All three Signal Mountain public schools are the first in the district to begin implementing the Bring Your Own Device program. By allowing students to bring their own technology devices, Hamilton County Department of Education hopes to reach its desired 1:1 ratio of students to iPads.
"We thought we would let them pilot it and see what kind of problems we ran into," said Hamilton County Schools Assistant Superintendent Lee McDade, explaining that MEF Executive Director Mike Taylor approached HCDE about starting a BYOD pilot program on Signal. "As soon as we get the bugs worked out we'll roll it out system-wide."
McDade said he hopes for the program to start in all Hamilton County schools by the second semester of next year.
Signal Mountain Middle/High School principal Robin Copp said MEF was critical in bringing the program to Signal. For the next three to five years, MEF will contribute $100,000 toward training, implementation of the Signal Mountain program and classroom support, as well as $200,000 to lease devices for teachers.
"They are funding the training and helping with making sure all the teachers on Signal Mountain have iPads," she said. "We're very appreciative of their support."
Many SMMHS students were already bringing their devices to school and using them in the classroom before the program started this semester, said Copp. For example, students have used their cellphones as clickers to answer quizzes in class, as well as to send questions to the teacher that then pop up on the classroom's Promethean board.
Now, SMMHS students in all grades can officially bring their devices to school. District 2 School Board representative Jonathan Welch, who represents Signal Mountain, noted that it is up to each school's principal when students are allowed to use their devices.
For students who lack their own device, the school library offers tablet computers that students can check out and take home just like books.
"[The BYOD pilot program] just enhances what we're already doing in the classroom," Copp said. "So many systems are trying different things, and through our research, BYOD seemed to be the most successful program."
Most students have textbooks downloaded on their devices, which they also use primarily for note-taking and organization, she said. While Copp said the changes will not happen overnight, SMMHS teachers will begin incorporating more technology into their lesson plans this semester.
HCDE is in the process of adding secondary guest networks at each Signal school to help support more devices and increase security.
"We believe we have enough wireless coverage," Welch said, adding that part of being a pilot program is that there is going to be some learning involved, such as how much bandwidth is necessary to support the increase in usage. "We want people to understand to be patient with us because we want to get it right. We want to be at the forefront of education."
Once the new networks are installed, Nolan Elementary principal Shane Harwood said the school's fourth- and fifth-graders will be allowed to bring their devices, probably sometime in February. No cellphones or iPods will be allowed at the elementary level, noted Thrasher Elementary principal Regina Brock, whose school's fourth- and fifth-graders are also participating.
"We'll send information home, including a contract and agreement outlining the responsibilities of the students and families," Harwood said.
The information will also include allowed devices. The iPad 2 or later is preferred, according to Brock, as that is what the teachers will be using.