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BYOD success stories

Technologies, policies and strategies early adopters use to transform their districts
Students use their own mobile devices to work out math problems in an economics and personal finance class at Marshall High School in Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia.  (Photo: Donnie Biggs)
Students use their own mobile devices to work out math problems in an economics and personal finance class at Marshall High School in Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia. (Photo: Donnie Biggs)

Districts that have implemented BYOD successfully have found building a powerful Wi-Fi network, developing explicit acceptable use policies, and communicating those policies clearly to students, parents and teachers are critical steps in the technology transition.

While the model of bringing in your own device began decades ago with the push for students to use their own calculators in class, the concept of students using their personal phones, tablets and computers in class took off in 2008, according to Sara Hall, the Alliance for Excellent Education’s vice president of digital learning. It has only been growing in popularity since.

“District leaders are learning to align technology with what is going on in the classroom,” she says. “The challenge is making sure BYOD programs are scalable and match curricular goals.”

Three districts that were early adopters discuss initial challenges, lessons learned along the way, and where they are today.

Forsyth County Schools, Georgia

When leaders at Forsyth County Schools in Georgia decided to do away with their wireless device carts because of management issues, BYOD seemed to be a natural replacement, says Mark Klinger, the district’s director of technology services.

To test interest in BYOD, in 2008 Klinger set up a filtered Wi-Fi network that any student could use after logging on with their district online credentials. There was no announcement that this network was created.

District leaders determined that student interest in a network they could access with their own devices was high when many students used the unpublicized network. The district officially piloted BYOD a year later, with seven schools and 40 K12 teachers, says Tim Clark, the coordinator of instructional technology. “It wasn’t the techiest teachers who volunteered for the pilot,” he says.

“These were the ones who were the most willing to learn and the most open-minded about using the internet for Web 2.0 apps and collaborative work.”

Getting your network BYOD-ready

Administrators need to prepare the district’s network for a high influx of devices when implementing BYOD. At Oxnard Union High School District in California, where BYOD was implemented for the 2013-14 school year, Superintendent Gabe Soumakian and Director of IT Services Puneet Sharma developed their own best practices for BYOD implementation. Here they are:

  1. Partner with a vendor, such as Cisco, that has experience in installing high-density Wi-Fi. 
  2. Purchase enough access points (APs) to handle all devices that will be in a classroom. Oxnard has APs in each classroom that can handle 35 to 40 devices. It also has multiple antennas outside in areas where students gather, such as quads. 
  3. Balance switchers and controllers to provide additional bandwidth to areas with high Wi-Fi usage. 
  4. Do not allow teachers to set up their own private networks with APs they purchased on their own in their classrooms. All users should sign onto the district’s designated BYOD network to ensure students are for accessing only filtered content.

Five years later, all of Forsyth’s 36 schools permit BYOD. The biggest challenge around beginning BYOD was explaining its value to parents, Clark says. “In 2008, not every kid had a device in their pocket,” he says. “But now, we have parents asking us which devices they should buy for their children.”

The Forsyth PTA and school council gave presentations on how BYOD can improve learning and how the district keeps students safe through a filtered Wi-Fi network. Knowing most students have unfiltered networks at home, teachers give lessons on appropriate in-school internet use.

If districts require students to install specific applications on their devices, the apps should be device agnostic so all students can access them, says Clark. “We use Wikitools for instruction,” he says. “The focus needs to be on the learning, not adapting around a specific device.”

Building a powerful wireless infrastructure was also a challenge. Even now, 30 percent of classrooms in the district do not have strong coverage. The district plans to purchase more bandwidth in the future. In the meantime, teachers try to work around poor coverage, such as by having groups of students share a single device during collaborative times, says Clark.

While the district IT team does not troubleshoot individual devices, they have a ticketing system for connectivity problems. To minimize the amount of tickets sent in, instructional tech specialists assist teachers with diagnosing issues with the devices. The specialists also show teachers how technology-led lessons can be run.

There are limits for how personal devices can be used, and administrators new to BYOD can expect teachers to push those limits. “Teachers wanted to use their personal devices to access the student information system, which we could not allow because we have to host the SIS on a completely secure network,” Klinger says.

The district does have to address equity: 20 percent of students receive free and reduced lunch, and many cannot afford to purchase their own devices, says Klinger. The district uses Title I funds to purchase devices for these students.

“However, many of these students also do not have internet at home,” says Klinger. The district connects parents to programs such as Comcast Internet Essentials, which provides low-cost internet to low-income families with children in school. Additionally, Forsyth persuaded local businesses that provide free Wi-Fi to put a sticker in their window so students know they can connect to the internet there.

Upon initially implementing BYOD, Forsyth students had to sign acceptable use guidelines that had 46 points. As no students tried to break the rules or access inappropriate content, leaders at Forsyth reduced the policy to five “I will” statements.

