Cobb to encourage cellphone use in school

Billie Jean Holubz says she's disciplined too many students for sending text messages, tweeting and browsing Facebook during class.

This fall, Holubz, an eighth-grade math teacher at Lost Mountain Middle School, will be one of a handful of Cobb educators actually encouraging the use of cellphones, laptops and other devices during school hours.

When students at Lost Mountain, Floyd and Daniell middle schools return to class in September, they'll have a new guest network set up for them to browse the Internet with their own technology. Access to certain websites will be restricted through filters.

"It's about time," Holubz said. "For too long our students have been limited to using paper, pencil and books as learning tools."

School systems traditionally have taken a hostile approach to students using their cellphones and laptops during school. But as young people's access to phones has broadened and the phones have gotten smarter, several metro area school districts, including Forsyth and Gwinnett counties and Marietta city schools, have begun to encourage the use of technology from home in "bring your own device" initiatives.

Holubz, who has studied integrating technology into the classroom, said she envisions assigning students to research and blog about the day's lessons and post their work on the classroom homepage to be critiqued.

There will be other opportunities, administrators said.

At a recent training session, several Cobb teachers scanned codes posted in the hallways that can link cellphones to lectures, facts of the day and school announcements, for example.

When the initiative was proposed at last month's school board meeting, several members questioned whether such a policy would tempt students to use their cellphones inappropriately.

Last year, a student was caught taking a picture of another student in the bathroom with their phone.

"A lot of people wanted to argue that that was a technology problem," Cobb Superintendent Michael Hinojosa said. "I'd argue that's a behavioral problem."

Hinojosa said the system is looking at ways it can rewrite technology policies to encourage appropriate use.

Board member Tim Stultz asked how the district will handle students who don't have technology to bring to class.

Chris Ragsdale, assistant superintendent of operational support, said the system will consider letting those students check out laptop computers, cellphones and other devices during the school day and track how it goes.

If things go well, they'll expand the practice to include other schools. If not, they'll scale back.

"Trends are telling us that we cannot afford the model for public education that we have now," Hinojosa said. "We are going to have to change and adapt. These initiatives have the potential to fundamentally change the way we deliver instruction to students and put us in better position to lead the future of education."