Over the past week, you’ve most likely heard a news story or read an article about Apple shipping the latest iteration of the iPhone. People were waiting in line for hours across the country clamoring to purchase Apple’s latest device. Whether it is Apple or any other electronics manufacturer, technology is changing and new smartphones, tablets and other electronic devices are being moved to market at a frantic pace.

As a school district, how do we manage the use of these devices in the classroom? Students, parents, teachers, administrators and the infrastructure as a whole will all be impacted. The district has already planted the seeds by introducing a pilot program in 2013, with more than 100 Westfield High School students using tablets in the “Bring Your Own Device” (BYOD) program.

Using interactive tools, students are enhancing their critical thinking skills to approach learning in a new way. Students are able to collaborate on projects and share notes, providing a foundation a student can build upon as they enter college and eventually the workforce. Earlier this year when visiting Westfield High School, Evo Popoff, assistant commissioner and Chief Innovation Officer of the NJ Department of Education, commented on Westfield’s use of technology as a “model for what education should look like.”

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While it may appear that a program for students, teachers and administrators to bring their own devices to school is a win-win situation, as it eliminates the need for the district to purchase devices, there are a number of issues that need to be evaluated before implementing a district-wide BYOD policy:

  • Network Overload – Over the summer, the district installed WiFi access points in all classrooms at Westfield High School and upgraded network switches. Can the district network fully support the addition of potentially thousands of new devices? What additional network design, upgrades and bandwidth will be required to provide a positive learning experience? And at what cost?
  • Device Standards - All devices are not created equal. Tablets and smartphones have different operating systems, screen sizes and capacity. How we will ensure maximum compatibility of our tools and the devices on our network? How do we prevent “device envy,” as many students will not be able to afford to upgrade each year?
  • Technical Support – With different devices come different device configurations, web browsers and software versions. The district recently rolled out the Edline portal to parents, providing them with access to school and teacher web pages. Shortly, Edline will be rolled out to students to allow them to access to web-based academic games and reference databases. Edline is currently incompatible with Internet Explorer 11. If a student uses a Microsoft Surface tablet running Internet Explorer 11, there is no easy solution. Who is responsible to provide support so that a student user can be assured access to a district resource?
  • Security – Many students have become very tech savvy. With all the new users on the network, how do we know who is doing what? What applications are being used? How is information being shared between students? We need to ensure that we have application control, usage and monitoring in place to ensure the safety of all users.

Working with the Board of Education, I would welcome the opportunity to develop an effective district-wide “Bring Your Own Device” policy. The district needs a policy that allows students and teachers to collaborate and use technology to enhance their learning experience, and also one that provides guidelines necessary to preserve the integrity of our educational model and ensures fiscal prudence for the taxpayers of Westfield.

I would be privileged to have your support to serve on the Board of Education in the interests of all the residents of Westfield.

Please vote for me on Tuesday, November 4th. If you have any questions or suggestions, please email at mike@bielen.net.

Michael Bielen
Candidate, Westfield Board of Education