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Pilot Programs: The Secret for Scaling Technology to Schools

24 Jul 2014 by Insight Editor

Maybe you’d like to start letting teachers and students use smartphones, laptops, and tablets in the classroom, but you’re not sure where to begin. And what if it doesn’t work the way you expected? Will you end up throwing away money on devices you no longer want?

Almost certainly not. But if your school system wants to wade gently into technology, you can do that with a pilot program. That way, you can make changes or iron out quirks before going full-scale.

That’s what the Fulton County School District in Atlanta is doing. As one of the largest school systems in the country, Fulton wants to innovate without causing too much disruption. So it’s moving forward with several smaller-scale pilot programs while building its infrastructure.

“We’re spending some time building long term support systems,”said Chief of Strategy and Innovation Kenneth Zeff. “We don’t want to move too fast. We don’t want to rush in and buy iPads for everyone, although we did have a successful pilot with them. It’s about building a sustainable system.”

The school district became a “charter system” so it could bypass some state and local regulations and implement its own innovative programs. One of them is a “BYOT” pilot that allows students to bring their own devices to school and lets schools decide how teachers will use them in the classroom. Schools that decide to participate spend their own money on a small number of additional tablets for teachers or students to use.

In another pilot program, the county provides some students with “personal learning devices” that follow them to school and to home.

Schools participating in pilot programs are provided with an on-site IT expert to help teachers set up and use the devices and scale up, if they decide to do so.

The district’s staff also uses technology to track its own course in developing pilot programs. It created its own web-based knowledge management system to record progress with innovations and to see what other school systems are doing so it can consider new options at every juncture.

“A school rethinking [its] scheduling, looking to maximize instructional minutes in a day, could look that [subject] up,” Zeffsaid. “The website includes a catalog of practices across country, vetted so they’re more reliable than a Google search and includes contact information. And we also catalog practices that have been done by our own schools to track results.”

You don’t have to become to a charter system to start a school technology program (though it does give you more flexibility). The New Milford School District in Bergen County, NJ started a BYOD program three years ago by allowing teachers and students to find their own ways to use mobile devices.

When the program started there was just one access point, in the wing of a high school. As more students started using devices, the district’s IT director scaled up by creating enough access points for 30 classrooms and may expand further in the future.

The beauty of a BYOD program is that it’s an adaptable model, said New Milford High School principal Eric Sheninger.

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