By Rylee Woodall

As schools and students become more technologically advanced, we teachers need EdTech tools to ensure students are engaged and protected while learning online.

At Orangewood Christian School (OCS) in Maitland, Florida, we began our connected classroom program in January 2013. We decided to implement a bring-your-own-device/1:1 environment for five reasons:

1. To improve 21st-century learning skills. We want to ensure our students are technologically and culturally prepared for the modern workplace.

2. Greater engagement through multimedia. Technology makes it easy for students and teachers to create immersive, interactive learning experiences.

3. Deeper learning. Technology allows students to access a vast amount of information, some of which may not be found in traditional textbooks.

4. Better writing skills. It’s easier than ever for teachers to correct and guide student’s writing online in real-time.

5. Easier integration of technology into instruction. Rather than lending out laptops, each student can use the device and operating system they feel comfortable with to access the lesson plan.

Keeping students on-task was an immediate and constant challenge. With the flutter of non-sanctioned activity online, it was difficult for teachers to monitor every student in the classroom while trying to implement lesson plans. The most challenging issues our faculty face fall into these three categories.

Student Safety and Monitoring

As most parents and teachers know, the Internet can be a tempting and dangerous place for teens. Ensuring that students learn how to navigate the Internet, focus on the assignment and work in partnership with their peers is a serious obligation of today’s schools. The Internet is a tremendous educational tool, but teachers need help keeping kids safe and concentrating on schoolwork rather than social media.

Teenagers are naturally curious and now, with the Internet, they have answers to every question they could ever ask–but they also have endless distractions. Students like watching videos of cats more than a lecture on momentum in Physics. Additionally, there is so much information online that it can be hard to parse it as a student, making it difficult to teach independent learning and self-sufficiency in research.

Integrating Meaningful Technology Into the Curriculum

Our bring-your-own-device system presents a significant challenge as students can bring in any mobile device to navigate the web, (although we don’t allow smartphones). Students can use a wide array of operating systems and browsers, instead of a common tech experience.

The myriad of tech used can make it difficult for teachers to set clear boundaries, and monitor and enforce them. Tech-savvy students can find ways around schools’ firewalls, and it is easier when using their own devices.

Our solution was to install a comprehensive Internet management system. Teachers report feeling freer embracing risk and experimenting with technology while ensuring students are safe and on-task. There is an overall culture of learning, and the system definitely brings calm to the classroom.

Training Teachers on Current Trends

It was challenging for teachers to spot online distractions because there are so many apps. They need to know what their students are interacting with in and out of the BYOD classroom. We try to ensure all our teachers are aware of the various social media platforms, and how they can be used (for good or for bad) during and outside of class.

Again, our solution to this particular challenge was a robust Internet management system that can adapt as new apps come online. At first, students felt as though their ‘rights’ had been taken away, but now they accept teacher oversight as part of the school culture.

Students understand that while they are at school, they must use their devices for school-related activities exclusively. Establishing boundaries around digital literacy is critical for providing a safe and effective environment in which students can cultivate responsible decision-making capabilities and self-control that can last a lifetime.

Searching for Solutions

Technology evolves much more quickly than other industries. Twenty years ago, computer labs used to be the sign of a technically advanced school. Now, students carry much more powerful computers in their pockets. Digital tools offer an instrumental learning and engagement boost but, especially in a BYOD classroom, schools need solutions that are easy to navigate while offering comprehensive classroom management.

OCS had been using an installed software to monitor elementary students but felt for the upper school it was too heavy-handed. We wanted our students to know they should be on task and that the teachers could verify this, while also encouraging personal responsibility to better equip them for college life.

In searching for an in-classroom tool for teachers, we found that NetRef offered the balance we were looking for. It does not require installation on the various devices students use. It includes any device connected to the school network  in its Internet management system. Teachers don’t have to worry about students working around the protection by creating hotspots because the system immediately alerts you when a student’s device is not on the network.

Utilizing a classroom management system that allows an at-a-glance view of real-time student Internet activity produces clear improvements at OCS. The system helps greatly in the area of classroom control. It takes the guessing out of monitoring students. Classic, best teaching practices are still employed–we continually walk throughout our classrooms and engage with students.

Having a software solution that operates in the background gives us the freedom to use technology in the classroom within a framework that is safe and promotes learning at its highest level. It allows teachers to connect the dots between responsible online and offline behavior–values that are the same everywhere.

In addition, teachers can use the reporting functions to generate individual daily, weekly or monthly Internet use reports to help encourage good Internet habits. We also found the reporting function to be a useful tool for gathering school-wide Internet statistics.

OCS High School Spanish teacher, Hannah Hanbury, summed up having an Internet management system’s impact on the school: “We seldom used computers in my class last year and it was because of the capacity for misconduct. I never felt like I had peace of mind about allowing students to use them because of some of the sites I knew they were able to visit. Now, I feel like I can make more use of computers in class!”

Teachers and students alike benefit from a strong, structured approach to Internet classroom management. At OCS, we need to ensure any investment we make in EdTech will work long-term to keep kids safe and on-task. We also strive to create a healthy, low-stress dynamic between students and faculty. It has been rewarding for us to see tangible progress helping our school evolve into a rich, engaging and productive high-tech learning environment.

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Rylee Woodall is an Instructional Technology Coordinator and middle school English teacher at Orangewood Christian School. Follow them on Twitter: @OCSRams


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