School to Start BYOT Program

ST. MARYS — Local students will be participating in a pilot project through their school, as early as the beginning of next year.

A group of students in grades eight through 12 will be participating in the BYOT — or Bring Your Own Technology — program, through which students will bring their own technological devices to class.

The program, Technology Coordinator Kyle Menchhofer said, comes at a time when the district has been making cuts, with technology being one of the many being hit.

"We were on the schedule to replace our computers every five years, but we haven't been able to, and some of our computers are eight or nine years old," he said. "We've cut $3.5 million in the past three years, and we're going to cut another $1 million in the next school year. We can't afford to continue to replace and update our technology. Technology changes so fast — it's already outdated once you buy it. The kids have better technology than we have."

Menchhofer noted the current MLD project in the lower-grade schools, and he said the district wanted some way to keep the technology use going for the older students.

"Since we have the MLD project with grades three, four and five, we kept asking ourselves what we could do to continue to progress into the 21st century," he said. "With technology in the higher grades, it's not realistic to provide MLDs for them — their work is more complicated."

So, this project was developed, with the students literally bringing their own technology to class.

"It could be a laptop, a netbook, a smartphone, an iPad or any type of tablet," he said. "It could be anything that has Wi-Fi access that they can use to connect to our network."

The program, Menchhofer noted, is a way to incorporate all the devices available.

"What we want to do is continue to give more people access to technology," he said. "In this day and age, kids have to be able to use many different devices," he said. "In the business world, people have to be able to use all different devices, so the kids are going to have to learn for their future."

Currently, the district is trying to configure a way for students to log on to the Wi-Fi network in the high school-middle school building.

"Right now, we're working at making the network secure," Menchhofer said. "The Internet has a filter on it, but we want to be able to track where each student is going. So, right now we're in the process of talking with some vendors on how to get a network up and making it the way we need it to be."

Once a student logs on to the network, he or she would use a Google account.

"With this, we're looking at using Google applications, which is free," Menchhofer said. "The students can then work at school and at home. We're also setting up an e-mail account for them."

Because of the network configuration issue, the project's start date has been pushed back.

"We were originally hoping it would start the second nine weeks, which would've been November, but we want to make sure everything is working as planned, that we have our ducks in a row," Menchhofer said. "It could be January for the third nine weeks."

So far, 12 teachers in grades eight through 12 have signed up to be a part of the pilot project, and BYOT is open to whoever has a teacher who is part of the project.

"All they have to do is log in to the network," Menchhofer said. "They can share documents with their teacher, they can work on projects together. For the teacher, it's paperless grading."

The program allows the students to write a paper or do a PowerPoint using whatever device they want to use.

"We want our teachers to be focused on what they have to do based on their core curriculum standards," Menchhofer said. "If it's a paper or presentation they want, the teacher doesn't care how they do it, they just tell the students what they want. It gives the students freedom. As long as the teacher tells them what they expect, that allows them for input on how they want to do their projects — not whether they use PowerPoint or Google Presentation."

Menchhofer noted students will still go to a regular classroom for their regular coursework.

"There are no online classes," he said. "They're just using technology for their classroom work."

The technology aspect, he noted, is basically a supplement to their regular classwork.

"Let's say they're talking about World War II, and their teacher wants them to write a paper on World War II, they can use it for that," Menchhofer said. "If it's chemistry class and they have to do a written lab project. The teacher can comment and make corrections and changes on the online document instead of writing it on a paper."

For those students who don't have access to such a device, Menchhofer noted there are computers available in the building.

"At our parent meeting, that was a big question," he said. "There are computers in the school, there are usually four in each classroom and there are some in the library."

By enabling students to bring their own technological devices to the building, the project also helps alleviate pressure on the technology staff.

"We have 900 computers, the MLDs and only two technology people on staff," he said. "We're running ragged by trying to keep up with everything. It's very difficult to maintain what we have, staff-wise."