IT Trends | Feature

Welcoming Mobile Technology

A high school in Ohio welcomes students to bring their devices on campus to take advantage of the institution's new WiFi service, both in and out of the classroom.

During a nine-week period last school year, teachers and administrators at Port Clinton High School reported more than 600 discipline issues related to technology and the use of cell phones on campus. "That's a huge number, considering that our total enrollment is only 590," said Ralph Moore, principal at the Port Clinton, OH, school. "And that number doesn't even include the students that we didn't catch."

Moore, who in previous administrative positions may have taken measures to ban the devices that were causing many of the issues, took a different stance this time. Working with the school's tech-savvy assistant principal, he sat down and tried to come up with a solution that would allow technology on campus while also reducing the high number of violations that students were racking up.

Teachers got involved with the problem-solving exercise, said Moore, who turned to the instructors for their input on how to integrate technology without disrupting classroom and learning time. Administrators also gathered input from the student body, which was given the heads up about a new wireless system on campus and the rules and policies that its users would be required to follow.

"We decided to try an open-access agreement, with some limitations," said Moore. "We told students that we were going to roll it out for the last few weeks of the [2009-2010] school year, and that if it went well we'd write up a new policy and implement it." The policies were written up over the summer of 2010, revised several times and reviewed by administrators, parents, staff and students before being put in place for the 2010-2011 school year.

Moore said the new wireless system came about after a $43 million building bond was issued in November 2009 to upgrade the school's facilities, which were built in 1964. "We're fortunate enough to live in a community where--despite what's going on with the economy--everyone is very supportive of education," said Moore. In need of an improved Internet access solution--either wired or wireless--he said, the district's technology coordinator and superintendent looked at the options and decided to go with the latter.

"They felt that wireless would give us the most flexibility between our existing and new buildings," Moore explained. The network, security firewalls, and Web browsing filters were already in place, he said, "so it was just a question of basically providing our students and staff members with additional Web access and allowing them to log onto the existing network."

That's exactly what students are doing these days at Port Clinton High School, with a few restrictions. For starters, every device must be "approved" for use on the network prior to logging on and marked with a sticker that administrators place on the back of each approved smart phone, iPad, iPod touch, or laptop. Individual teachers develop their own classroom rules regarding the use of technology, with some requiring all phones to be on silent or vibrate while in class and others prohibiting the use of such devices when class is in session.

The WiFi and device registration process takes just a few minutes and is handled by the school's technology director. At that meeting, students sign a registration form pledging that they will use the WiFi in a positive manner and not in a way that is prohibited by the district. Students are assigned a user name and password for the Internet access, and their devices are adorned with a sticker showing that they completed the registration process.

Moore said the signed agreements are then sent home for parental signatures and then kept on file in case a problem or question arises in the future. "The agreement basically says that the student has read and understands the rules and that he or she will abide by them," said Moore. "Once the form is submitted and the passwords are handed out, the student is good to go."

So in an era when schools nationwide are torn between banning personal devices on campus, Port Clinton High School is already seeing positive results from its contrarian approach. Since the start of the current school year, for example, there have been fewer than 20 technology-related violations reported. The open-access approach has also created a sense of responsibility among students, who have come to appreciate the opportunity.

"I'd say 99 percent of the students who registered their devices are doing what we asked them to do," said Moore, whose IT team is now struggling with issues like how to filter popular sites like Facebook and YouTube. "These can serve as good educational resources," said Moore, "but there's also stuff on those sites that you don't want students to be able to access."

Even with that challenge on his staff's agenda, Moore said he doesn't regret the decision to embrace technology and open up the campus WiFi to students. "Every school district I've ever worked with has had extensive rules in place prohibiting the use of cell phones, iPods and other technology on campus," said Moore. "Instead of taking that stance, my staff and board collectively decided to find ways to enable technology in such a manner that would provide opportunities for our students."

About the Author

Bridget McCrea is a business and technology writer in Clearwater, FL. She can be reached at [email protected].