Student devices making life difficult for teachers

Mary Fogarty
Kerri Carr

IN NSW and Los Angeles students' technology is causing grief.

While NSW schools grapple with the trials and tribulations of the Student Bring Your Own Device policy, another jurisdiction is facing problems with a program that distributed preloaded tablets to students.

In 2013, Apple and educational publisher Pearson partnered to win a $30 million contract to provide iPads preloaded with a new digital curriculum to 30,000 students in the Los Angeles School District. Eventually they were to provide tablets and curriculum to 650,000 students.

The first signs of trouble appeared within a week of the tablets being distributed to students. Hundreds of high school students disabled the district’s device management system and defeated its content filtering software to gain greater access to the internet via their district-provided tablets. It became obvious district leaders had rushed the deployment of the devices without adequate planning or realistic timelines.

The central idea was to give all students a single device preloaded with a standard digital curriculum. Educational leaders defended the project’s aggressive rollout plan, citing the need to get students ready for the new digital Common Core assessments and the ethical imperative to provide disadvantaged students equity of access to the same learning technologies their more affluent peers routinely use.

The project has been halted. The committee charged with monitoring the project has recommended that a mix of laptops is to be trialled in high schools, with time for evaluation scheduled before subsequent purchasing decisions are made. Not everyone agrees with this decision, however, arguing that having a standard piece of equipment is essential to providing equitable access and implementation, as well as delivering consistent professional development and technical support.

The Student Bring Your Own Device policy is the Department of Education and Communities’ answer to the end of the Commonwealth Government’s Digital Education Revolution program.

The Australian government’s Digital Education Revolution program provided laptops for students in years 9-12 for up to five years to 2013. Some respondents to a 2013 survey about the laptop rollout complained of students failing to bring their laptops to school and when they did, playing games, watching videos and sending messages to one another in class. Teachers also lost the Department of Education and Communities-funded support of technology support officers at the end of 2013.

Last year Federation Vice President Tim Mulroy reported the union opposes the Student Bring Your Own Device policy for several reasons including: the impact on classroom management when dealing with the compatibility of students’ device to school networks; control of pornography and other inappropriate downloads; security; virus protection; maintenance and theft impacts on effective teaching and learning; and that trying to resolve students’ technical problems impedes the ability of the teacher to deliver quality teaching programs.

Teachers have reported that in some cases it is not worthwhile planning a lesson using students’ devices because of the unpredictability of the availability of school-approved devices for classroom work.

Mary Fogarty is a Research Officer.