BYOD + District-Provided Devices = A Winning Solution in Wake County

Ellen Ullman

 

When you’re the 16th-largest district in the country, with 159,000 students and 10,000 teachers, it’s next to impossible to fund, let alone deploy, a 1:1 initiative. If you’re lucky, that’s when the innovation happens, which is the case for North Carolina’s Wake County Public School System (WCPPS).

 Four years ago, the administration was trying to pass a bond to finance a technology refresh. They noticed that a lot of students, mainly high schoolers, were bringing devices to school and being told to put them away. “We’re in Research Triangle Park, and Lenovo, Cisco, Red Hat, and other big-name headquarters are in our backyard,” says Marlo Gaddis, senior director of instructional technology and library media services. “We needed people to see devices as learning tools, not just for entertainment.”

The district considered BYOD and spoke with Forsyth County (GA) Schools and Katy (TX) Independent School District, two districts that had gone down that path. “We wanted to take the best of all implementations and see what lessons we could learn. We found that professional learning was the most important piece,” says Gaddis.

Teachers who have worked with the district to implement BYOD suggest that, generally, well over half of their students volunteer to bring a device to school. The student-owned devices, coupled with others provided by the school, combine to allow greater access to digital content and to provide students more ways to collaborate, create, communicate, and think critically throughout the learning process.

The bond passed, and the district decided to purchase enough devices for a 3:1 initiative supplemented by BYOD. “Our goal was never 1:1,” says Dr. Chris Wasko, instructional technologist and BYOD program manager. “We wanted to increase access to technology for supportive, high-quality learning.”

Piloting BYOD

The Board was in favor of testing out BYOD, and 13 schools signed up for the pilot. As a group, the schools had a relatively strong foundation of devices in place—primarily laptops and tablets—but wanted to explore the impact of allowing students to use personally owned devices when instructionally appropriate.

As a result of its up-front research, WCPSS had a strong implementation plan in place, starting with intensive professional development. A team of four leaders from each pilot school attended a full day of training designed to help them build stakeholder support for BYOD, set clear behavioral expectations, develop a BYOD website and responsible use policy, and determine the initial scope and scale of the initiative at their school.

Next, a team of four teachers from each pilot school attended two full-day training sessions to help them learn how to maximize the instructional potential of student devices and to prepare them to train other teachers at their school. “We put the teachers into a simulation where they were told how many different devices they had. They had to work in teams to do activities and produce something. We built in a lot of failure points on purpose so they’d understand, for instance, if they only gave out QR codes and students were working on laptops, how they could manage that situation. They learned how to talk about expectations, how to provide content, and more,” says Gaddis.

A New Instructional Framework

At the trainings, teachers and administrators learned about the DSAP Framework, which Wasko developed to guide instructional design and tech integration in BYOD classrooms. DSAP—which stands for Delivery, Student practice, Assessment, and Productivity—focuses on pedagogy to help teachers learn how to incorporate technology in a way that makes sense and results in instruction that is engaging, personalized, and meaningful.

“We know that tech integration is stressful. We wanted to address that and help the pilot teachers train their school, including those who were reluctant, so that everyone would have an equitable experience,” says Wasko. His framework uncovers the importance of how to get content to students (readings, videos, guest speakers, etc.), what students do with that information, how to support student learning, and how to assess.

“By encouraging teachers to start in an area where they think technology can offer a benefit, we get everyone off to a good start and build confidence,” he says.

Supplementing BYOD with District-Owned Devices

Last year, WCPSS bought Lenovo ThinkPad L450 Notebooks for every teacher. Over the next 16 months they are rolling out 16,000 Lenovo ThinkPads in order to meet the goal of a 3:1 ratio of baseline devices in every classroom. Leaders from each school are given the opportunity to work with district leaders to develop a plan to allocate the devices, which remain in classrooms, at their schools.

To figure out which device they would buy, WCPSS formed a district-wide committee to explore various options. After discussing pros and cons, the committee decided on laptops for grades 2-12 while continuing with iPads that were already the device in place in grades K-1. They did an RFP and requested 15 laptops from every company that they could test out. “Students used the devices and answered questions very seriously,” says Gaddis. “The Lenovo ThinkPads answered all of our needs.” 

