By MaryHelen Swanson—

Students at North Branch high school have grown up in a world of technology. More than likely among their first playthings was a toy cell phone. From there it became computers, mp3 players, laptops, ipods, ipads, everything to social networking and beyond.

“It’s part of their DNA,” mused NBAPS high school Assistant Principal Glen Stevens in an interview last week.

To embrace the technology so integral to this generation, the new D3 initiative began when the students came back to school after winter break.

D3 or Discovering Digital Devices, is the school district’s way to link students who have more knowledge about these devices, with the teachers and staff who all to often may have a lot more to learn.

It’s a way to allow students to positively use their devices in school, without fear of discipline.

Born out of Superintendent Deb Henton’s 2011-12 school year theme “Focus Forward,” the initiative recognizes the tremendous educational opportunity that today’s electronic devices, many already in the hands of NB students, provide.

Where once a student with a cell phone was regulated in school by a “nuisance” policy, the concept is now embraced as a tool for better learning opportunities.

The devices may include lap tops, e-readers, smart phones, cell phones with wireless internet access and more.

The new initiative allows students to use whatever digital device they have in the classroom.

With the use of electronic devices comes added responsibility and the students are expected to use them for enhancing their learning opportunities.

For now, the devices are only allowed in the high school, giving staff time to adjust and perhaps work the kinks out, but eventually may go districtwide.

The district requires student and parent signatures on an agreement that addresses the D3 opportunities.

The agreement reminds everyone that as with all personal items, students assume full responsibility for devices brought to school.

The school district is not responsible for theft or damage to personal equipment and use of the school district system is at the student’s own risk.

Access to the Internet and network services are limited by network security.

Access is allowed through guest wireless services and specific software or program requirements are the responsibility of the student, not the school district.

All this and more is laid out in the agreement.

The agreement also lists School Board policies that must be abided by, along with federal and state laws and regulations.

Guidelines

The agreement each student signs spells out the guidelines for use of digital devices.

Included is a notation that individuals should not expect privacy in the contents of personal files on the district system. Messages and records within the district’s electronic technologies may not be encrypted without the permission of the superintendent.

The guidelines spell out the individuals responsibilities, as well as those things the school district will not be held responsible for, such as liability for texting or Internet charges that occur from the use of a personal device.

Use of these devices, however, in the classroom is still at the discretion of the teacher or supervisor, according to the guidelines.

Tables are turned?

Stevens believes the more digitally fluent students may be able to help the adults at the school, in fact, he said he has already seen this happening and the students appear to enjoy it.

He himself is enjoying the opportunity to learn from the students and hopes the teachers will too.

The young people pick up on these things easily, perhaps because they have been immersed in technology since they began school.

Technology is changing and growing, Stevens said, so much so that students are heading to college to prepare for jobs that don’t exist yet.

Assistant high school principal Glen Stevens is excited about the new digital initiative. Photo by MaryHelen Swanson

“The time had to come to make friends with these things that are a part of their lives,” he went on.

He noted how at lunch he sees lots of laptops in use, and, allowed to view the work, he noted that they were engaged in learning. He said it was good to see they were being responsible.

“It’s still a school,” he said, and it’s about teaching them to be good digital citizens.

He believes allowing students to use cell phones and devices in school should reduce the number of students misusing them.

The students have been well informed about the expectations and asked questions about what they are able to do.

For students without these devices, the North Branch Area Education Foundation has provided 30 Kindles.

And some teachers wrote and received grants to purchase at least 60 ipads to be used in the classroom.

In addition, rather than money being spent on new computer labs, more emphasis will be on portable access.

Keeping up with the DCs (digital citizens)

It will be important for teachers to be trained in the use of some of the new devices. The district will support the teachers because there are new things around the corner all the time, new things the kids pick up so easily that they can teach the teachers.

It’s important the staff understand these devices are no longer nuisances, but tools for learning.

BUT….. Stevens stressed, no matter what device, or how powerful it is, it is not going to replace a teacher. Tools, he said, never substitute for good teaching.

He noted that use of electronic devices is a growing trend among schools and available research says using the devices has helped the students, it will take time.

“It may motivate kids to do better,” he went on, allowing them to use the tools with which they are most familiar.

Leadership in the initiative

Stevens concluded the interview saying none of this would be possible without the encouragement and support of Dr. Henton, who is an awarded champion of technology.

“She sees great value in it and we couldn’t do this without her.”

“She gets it!”

The agreement and associated information about the initiative is available on the school district’s website www.northbranch.k12.mn.us.

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