A new mobile device pilot seeks to satisfy both student and teacher needs at an Illinois high school.
After a two-year pilot of student mobile devices, Glenbrook North High School expanded the trial to include school-issued devices in January 2013. This expansion happened at the request of teachers, who struggled with not knowing what devices students would use on a given day to learn, said Ryan Bretag, coordinator of instructional technology.
Teachers involved in the expanded pilot hope it will free them from scheduling their semester around computer lab availability. The lab schedule and lack of mobile devices restrict their classes from looking up information online when students have a great question, said Katie Jones and Joan Gallagher, who have been part of a technology advisory group at the high school for more than a decade.
"Everyone has access to information at their fingertips almost at all times," said Jones, a family consumer science teacher, "and we're not mimicking that in the classroom right now because we don't have the accessibility that we need."
The Combine Our Device pilot involves 150 students, eight teachers, student mobile devices and school-owned Chromebooks and Nexus 7 tablets. It also has a supporting cast including 16 teacher leaders, an associate principal, Bretag, librarians, instructional supervisors and a student leader.
This pilot focuses on improving learning, said Kris Frandson, associate principal for curriculum and instruction. It's not about the devices.
"A lot of times leadership or organizations look at a piece of technology and want to hop on board immediately and think that this will take care of things," Frandson said. "And what I appreciate about what we've done is that we're not letting the technology dictate teaching and learning, learning in particular."
The school will measure its success by whether students are happy and passionate about what they're learning, Bretag said.
The student voice
Students already see that group projects run more smoothly with Google Docs, said sophomore Aaron Schmidt, the student leader for the pilot. And they don't have to worry as much about losing the paper notes that they need for a final.
A critical component of the pilot is the student leadership role. Aaron worked together with Bretag and the professional development team, attended meetings, shared student perspectives and tested the devices with other students. As a result, he now sees where teachers are coming from and where they want to go when they make decisions.
"I do like having a say in what goes on in my school," Aaron said. "Ultimately it is affecting the students, and if you don't know what the students are thinking and what they want to accomplish, it's really not benefiting anyone here."
He also won faculty hearts and minds when he introduced the Combine Our Device pilot at a meeting.
"I can't imagine a pilot without a student leader," said Gallagher, a chemistry teacher. "It wouldn't make sense."
It only makes sense to include a representative from the school's largest stakeholder group: its 2,100-member student body, Bretag said. The leadership team wouldn't be complete without him. And the insight students provide can't be measured,
"This is their culture, their community," Bretag said. "If they're not invested and not involved, we're losing the direction that we're trying to go."
The mobile device pilot means students don't have to rely on paper anymore, which Aaron doesn't like much anyway. And now they're forging ahead to see where this experiment will take them.
"We're no longer learning in the olden days, I call them, even though they're not that long ago," Aaron said. "We're moving forward as a school, and I think things are going to be much quicker. It's a different way of learning, and I like this new way."