Inside the Classroom

Davis Drive Middle School was part of the first pilot and is starting its third year of BYOD this fall. “We have always been a high-achieving school but lacked enough technology for all students to frequently access,” says Principal Rick Williams. “BYOD gives students and teachers the freedom to plan dynamic learning experiences on a day-to-day basis.”

Kelly McGoldrick, who teaches social studies at Davis Drive, agrees. “Without even realizing it, students now see their devices as less of a toy and more of an educational tool.”

Another benefit of BYOD, says Williams, is that teachers no longer have to worry about students using their phones. “They no longer have to look out for students texting in the halls or secretly playing on their phones. Now it’s cultivated because the phones are used for educational purposes. That’s helped to shape the culture schoolwide.”

You might think it would be challenging for teachers to handle the mix of student-owned and district-provided devices, but it’s actually a piece of cake. Teachers just check out a handful of school-owned devices to supplement the students who don’t participate in BYOD. McGoldrick says teachers know the main devices students use in just a few weeks. “A lot of them have devices at home that they can’t bring to school. The phone is fine for vocabulary or a quick question, but they usually use a laptop or tablet for creating presentations.” 

For group work, they figure out how to work best collaboratively, says McGoldrick. Since she uses Google Apps she can see their edit history, and many log in at night and do more from a home-based device. “It’s not a requirement; they do it because they want to.”

A Changing Culture

One reason the culture has shifted into one that embraces technology is that school administrators encouraged teachers to go at their own pace. “Even if they did something as simple as asking students to take a picture of the homework they wrote on the board, that was a win for us from a reluctant teacher,” says Williams. Today, the teachers who once sported terrified looks are some of the biggest proponents.

Even better, students are willing to learn with each other—not just work with each other. As McGoldrick explains, teachers used to assign a topic and go over the rules, and students did the work to get a grade. Now teachers may give a topic and some things to find out, suggest a few resources or tools, and the students dive right in. “They don’t want us to give them the answers; they want to do the research on their own. We’ve taken the same assignment but turned it so that they are learning independently. They are very responsive to student-led learning,” she says.

As the school grows more comfortable with its technology-infused culture, many teachers have become interested in moving away from rows of desks and into collaborative spaces. At the end of last year, McGoldrick had one of those “aha” moments and realized that students spent class time taking notes and not actually listening to what she said. She put the desks into groups and began flipping her classes, and now they use class time more productively. “We get students for an hour a day and there are so many things they have to learn. Do you want to spend that hour talking at them or have them facilitate a discussion so you get to know them? Flipping lets you get the nitty gritty out of the way so we can use class time to actually communicate. Seeing them share and learn from each other is amazing.” 

Next Steps

Although many students at WCPSS own a device of some sort, they don’t always have wifi or a cellular connection at home. Gaddis is working with local community partners to identify businesses that provide a safe place for students to come in and access digital content and do their homework. The district is also exploring other ways to expand the Internet access.

Each semester, more WCPSS schools join the BYOD movement; currently, there are 85 in total. In the next couple of years, the district hopes that 100 percent of its schools will be BYOD. 

At A Glance: 

Wake County Public School System (WCPSS) in Raleigh, North Carolina, is the 16th largest district in the country, with:

  • 159,000 students
  • 10,201 teachers
  • 177 schools
  • 34% free/reduced lunch
  • 8% English language learners

Forbes magazine named Raleigh the #1 city for raising a family, citing strong Wake County public schools.

90 WCPSS teachers recently earned certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, bringing the total number of teachers achieving this status while working in WCPSS to 2,455—the largest number of certified teachers for any school district nationwide.

Infrastructure: 

Teacher devices: 11,000 Lenovo ThinkPad L450 Notebooks.

Student devices: 52,000 Lenovo ThinkPad 13 with Intel Core i5 in grades 2–12 and iPads for students in grades K–1.

With the BYO devices, the typical ratio of students to technology varies by school from 1:1 to less than 3:1.

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