Technology in Schools: Coweta implementing plan that explains risks, benefits

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Adina Butler uses a graphing calculator to complete an AP Statistics assignment in the class of Melissa Barronton at East Coweta High School.

By REBECCA LEFTWICH
rebecca@newnan.com
As the Coweta County School System implements a multi-year technology plan – which includes a “Bring Your Own Technology” classroom component – school officials are working both to ensure student safety and eliminate glitches early in the process, proactively preventing frustration that could slow progress.
Coordinating with national Cyber Security Awareness Month in October, Technology Services Director Phil Kline and Central Office Educational Support Specialist LeeAnne Brown are leading an effort within Coweta schools to educate teachers, students, administrators and parents on the benefits, risks and responsibilities of expanded school technology.
In addition to conducting training sessions in central locations such as the school system offices on Werz Industrial Boulevard, technology advisors have traveled to schools for training and are offering individual training by request. Kline said accessibility is key in helping participants start out on the right foot.
“By doing this training up front, we are starting from a baseline where everybody knows these are the rules, and these are the things can happen,” Kline said.
Last year, the school system debuted its “Bring Your Own Technology” incentive at six schools. This year, approximately 72 classrooms – at least one in every high school, middle school and elementary school in the Coweta system – are participating.

“Starting from a BYOT pilot program has kept things more manageable,” Brown said, and Kline agreed.

“My concern as we proceed with this is that we don’t bottleneck the process to the point where teachers and students get frustrated and it gets put on shelf,” he said.

By the end of October, Kline says, each of the more than 22,000 students enrolled in Coweta schools will have viewed cyber training videos geared to their educational levels. By the end of August 2013, every Coweta County teacher will have undergone cyber training through an online site utilized at no cost to the district. Brochures explaining guidelines for schools’ bring-your-own programs will be distributed to students and parents, though not every classroom is yet participating.

“Technology is being used more and more in our lives, and it’s better to teach them to use it more effectively and better,” Klein said.

Kline and Brown have had numerous meetings to discuss cyber safety as well. The Children’s Internet Protection Act requires any school system receiving federal funds to monitor its network for key works, phrases and websites. The Bring Your Own Technology participating classrooms require students using personal phones, iPods or iPads to log into the school’s network during class time to reduce the risk of cyber bullying.

“That’s the initial area we safeguard,” Brown said.

School networks prevent student participants from logging into

public social networking sites like Facebook, but a secure social networking site called Edmodo has been introduced for use within the Coweta schools – including by students.

“It’s a social networking site like Facebook, but it’s more restrictive,” said Klein.

An optional training session was held last week for Edmodo, which will be controlled and managed by Brown within the school system.

“We emphasize that with anybody that we get involved with this,” Kline said. “It’s a program everybody has to buy into for it to work. So far, we’ve had nothing but enthusiasm.”

Connecting the school system’s technology training and education to a month-long national campaign was intentional, Brown said.

“It gives schools a chance to get familiar with it on their time frame,” she said. “Instead of a certain week, they have the whole month. With Red Ribbon Week at the end of October as well, it’s a good time to go ahead and talk about it, to get some guidelines in place and talk about bullying.”

Moving Coweta schools into a new era of technology takes planning and careful work on the part of the school system, but Kline emphasized the shared responsibility of understanding the process and practicalities of expanded classroom technology.

“Getting

the process in place is very important,” Kline said. “Teachers’ roles change, so does the role of parents and students. It’s a matter of becoming more disciplined and taking more personal responsibility.”



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