Personal Internet devices a hit in Hillsborough public schools

Published June 21, 2013

TAMPA — Despite concerns about cheating, texting and losing valuable computers, teachers are happy with the Hillsborough County School District's bring-your-own-device experiment.

A trial run in nine schools got a thumbs-up from the teachers. Eighty-seven percent said BYOD, as the practice is called, was a good experience. The same number said they'd like it to continue.

"Overall, the feedback was extremely positive from teachers, parents and students," wrote David Steele, the district's chief technology and information officer, in a memo to superintendent MaryEllen Elia.

Smartphones, tablets and laptops were allowed at Bailey, Cannella and Stowers elementary schools; Barrington, Walker and Pierce middle schools; and Hillsborough, Steinbrenner and Strawberry Crest high schools during the last months of the school year.

Students used them for tasks that included research, storing notes to a "cloud," texting their parents and playing math and reading games.

About 90 percent of the parents surveyed said they consented to allowing their children to participate. Those who did not cited concern that the devices might be lost or stolen.

There was some concern among teachers that children would be distracted, that they would surf on inappropriate sites or use the devices improperly by either cheating or texting their friends.

But in the end, teachers endorsed the experience.

Of those teachers who participated, about half used smartphones and the others used laptops or tablets. Teachers used the devices to contact parents and students, monitor social media, include video files in their presentation and show students how to check out digital books.

BYOD is being attempted at a time when the district, like others around the state, is struggling to supply enough computers to meet students' research needs and the demands of the state's high-stakes testing system, which increasingly involves computers.

Marlene Sokol can be reached at or (813) 226-3356.