New program welcomes students' electronic devices in Seneca Valley

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Seneca Valley Middle School pupils are bringing their own smartphones, iPods and iPads to school and teachers are excited about it.

The district initiated a pilot program called Bring Your Own Technology, or BYOT, in the middle school this semester in an effort to integrate student-owned technology into the curriculum.

Assistant Superintendent Matthew McKinley said they hope to expand it to grades 7-12 by the second semester of this school year.

Next year, the district intends to have a similar pilot program in the elementary grades and expand it to all grades in January 2014, he said.

"We've gone from banning all electronic devices to accepting them under teacher direction," Mr. McKinley said.

Thirteen teachers signed up for the pilot program and their classrooms encompass 967 pupils.

Of those pupils, 589 have registered devices to be used in the program, said Sean VanScoyoc, director of technology.

According to Mr. VanScoyoc, the district has a filtered Internet server that the pupils utilize when they are using their personal devices for this program.

Each pupil with a registered device gets an email account. The email and usage are monitored by the district, he said.

Anyone using their devices for outside purposes is pulled from the program, he added.

Social studies teacher Tom Donati says he is repeatedly finding what he calls the "wow factor" while using this program.

He said during a recent lesson where he had a PowerPoint presentation, the pupils were able to immediately download his presentation and convert the information into flash cards for studying within minutes.

Megan Lizewski, a seventh-grade English teacher, said she likes the immediate feedback the students are giving her through their personal devices.

"I'm not only teaching them, they are teaching me. I look at this as an opportunity to demonstrate to students that these powerful tools can be used for more than social media and taking photos," she said.

Pupils who do not have an electronic device are paired with those who do, administrator said.

School board members will have to amend three school policies that will outline what the district expects as "responsible use" of personal technology and the Internet.

The first reading of those revisions is expected at Monday's school board meeting.

Board members say they are excited about this new program.

"Colleges expect students to come in using technology and bringing in their own technology," said James Welsh, board member.

Board member Jeanette Lahm said the nonprofit Seneca Valley Foundation is considering buying some devices that can be used in shared capacity.

Mr. McKinley said some of the pitfalls of the program could be lost or stolen devices, or pupils using them for texting.

"Teachers are going to have to be diligent. Teenagers often make poor decisions and we have to educate them and help them grow responsibly," he said. "

By far, I think the pluses outweigh the minuses."

education - neigh_north

Laure Cioffi, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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