Coachella School District: BYOD is about good citizenship

http://www.flickr.com/photos/boxoftricks/7690032002/sizes/l/in/photostream/ Credit: Jose Picardo

On election day, residents of Coachella passed Measure X, also known as the Coachella Valley Unified School District Mobile Learning Initiative, allowing for the sale of bonds to raise a proposed $20.5 million to fund a planned deployment of 19,000 Apple iPad tablets to every single one of its students and teachers.

The CVUSD Mobile Learning Initiative's mission statement reads, in part:

Our framework is '"Preparing Students for College, Career and Citizenship" by teaching them to navigate the 7 Cs. Students will leave our school district as Effective Communicators, Critical Thinkers, Creative Problem Solvers, Viable Community Members, Consistent Life--Long Learners, Curious Knowledge Seekers and Collaborative Team Members. 

It's a lofty goal, and Dr. Darryl S. Adams, Superintendent of Schools for the Coachella Valley Unified School District, acknowledges that the district has a lot of work ahead of it before the dream can become reality. The CVUSD student body includes undocumented immigrants, ESL learners, and residents of rural, Internet--free areas, says Dr. Adams, and for many of them this may be the only chance they have to develop theInternet and technology skills required to succeed in the always--on 21st century. For many students, the school--provided iPads will be the first Internet--enabled devices in their homes, short of perhaps a smartphone. 

A recent pilot of 6,000 iPads in CVUSD schools gave ample evidence that the program has merit, Dr. Adams says, but it also revealed the weaknesses of the district's existing IT infrastructure. Of the Measure X money, $7 million is earmarked for IT improvements in that area, according to the district's implementation plan.

Most dramatically, that means building antennae until Wi--Fi connectivity reaches every inch of the 120 square miles that makes up the school district. But it also requires beefing up the backend, ensuring there are enough IP addresses and generally boosting overall capacity. For this project, Dr. Adams says the district is working with Johnson Consulting Engineers, a San Diego--area contractor with plenty of experience in modernizing aging school IT infrastructure. 

Meanwhile, $4 million per year for four years -- or just shy of $12 million total -- will go into buying 19,000 Apple iPads at a discounted educational rate of $640 per unit. An additional $1.5 million goes into buying 750 Apple Macbooks for teachers for $2,073 each. In addition to those discounted iDevices, Apple itself donated services including teacher training, authoring textbooks in iBooks, Xcode app development workshops and more.

"[Apple's] really given back a lot," Dr. Adams says.

Despite this massive investment, Measure X isn't designed to fund the elimination of the traditional classroom. Students participating in the pilot program used the iPad to research the threat that smog poses to Coachella's local environment and present possible solutions. Music classes are experimenting with having students use the tablet to swap the songs they write in class. There are plenty of other use--cases out in the wild to get a sense of what's possible with tablets in the classroom. 

Needless to say, there are concerns about how teenagers will interact with their new tablets. Dr. Adams' administration will be encouraging students to personalize their iPads with personal photos, video and music. And mobile device management (MDM) powered by Airwatch will keep a watchdog's eye on the e--mail, apps and other data the students are keeping on the tablet, while also filtering out undesirable web sites from the eyes of impressionable students. As an anti--theft deterrent, any iPad provided by the school district simply becomes an expensive paperweight if taken off the school's network. 

All that said, Dr. Adams acknowledges that there are always going to be students who evade the filters (your humble correspondent made a hobby of it in his high school days). And even if students don't actually circumvent the content filters, the Internet still offers plenty of opportunity for unsavory behavior. 

That's why Dr. Adams' school administration is making BYOD a point of civic responsibility for the students in his charge. A class on digital citizenship is in the works, with a focus on educating students at different grade levels on how to be responsible Internet denizens. That includes warning students off cyberbullying, encouraging them to use the iPad with parental oversight, and dissuade them from consuming unsavory content. 

The overall goal is to support 4 devices per student (with teachers and students alike expected to add smartphones and other gadgets to the MDM system), which means the number of mobile devices supported by the district may be closer to 80,000. That's a lot of work left to do before the anticipated completion of Apple iPad distibution in August 2013. 

But if the CVUSD Mobile Learning Initiative can teach a new generation how to be good citizens of the Internet, it could lead to big things for Coachella and America.  

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