At one school district, the motto is BYOT - Bring Your Own Technology

At one school district, the motto is BYOT - Bring Your Own Technology

Two years ago, Forsyth County School District outside Atlanta launched a technology program, encouraging students to BYOT – bring your own technology. NBC's Rehema Ellis reports.

iPhones, Nintendos and Kindles — devices synonymous with "fun" — are taking a new role in the classroom, thanks to a new trend in education called Bring Your Own Technology – or BYOT.

BYOT programs — like the one at Georgia’s Coal Mountain Elementary School — encourage students to bring in their own personal mobile technology — including iPads, Kindle Fires, netbooks — even gaming devices — to use during class.

“It’s really a simple thing,” says Tim Clark, District Technology Specialist for Forsyth County School District. “Kids have technology in their pockets and [are] taking them to school, but trying to hide them from teachers and from their parents. What we’re trying to do is have the kids take them out of their pockets and use [them] for instruction.”

Technology can be incorporated into lessons in various ways — serving as a research tool, providing access to educational games and allowing students to create multimedia presentations. Clark says students who don’t have their own devices, or opt not to bring them, can use district-owned laptops and electronic resources.

He says the program encourages participation and interaction because “it’s not a solitary type of activity where every child is buried in their device … it increases collaboration. It increases communication with the teacher. The teacher sees immediate feedback from the student’s work and the students are able to overcome other difficulties.”

Tracey Abercrombie, a fifth grade teacher at Coal Mountain, has been impressed with the program in general and praises the difference it has made with her special education students. “I’ve got one [student] who has trouble getting [information],” Abercrombie says. “He can get the ideas formed but there’s a bit of difficulty getting them out verbally. There’s something about typing it, having it come up on that screen. All of a sudden the barrier is gone.”

Clark says incorporating students’ personal devices in the classroom not only enhances learning, but teaches responsibility. “All of this is putting the responsibility on the shoulders of the students and [we’re] also trying to teach them and guide them to use their devices more effectively…not only taking care of their device and being careful not to drop it, but also wanting to make sure they know where it is at all times so it’s not stolen. [Using] it appropriately so they don’t post inappropriate pictures, so they don’t text inappropriate message to each other.”

Those involved with the program say students aren’t the only ones with something to gain from BYOT. For example, Clark says teachers “can learn alongside their students instead of having to determine all of the ways that their students should learn … they get to ask questions and discover all these new uses of the devices themselves."

Abercrombie agrees and has seen her teaching style change since the program began.

“I thought my role was give them all the knowledge that I’ve got about something and use that textbook and my knowledge together," Abercrombie said. "Now I realize that’s not my job at all. My job is to facilitate them. My job is to point them in the right direction, give them the tools they need and — wow — they can do so much more.”

Before launching BYOT in Forsyth County Schools, teachers and administrators explained the program’s structure and ground rules to parents and students. At first, Kara Laurie, who has two children at Coal Mountain Elementary, was apprehensive about allowing her kids to bring their devices to school. She says her initial reaction was that it “was a horrible idea … I had the normal parent concerns, you know, are things going to get broken? Are they going to get lost or stolen? And what about those kids that don’t have technology that they could take to school?”

But as the program got underway, she saw “how much the kids were able to do with it in the classroom. I found that it was a phenomenal idea.”

“We had to sit down as a class, as a team, and really define our rules because [the students are] used to using it any way at home,” Abercrombie says. “They’re used to … putting everything on Facebook, so we had to have a little talk about … different ways to use these devices in school.”

Amy Anderson, another parent of two, was comforted by the district’s approach to the program. Her fourth grader uses a netbook in class, while her first grader has a Nintendo 3DS. “The administration "set some very clear ground rules at the beginning and we had to sign an agreement as parents and they had to sign an agreement as students that they would only stay on,” Anderson recalls. The students "have to be on the school network which has all of the filters. If they don’t abide by those, if they use them when they are not supposed to, if they use them incorrectly, then they lose that privilege of being able to bring it in.”

In 2010, seven schools in Forsyth County School District began BYOT programs. This year, all 35 of the district’s schools are participating. While it is a relatively new idea, BYOT already exists in schools across the country, in states like Texas, Minnesota and Ohio.

Clark says the district has received positive feedback, along with interest in the program.

“I’m receiving messages from other districts that would like to come and see the implementation of bring your own technology in their schools … we recently held a tour of BYOT in our district … we had over 100 visitors on that tour. They were not only other districts, but also vendors wanting to understand how it’s impacting [the students].”

As far as student reaction, Clark says “the students love it…[they] have their devices, they’re learning how to use them in a more responsible way, and they’re being critical thinkers and very creative with their devices in ways that they never would have used them on their own.”

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