The importance of technology in the classroom has grown substantially in the last five years, which is why Bigfork superintendent Cynthia Clary believes it is time to revise the district’s policy regarding the use of personal electronic devices on school grounds.
The district’s current policy — which was adopted in 2004 and revised in 2006 — heavily restricts the use of personal computers and electronic communication devices.
According to the policy, communication devices such as cellphones must be “kept out of sight and turned off for the duration of the instructional day.”
The policy also states that student possession of personal computers and memory storage devices — such as compact discs and flash drives — is prohibited unless the student obtains written permission from the district’s network administrator. Students must also have the network administrator’s approval to connect to the district computer network.
“With the current policy, we’re very limited with how we can use these things in an educational capacity,” Clary said. “The proposed policy is very, very different (from the current policy). It’s very comprehensive. The idea is to make sure our kids can use the technology they own for instructional purposes.”
The first draft of the proposed policy — which was presented during the school board’s Oct. 26 meeting — is about four times longer than the current policy and includes detailed descriptions of what is and is not permissible with regards to the operation of electronic devices during the school day.
The policy permits the silent use of such devices — including laptops, cellphones and tablet computers — in instructional areas if approved by a teacher or administrator.
For example, a student could use a personal smartphone to connect to the Internet and look up a mathematical theory during math class.
“We want to be able to have staff allow kids to use this kind of equipment in the classroom since most of them (the students) already have it,” Clary said.
The policy stipulates that all electronic devices must be turned off upon entering any instructional area and remain off until the student leaves the instructional area, unless a teacher determines otherwise.
However, in contrast to the current policy, the new guidelines would allow students to use their personal devices in the cafeteria at lunchtime and in the hallways between classes.
According to the proposed guidelines, students who choose to use their devices inappropriately will be subject to disciplinary action. Inappropriate uses include cheating during examinations, accessing social media websites or sites with inappropriate content, harassing or bullying staff members or other students, distributing sexually explicit content and disrupting the learning environment.
Although some teachers in attendance at the board meeting supported the appropriate use of technological devices in an instructional capacity, they emphasized the need for teacher discretion and control.
Middle school science teacher Karen Pogachar, for example, said she has already experienced the negative effects of cellphones in the classroom, despite the fact that the devices are technically prohibited during class time.
“I noticed that during one of my classes, the kids were texting a lot to each other, and it was frustrating because they weren’t engaged with what we were doing,” Pogachar said. “So now I make everybody put their phones on the table when they come into class.”
The proposed policy will be revisited at the board’s next meeting, after all board members have had a chance to read over the draft.
According to Clary, the draft will most likely go through three separate readings before any action is taken.
The next board meeting is scheduled for 5 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 22 in the Bigfork Elementary School cafeteria.