A new device policy

Published 9:07 pm Tuesday, February 16, 2016

A program that began locally in Suffolk’s public high schools has been extended to the first of its middle schools effective at the end of this month.

John Yeates Middle School students will be able to use their personal electronic devices — laptops, tablets, smartphones and the like — in their classrooms soon.

Students will have to comply with a division-wide acceptable use policy, they will be required to use only the school’s Wi-Fi for connecting to Internet resources (meaning they’ll be protected by the school’s content filters and unable to use social networking sites), and they’ll be restricted to classroom use of the devices only.

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That’s a pretty firm list of restrictions, and some of them are likely to take much of the fun out of the Internet for students — and that’s a good thing. The devices are being allowed on campus in a bid to help students learn to use them for learning — recognizing that such devices can be powerful educational tools. Many students, however, are liable to be surprised how useful their smartphones can be when put to some other purpose besides Snapchat.

Using devices will enhance current instructional time and will ultimately better prepare students for the real world they will encounter, JYMS lead teacher for technology Christine Lafferty told us. “They need to be taught technology,” Lafferty said. “No matter what they do in life, technology is going to be a big part it. They will not be able to escape it … so they need to know how to use it.”

Conversely allowing students to use such devices should also improve their understanding of non-technological matters. For example, a history teacher could poll students for their opinions on current events, and then use that poll at the catalyst for a discussion. Or students and teachers could use the devices interactively as mobile, shareable blackboards. The possibilities are truly endless.

Some parents are likely to have reservations about the new policy and whether students will be able to subvert the restrictions. Two technology talks — at 6:30 p.m. Feb. 17 and 23 in the school auditorium — will help parents and faculty work through their concerns. If you’re a parent of a John Yeates Middle School student, it would be well worth your time to attend.

And if you’re a parent with a student in another middle school — or expecting to enter middle school soon — get ready, because the policy on use of personal electronic devices is likely to expand to all of the city’s middle schools during the next year or so.