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Smartphones, tablets make their way into New Richmond schools

New Richmond School District's original plan to supply students with iPads has been scrapped. Instead, the district will implement a "Bring Your Own Device" (BYOD) program, which means students will be able to bring personal devices - such as iPads, tablets, smartphones, etc. - into the schools.

Mike Ballard, principal at Paperjack Elementary and the district's technology director, said the district had originally planned to provide iPads to all its students, but after looking into the matter further, it's probably not the best option.

"We've found it's rather limited when it comes to word processing, printing and document sharing," he said.

New Richmond previously bought 110 iPads for use in the schools. Of those, about 35 are being used in the special education department and the others were distributed to various staff members.

"The iPads have proven to be a great tool for individual interventions," Ballard said.

The district had planned to introduce the iPads over time, but with ever changing technology, by the time the district got everyone on the same page, the technology would be outdated.

"You hardly hear anything about the original iPad anymore," he told the New Richmond Board of Education on Jan. 16. "Now it's the iPad2 and everyone is looking to the iPad3."

With the BYOD program, students will be able to use their own devices and upgrade whenever they please.

"There will be challenges," he said.

The district will need to implement a policy that requires students to register their devices with the district and requires that anyone on school property must use the school's guest Internet access, which includes the school's surfing filters.

Some board members expressed concern that teachers won't feel comfortable with the new teaching tools and that students might break the rules and use their 3G connection to access unauthorized sites; however, Morrie Veilleux, district administrator, said everyone will adjust over time.

"We heard the same thing with cell phones," he said. "Building principals were worried about how they would keep cell phones out of school. Before that it was cigarettes."

Ballard said the new devices will allow teachers to eliminate or reduce printing by having students work on the devices and save the documents to a shared folder that the teacher will also have access to.

"We're still working on the document sharing aspect," he said. "We were looking into Google Docs, but found you need to be 13 to create an account and that won't work for our middle schoolers."

Other issues, such as troubleshooting different devices, are also being discussed, he said.

For example, in any given classroom, students could be using a dozen different devices.

Accessibility is not one of the concerns, he said.

Michele Wood, assistant middle school principal, told the school board that kids at the middle school were surveyed and it was found that the majority of students have access to some sort of device. The district will provide devices to those who don't, Ballard said.

Ballard said that with the infrastructure in place and the capability there, it's important that the district embrace the new technology.

"When is the right time to jump in? Now. We have the infrastructure in place," he said.

The district plans to send letters home with students on Jan. 24 and implement the BYOD program beginning Feb. 1.

"It's just a different world we're in," Ballard said. "This is where everyone is going, it's just that some are getting there quicker than others."