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Tech policies reflect changing times

Schools figure out how to encourage technology, while not letting its use distract students
By: Sena Christian, The Press Tribune
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EDITOR'S NOTE: This article is the last in a three-part series focused on changing technology in the classroom. The first two articles can be found at www.rosevillept.com.

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During lunch and in-between classes at Woodcreek High School in Roseville, students pull out their cell phones to call or text their friends.

“It’s all the time,” says junior Megan Adams. “That’s pretty much all you see.”

This scene can be found on any local high school campus, as Roseville Joint Union High School District allows students to use cell phones during school hours, but not in class — with exceptions.

“It’s prohibited in class, except with teachers’ consent, but most teachers don’t allow it,” says junior Matt George.

Students in his journalism class are allowed to use their cell phones to conduct interviews. Senior Nick Nguyen says students use cell phones to sell advertising to local businesses and other students say they use them to fact check stories.

Over at Granite Bay High School, students in an information technology class are also allowed to use this personal technology as they work on projects for real-life clients.

In some math classes, students use their phones as calculators.

Generally, teachers forbid their students from using cell phones in class. In fact, George says, students are supposed to keep their phone on silent in their backpack, or else the device might be taken away. But some teenagers find a way to bend the rules.

“Kids text during class,” he says. “Kids will text any time they can.”

Some students put their phone on vibrate in their pocket, so they know when they get a message. Then, they’ll text back under the desk.

“It’s happened to me twice this year,” George says. “The teacher takes your phone away and you have to pick it up from the office. The second time, your parent has to pick it up from the office. I think the third time you get suspended. I wouldn’t know. I try to avoid that.”

This varied tolerance of cell phones on campus illustrates a continuing challenge for educators: How to encourage the appropriate use of technology, while not allowing its use to distract students from learning.

Acceptable use of technology

The four school districts in Roseville and Granite Bay all recognize the importance of technology for the modern learner.

The Eureka Union School District launched the Challenge 21 Program, to cultivate “21st century learners” by developing lifelong skills in critical thinking, collaboration and communication. Part of that framework focuses on information, media and technology skills.

Roseville City School District, with 17 schools, has a technology plan to guide their schools’ use of educational technology to improve student achievement.

“Profoundly and irrevocably, the technologies of information and communication have changed the lives of children in California schools,” according to the district’s website. “The revolution on computing and telecommunications has changed their future, their job options and their communities.”

The site describes the district’s commitment to students learning how to use emergent technologies and how to make informed judgments about ethical and social issues involving the use of these technologies.

Dry Creek Joint Elementary School District recently began a digital classroom project, upgrading technology with the introduction of Interwrite Mobi pads, high-definition flat screen televisions, document cameras and improved computer labs at most of its 10 campuses.

For this project, the district had to consider how kids use technology.

“We have acceptable use policies at the schools but we revise them on a constant basis,” says Dry Creek Superintendent Mark Geyer. “With all technology comes great opportunity but also dangers. But the district guarantees the safety of its students.”

At the beginning of a school year, each student and her parent or guardian must sign an acceptable use agreement, which lists restrictions in accordance with the Children’s Internet Protection Act. District employees must sign a similar agreement.

Under these agreements, students can’t — among other rules — post or display harmful or inappropriate matter that is threatening, obscene, disruptive or sexually explicit or that could be considered harassment or disparagement.

They aren’t allowed to use the Internet to encourage the use of drugs, alcohol or tobacco. They should not participate in cyber bullying or use school technology for private business, commercial enterprises or political activities.

Students seem to recognize value in these restrictions and others.

“It we didn’t have them, we wouldn’t pay attention,” Adams says. “Teachers are really good at enforcing (the rules) although sometimes they’ll let students listen to music once they’ve finished a test.”

George — who thinks students should get to listen to iPods after an exam instead of sitting bored, as they wait for others to finish — says his school uses content filtering to block websites on campus computers that might distract students, such as social networking, games or shopping sites.

“YouTube is the most open (site) because teachers use it as a tool,” George says. “Kids use it to goof off.”

The Facebook dilemma

In some cases, policies don’t exist to govern certain behavior. For instance, many schools don’t prohibit teachers from becoming Facebook friends with students. This decision is often left to the discretion of each teacher.

George says he is friends with a couple teachers but he rarely interacts with them online. He says it’s helpful to have access to them in case he has questions about an assignment.

He knew one teacher who got in trouble because a student posted an “inappropriate” comment on the adult’s page.

Roseville resident Joanna Jullien, who publishes “Banana Moments,” an online quarterly newsletter to help parents and educators navigate the cyber world, says teachers must establish boundaries with their students.

Jullien, who regularly writes for Gold Country Media, which publishes the Press Tribune, suggests teachers have two Facebook pages — one for students, and one for family and friends.

“If you’re friends with a student, stay in the lurk-only mode,” she says.

Teachers should limit what they post but stay informed of their students’ posts, which can be beneficial if a student is being cyber bullied or has problems at home.

As with any form of technology, the responsibility doesn’t rest solely on teachers, she says.

“It’s increasingly important for parents to instill in their kids wise and purposeful use of the cyber tools they are given,” Jullien says. “It’s a privilege, not a right … No texting in the middle of dinner, or if I’m having a conversation with you, put the phone down. There is a time and place.”

Then when kids go to school, they already know how to act.

Sena Christian can be reached at senac@goldcountrymedia.com.