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Boulder Valley Schools’ opening bells rang last week as teachers renewed their classroom quest for the eyes and ears of their students. One obstacle to teachers achieving their goal is portable electronic devices students bring to class.

The BVSD’s first line of defense is a clear school board policy addressing the matter. It’s found in the district’s “2008-2009 Student Rights and Responsibilities Guide.” Schools give the booklets to all students before collecting acknowledgment forms signed by the students and their parents.

A statement in the handbook declares teachers and principals are in control of whether cell phones, iPods, PDAs, MP3 players, wireless e-mail devices, laptops and other portable electronics are used in classrooms.

The BVSD’s decision may not feel good to students who cannot live without constant contact with their friends and listening to their music. It’s sure to cause suffering for students who have discovered the conveniences of such devices.

Nevertheless, I cannot imagine any other workable policy. Teachers need to be able to prevent students from disrupting their classrooms or their own learning by texting messages, surfing the Web or pursuing a wide variety of personal interests electronically.

Despite the troubles technology can bring to the classroom, however, technology can add to the learning environment.

The school district spelled out in policy JS, “Student Use of District Technology,” that technology should be used as a learning resource to educate and to inform. It engages students in learning activities and requires critical thinking. Students hone computer skills, develop problem-solving skills and develop research skills demanded by future employers.

But, that isn’t to say that technology doesn’t bring even more obstacles to teachers. As teachers attempt to reach their students, many students are using school computer lab class time for outside interests. The number of students involved is significant enough, both BVSD and St. Vrain Valley Schools are installing an increasing number of copies of the nationally popular software, “SynchronEyes,” in its computer labs.

The software program lets teachers work directly with individual students or groups from their desktops. It can quickly assess whether students are paying attention and staying on task. And, more importantly, it can control access to the Web or to specific computer applications.

Savannah Edson, an incoming freshman at Skyline High School in Longmont, saw some good with the program, but some potential problems as well.

“If they watch every move we make on our computer, well, I personally think that is a severe violation of privacy,” she said.

I hardly see it that way. No student in public school classrooms should have any expectation the teacher won’t read a note passed in class or look over the students’ shoulders at their work. If the information students are sharing is that sensitive, that personal, that private, then students shouldn’t be sharing it in class in the first place.

Maybe Edson and I could agree on one point about privacy for public school students. The point is that teachers should not be snooping into their students’ lives as part of assignments. Students and their families deserve that much respect.

There is no comparison between snooping and discovering a note passed from one student to the other.

The bottom line about policies or programs is to enable teachers to control the technologies in their own classrooms. Teachers should be given options for their classrooms. If teachers see the software as being “Big Brother” or useless, they should be able to do whatever works best for them.

At the same time, teachers need to be prepared to teach students with diverse learning styles so students don’t feel compelled by boredom to change their classroom experience with some technological devices from home.


Source: Published Aug. 24, 2008, under “Technology in schools” Daily Camera


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