Devices welcome: Schools welcome technology

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At Mt. Lebanon High School, it's BYOT -- as in, "Bring Your Own Technology."

The new initiative was launched this month by the school district to incorporate, rather than prohibit, the use of technology such as laptop computers, smartphones and iPads into the educational curriculum during the school day.

"It's a seamless world right now, and that's what I wanted to create for our kids," district superintendent Timothy Steinhauer said.

Starting this month, students can use their own personal technology devices to access a guest wireless network in the high school library, and the district is encouraging teachers to allow students to use their devices within the classroom as part of certain lessons.

Mr. Steinhauer said he envisions a class discussion of the fall of the Berlin Wall enhanced when students discuss how different sources they find on the Internet present the event.

Or, he said, if teachers and students are trying to find the name of the president of Yugoslavia in 1939, a student can look up the information on his or her smart phone, rather than the teacher leading a 25-minute trip to a computer lab.

"It's the immediacy of getting that information which is appealing," Mr. Steinhauer said.

The initiative is a departure from the approach that Mt. Lebanon and most other school districts across the country have taken, in which students are told they must turn off their technology when they arrive at school and may turn it back on when they leave.

"We didn't want to be a district that does that," technology director Christopher Stengel said.

Last year, Mr. Steinhauer, who realized his own two teenagers were using iPads and smart phones as a way to obtain information everywhere but at school, asked Mr. Stengel to explore how the district's education programs could benefit from integrating technology.

Brian McFeeley, the high school principal, sent a letter to high school parents last week announcing that students could bring their technology to school if they wanted.

Rules prohibiting use of cell phone communication still apply during the school day, and the wireless network students can access still retain the same safeguards of other Internet connections in the district.

Of course, not every student has a laptop computer, an iPhone or a tablet device, and Mr. Steinhauer and Mr. Stengel said the pilot program is not meant to be a one-to-one initiative.

Instead, if a classroom exercise could benefit from smart technology and there are six students with iPhones, then the teacher could organize six groups to do the project, with one iPhone to a group.

"We are always looking for ways to be more effective in our educational programs, and ultimately more efficient as to how we deliver instruction to our students," Mr. Steinhauer said.

The entire high school building should have access to the wireless network in a few weeks, Mr. Stengel said. School-wide wireless access means students can experience the classroom in the same way they experience the real world, through technology, Mr. Stengel said.

"There's no reason why our classrooms should be artificial environments," Mr. Stengel said.

He has been working with teachers to introduce them to the concept of incorporating technology into the classroom, and he said he's heard positive feedback.

As for students, including Mr. Steinhauer's own children, the reaction to the initiative has been: "What took us so long?"

"They are pretty comfortable with whatever electronic device, and thy were frustrated with having to turn everything off when they come to school," Mr. Steinhauer said.


Kaitlynn Riely: kriely@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1707.


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