1-to-1 is also an option

When Katrise Perera became superintendent of Isle of Wight County Schools in Virginia in 2011, she found a critical need for instructional resources for students and teachers. With the help of Rashard Wright, the director of secondary education, and Lynn Briggs, the director of instructional technology, she put iPads in the hands of all 5,500 students. For district leaders who are thinking 1-to-1 may be a better fit than BYOD, here are Isle of Wight County’s tips for successfully implementing 1-to-1:

  1. Give teachers the devices first so they have time to explore and to understand them, and so will feel confident when students receive the devices and ask questions. 
  2. Require students to pass a digital citizenship class before receiving a device. 
  3. Create a list of essential apps to be added to every device. 
  4. Communicate frequently with parents about the great projects students are creating on these devices. Parents who realize the power of these devices will push their children’s teachers to use them more. 
  5. Deploy a survey to glean student, teacher and parent expectations for the devices.

For example, students “will use digital devices, networks and software in school for educational purposes and activities” and “will keep [their] personal information, including user password, private.”

Students also gained access to some previously blocked sites, such as YouTube. They no longer have to use a sign-on name and password to sign onto wireless, as the network was replaced with a wide open VLAN that does not require authentication.

“Though we give students the option of using 3G or 4G data when they are in common areas such as the cafeteria, students tend to use our filtered Wi-Fi network anyway because the data access in our schools is not strong enough,” says Klinger.

An unexpected benefit of BYOD has been a decrease in disciplinary problems, says Marty Bray, the district’s chief technology and information officer. If students are not using their device appropriately, they will lose the privilege of BYOD.

Stolen or lost devices are dealt with the same way as stolen or lost backpacks, says Clark. The incident is investigated, but students understand they are bringing in devices at their own risk. Districts just starting out with BYOD should be prepared for rapid growth, Klinger says. There is typically a 20 percent uptick in the number of devices hitting the network right after Christmas, and usually a 50 percent increase when the school year begins. “Assume users will bring in three devices each. Budget your bandwidth needs accordingly,” he says.

Forsyth is widely considered one of the most successful BYOD programs in the country. To accommodate the large number of requests from district leaders who would like to visit their schools, Bray’s team organized four “BYOT Tours.” Administrators pay $25 per person to visit Forsyth and talk to Bray, the IT team and teachers about implementing BYOD and best practices.

Katy ISD, Texas

The ultimate goal of implementing BYOD four years ago at Katy ISD was to increase student engagement in learning, says Darlene Rankin, director of instructional innovations. The program was piloted in spring 2010 with 150 fifth graders and officially implemented in the 2010-11 school year.

“Our first step was an infrastructure evaluation to ensure we had the funds for the bandwidth to support the number of devices that would be accessing the network,” says Rankin.

Initially, the network could only support one device per student. Now, teachers and students in grades two through 12 are able to use multiple devices, such as tablets and laptops, because the IT staff built a separate external network just for BYOD. Extra access points were also added.

While the district used to provide IT support, students now manage their own devices. “Teachers used to help out students, such as by charging devices for them,” says Rankin. “But now we have decided to leverage students knowing their devices well. No district employees will diagnose, repair or work on students’ devices.”

A best practice implemented by many Katy teachers was emailing parents before the school year and letting them know exactly what students would be doing on their devices, and which specific apps should be downloaded.

Katy’s network is filtered to prevent students from accessing inappropriate sites. Additionally, during the first two weeks of the school year, students are taught digital citizenship. “Depending on the grade level, this could include lessons on safety, cyberbullying and safe searches,” says Rankin. “We teach students to understand they need to make responsible choices.”

The success of BYOD in Katy ISD can be measured in the number of students who sign onto the network daily, says Rankin. “Our usage and number of devices that are connecting have surpassed what we thought it would.”

The district’s budget accounts for bandwidth growth every year.

Fairfax County Schools, Virginia

In 2011, 1,900 student-owned devices were registered as part of Fairfax County Public Schools’ BYOD pilot. Three years later, nearly 10,000 devices access the network daily.

Teachers, administrators, and IT and instructional services staff collaborated in the beginning to decide how BYOD would work in the district. “A draft of the framework should be vetted through the district legal department to ensure your BYOD plan is consistent with other district policies and regulations,” says Maribeth Luftglass, the assistant superintendent of IT.

For example, Fairfax’s “Appropriate Use of Network and Internet Resources” policy states teachers must use their district email addresses when interacting with students, so teachers must do so when using their own devices.

A best practice has been requiring students and parents to sign a responsible use policy. “Students promise to connect only to the Fairfax schools’ Wi-Fi network, have updated virus-protection software on their devices, and not download illegal material,” says Luftglass.

The responsible use policy requires students to register their devices by providing the make and model, serial number and network/MAC address for all network adaptors where applicable.

All registered devices get a sticker, and students are allowed to register and bring in up to three devices. Registration allows district IT staff to control who accesses the network and helps them find lost or stolen devices. However, the district accepts no responsibility for the safety or security of devices.

Providing education through frequent communications to teachers and administrators regarding the benefits of BYOD is essential for a successful implementation, says Luftglass. There will always be those resistant to change, and others who are BYOD champions. It is also vitally important to identify those teachers and administrators who can lead the way and help create “model schools” or “model classrooms” for those who are reluctant or have questions.

Kylie Lacey is special projects editor.