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Articles: Technology

As cell phones—with ever-expanding possibilities of texting, Web browsing, and game playing—have multiplied in recent years among teenagers and even preteens, so have the concerns of teachers and administrators about the distractions these devices can cause. A survey of students and parents earlier this year by the group Common Sense Media found that almost 70 percent of schools around the country ban student cell phone use during the school day.

Cell phones were banned from most schools years ago, but after the Columbine High School and 9/11 tragedies, parents started pressuring some school boards and administrators to reverse the bans. On its surface, allowing students to have cell phones under the guise of improved school safety may seem like a “no-brainer” to many board members and administrators. But an in-depth analysis suggests that while students having cell phones may make parents feel better, it actually could create a less safe situation in a school crisis.

As a middle and high school math teacher for 14 years in the Norman (Okla.) School District and Dallas (Texas) Independent School District, Cathleen Norris at first thought the idea of using cell phones in a classroom was absurd. “Are you kidding?” she asked. “Would I want that distraction? That would make me crazy.”

Michael Smith admits he doesn’t talk much about his Web site or weekly blog with the staff, school board or community in his rural Oakland, Ill., district, because most folks probably don’t know what a blog is. That’s not a disrespectful dig, but reality: In his agricultural district 200 miles south of Chicago’s bustle—comprising only 300 students, 50 staff, two schools, and one principal—tending a Web site isn’t as high on anyone’s task list as teaching, farming the corn and soybean crops for which the region is known, or football.

Going back to school means something completely different to today’s IT administrators.

No textbooks are to be found in this honors biology class at Empire High School in Vail (Ariz.) School District.


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An increasing number of K12 districts are beginning to install digital signs—for displaying announcements, weather conditions, welcome messages, event information and more—in their lobbies, hallways, libraries or cafeterias. Digital signage can also play an important role as part of an emergency notification system, as administrators can immediately display crisis response information on every connected monitor throughout a school building or district.

It’s been a busy time for new education technology, with not only many new releases at two large conferences—InfoComm and NECC, both in June—but also updated or entirely new products announced in anticipation of district purchasing decisions for the new school year. But the past few months have also been unique because of the federal funds available to schools from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).

Over the past decade, online learning has risen to become one of the fastest growing sectors in education and certainly one of the most intriguing. Today, more and more students at all levels of education—elementary to postsecondary—are opting to take courses online. It is a testament to the effectiveness of this model of education.

During his presentation on “Effective Leadership in an Era of Disruptive Innovation” at the National Educational Computing Conference (NECC) in Washington, D.C., in June, Scott McLeod of Iowa State University (and blogger at made a statement that was quickly captured in Tweets by many of those in attendance. “We’re facing a disruptive innovation,” Scott said. “But it’s not online learning; it’s personalized learning.”

Notification systems—which use the Internet to enable school administrators to make and send thousands of automated phone calls, text messages and e-mails in minutes—are expanding in popularity in school districts across the country.


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According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 14.2 million computers were in schools across the country in 2005-2006, a ratio of one for every four students and more than 20 times the number in schools in 1984-1985. Along with the tremendous opportunities for student learning afforded by this trend comes the risk of distraction and inappropriate use of computers and the Internet by students. Classroom management software was developed to address these concerns and to help teachers maximize the instructive capabilities of classroom computers.