The technology involved in “smart phones” has improved so dramatically in recent months that wants to change school district policy, and encourage, not ban, the use of cell phones and other personal communication devices in the classroom.
What's next, will teachers be handing out chewing gum and will running be allowed in the hallways?
"Technology has become much more personal," explained O'Connor after the school committee gave first reading to a new "Personal Electronic Device" policy "Everybody has a mobile device, and as a result, we need to change the way we look at them."
At present, school policy prohibits students from using cell phones during school hours. The new policy would not encourage unlimited use of cell phones during school, but would allow them to be used under controlled conditions when authorized by teachers.
"It doesn't mean you can pick up your phone and call your Mom in the middle of social studies class," O'Connor chuckled. "That's not what it's intended for. They have to be used for school-related purposes and with the authorization of the teachers in the classroom."
If the policy passes, O'Connor anticipates a transitional period, in which students will have to be informed as to which uses are acceptable, and which are not.
"There will be a policing issue that I think we're going to have to deal with initially, but I think kids rise to the occasion." O'Connor said. "A year from now we won't even be talking about this."
The upside, according to O'Connor, is that most students already own personal communication devices, such as cell phones and tablet computers, that could enhance their educational experience, if properly integrated with current classroom technology.
Information Technology service providers are currently offering a wide array of products that are changing the way information is being delivered in the classroom. The Tewksbury school district will launch a pilot program later this
The iPad program is one step in a possible move away from the use of traditional hard copy books, and more toward using electronic technology in the classroom.
O'Connor and school business manager Jeffrey Sands met with Hub Technologies of Easton, MA earlier this week and were introduced to some of the newer classroom technologies now being offered.
"There are so many changes in technology that will affect the average classroom in the future. It was mind-boggling," O'Connor said. "We saw a bewildering display of products."
The new policy calls for the authorized use of cell phones, “smart phones,” audio-visual players and recorders, and laptops, tablets and hand-held computers. Use of these devices would only be allowed in the cafeteria during lunch period, and when a teacher has provided authorization to use them in the classroom.
The goal, according to Sands, is to help as many students as possible access educational information using technology that they already own, rather than having to rely on the school department to provide it.
"What we heard (from Hub Technologies) suggests something against the traditional thinking such as everybody should have an iPad 2 or everybody should have an HP laptop," Sands said. "I found it so intriguing that a kid could come in with apps on a Droid and run presentations from his or her phone."
O'Connor reiterated his pledge to keep the Tewksbury Public School system up-to-date with the latest technologies.
"How we deliver instruction is changing so quickly," O'Connor said. "The prevailing thinking in school systems today is a one-on-one environment with bring-your-own technology into the school. If you have your own laptop, you have your own tablet, or if you have your own smart phone, bring it in. You can use that in the educational setting. We're seeing school districts across the country heading in that direction."