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Devices head to school with Carroll students

When classes resume for Carroll County Public Schools students Aug. 25, many will have a few extra items packed in their book bags.

The Carroll County Board of Education is following many school systems around the country in allowing students to bring their own devices — including portable electronics, tablets, netbooks, mobile phones, MP3 players and e-readers — into the classroom to enhance educational instruction.

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"It's like we are decriminalizing digital behavior," said Cindy McCabe, the school system's director of elementary schools. "All we are trying to do is give kids more options for their own learning."

According to the 2014 National Survey on Mobile Technology for K-12 Education, 29 percent of school districts have policies encouraging students to "bring-your-own-device." And 23 percent of mobile tech purchases in school districts come from students' families in the BYOD model.

Middle and high schools across the district will be implementing the BYOD program this fall. But only six elementary schools were chosen to pilot the program to start the year: Carrolltowne, Cranberry Station, Ebb Valley, Eldersburg, Friendship Valley and William Winchester.

The elementary schools were chosen to participate based on the comfort level of the principal to implement the program, according to McCabe.

"The principals will be responsible for meeting with us monthly to tell us how the program is going, implementation and any issue resolution during the pilot," she said.

If all goes well, the remaining elementary schools will implement the BYOD program in the third quarter, which begins in January, McCabe said.

In Carroll schools, some portions of the curriculum require instructional technology to complete lessons, said Tom Hill, director of middle and high schools. In those instances, students will be supplied with a school-owned mobile device.

Students to secure own devices

For a student to bring a device to school, parents must review and sign the Portable Electronic Devices Guidelines.

According to the guidelines, CCPS is not responsible for the loss, damage, theft or charging of devices or accessories brought to school or on the school bus. Students bring the devices to school at their own risk.

"We treat [the devices] as we would anything else a child would elect to bring to school, like a game, watch or calculator," McCabe said. "We will not be providing secure locations for devices."

Students can keep their devices on their person, in their lockers or in their homeroom desk, for elementary students, she said.

Aside from kindergartners, all elementary school students have lockers, McCabe said, but they do not have locks. A student's homeroom desk is also used by other students as classes switch, she said.

However, Carroll schools have had few issues with theft at the elementary school level, McCabe said, and she does not believe there will be an increase with the BYOD program.

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At the secondary level, CCPS students previously kept their mobile devices like cellphones, which were permitted in school buildings but had to be turned off during the school day, in their lockers or on their person, according to Hill. He said he believes that behavior will continue as devices become a part of the classroom setting.

Network support

School officials say the system's network will be able to handle the influx of devices using data.

CCPS Internet is provided through the countywide fiber optic network, said Gary Davis, chief information officer of technology services.

Last year, CCPS ramped up Internet coverage in its schools to ensure all areas of each building had access to the wireless Internet and had full coverage strength, Davis said.

The school uses a 500 megabit per second connection, Davis said, and it will be upgraded to a full gigabit per second soon.

"We're golden, we have a fast, good connection to the Internet with plans to increase it," Davis said.

The wireless system accessed by students and guests is separate from the internal school system network to ensure privacy, he said.

While most Carroll teachers are proficient with technology, teachers will not use instructional classroom time to help students troubleshoot their devices, McCabe said. Parents are encouraged to ensure students can fully work their devices before bringing them into the classroom.

"We don't need a lot of classroom time taken away for a teacher helping a student troubleshoot," she said.

Monitoring behavior

In the Portable Electronic Devices Guidelines, the school system lists locations where students can use electronic devices based on grade level.

All students can use devices on the school bus, in classrooms, media center, on field trips and in the cafeteria, unless otherwise directed by school staff, based on the guidelines.

"If a piece of technology becomes a problem or distraction, a teacher can ask the students to put it away," McCabe said.

Middle and high school students are given more autonomy in the restrooms and in the locker room, but are not allowed to use video or audio recordings.

When students log on to the school system's Wi-Fi network from their device, they will be subjected to the same website restrictions that are in place on devices owned by the school district, Davis said.

The school system uses a filtration system called M86, purchased by Trustwave, to monitor inappropriate websites and restrict students from visiting those pages, Davis said.

The filtration restrictions vary based on different levels: elementary school students, middle school students, high school students, teachers and staff, McCabe said.

According to Davis, the primary goal of the filtration system is to filter obscene images, but other categories include gambling and violence.

"The filtering is not foolproof," Davis said. "It's like a subscription service, and it's constantly monitoring the kinds of things we would want to restrict, but there are misses or false positives."

The school system adheres to federal laws based on the Children's Internet Protection Act of 2000, as well as state laws and rules passed by the school board, Davis said.

Over the years, students have begun using proxy websites, which allow users to bypass the filter and gain access to restricted material. According to Davis, CCPS also monitors new proxy sites and looks for inappropriate keywords to shut down access to these sites.

The school district, however, does not monitor or filter websites on devices that are connected to a personal data plan, like Internet access provided through a cellphone provider or Internet hot spot, Davis said.

"That's not going to be filtered: It's not connected to our network," Davis said. "You police it, but it's going to be a challenge. The best safeguard of doing things like that is the supervision."

According to Davis, students accessing inappropriate material in schools is not new. He said it is no different than when students sneaked adult magazines into the building.

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Supervision from teachers will be required to ensure students are not accessing inappropriate material, Davis said.

"It's the behavior that is the problem, not the technology," he said.

If a student is found to violate the restricted materials rules, the offense will be handled as a discipline issue, Davis said.

Reach staff writer Krishana Davis at 410-857-7862 or krishana.davis@carrollcountytimes.com.

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