Student Access to Internet, Devices Under Debate

Should students have more access to technology at school? Tell us in the comments.

One school board member is proposing increased access to the Internet and mobile devices for students in Howard County schools.

During a discussion about technology at a recent Board of Education meeting, school board member Brian Meshkin proposed changing what is known as the school system's "Acceptable Use Policy" to one focused on "Responsible Use."

According to the "Acceptable Use Policy," only high school students may use Internet independently in the Howard County Public School System. They must also have signed permission slips to do so.

Students in grades kindergarten through eight may not use the Internet independently, according to the policy.

Should students have more Internet access during the school day? Tell us in comments.

Meshkin said he thought it was important to encourage digital learning, and he found the current policy prohibitive.

“Middle school students aren’t allowed to perform a search," said Meshkin. "That seems silly to me."

The Acceptable Use policy will go through a revision process this year, as it does on a three-year cycle.

The Sept. 6 Board of Education meeting marked the kickoff before Michael Borkoski, technology officer for the school system, forms a committee to review the policy. The 20-member committee is expected to have revisions by the end of the calendar year, Borkoski said.

One of the objectives is to review whether middle school students should be able to search the Internet independently,  presented to the Board of Education.

The school board's student member Cole Rosenberg said he had "some pretty serious feelings" about the lack of Internet exposure for Howard County school students.

Rosenberg said as part of his schooling, he had been given instruction on how to safely search the Internet; he moved to Maryland from Virginia two years ago.

"As I watch my siblings in middle school who don’t receive that kind of educational background, and they come to high school and have no experience in that, it's difficult for them to find valid resources and sources to cite," said Rosenberg, a senior at Hammond High School. "It’s like going from zero to 100. If you give them some sort of [middle ground], it would be beneficial.”

Meshkin is also proposing mobile devices be permitted in school.

Using a cell phone or pager is a violation that will result in parental notification, detention or suspension, according to the school system’s Student Code of Conduct.

“I believe every student should have a device in their hand every single day," said Meshkin at a recent school board meeting.

Students in Howard County schools may possess cell phones, but not use them during the school day, said Rebecca Amani-Dove, spokeswoman for the Howard County Public School System.

"There are many considerations including test security [and] bypassing the [school system's] blocked sites," said Amani-Dove. "A device...brought in that is not tied to our network...can really access anything."

Some say that teachers are worried about distractions cell phones may pose in classrooms.

"We’re in the process right now of researching how other school districts are dealing with the issue of bring-your-own-device scenarios," said Amani-Dove. "We have not put anything like that into place yet but we are researching it."

Others argue that teachers don't know how to leverage mobile devices for educational purposes.

In a PBS article about cell phone use in schools, one teacher was quoted as saying: "Most teachers are still afraid of cell phones in the classroom because they know little about how to use them as a tool for learning."

Want to contribute your opinions about student learning and Howard County schools? Post in our Local Voices section.

Nationally, approximately 62 percent of teens are allowed to have phones in school but not in class, according to a 2010 study from the Pew Internet & American Life Project. That study found that 24 percent of teens attend schools that ban cell phones at all times, 12 percent can use cell phones anytime, and 2 percent of the teens either didn't attend school or didn't know.

"As technology is constantly evolving, we are evolving with it," said Amani-Dove. "But we need to make sure that whatever we put in the [Acceptable Use] policy is furthering student achievement...and student safety."

The committee reviewing the Acceptable Use Policy will present its findings to the superintendent in March and the Board of Education in April. There will be a public hearing about the policy on May 9, 2013.

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