Schools across Arkansas have fought a battle for years to keep students from using new technology devices such as smartphones and electronic tablets in classrooms. That mindset is showing signs of changing.

Schools across Arkansas have fought a battle for years to keep students from using new technology devices such as smartphones and electronic tablets in classrooms. That mindset is showing signs of changing.

There may be other schools, too, but at least one — Jonesboro High School — is giving up the fight and embracing technology, at least on an experimental basis.

Mike Skelton, JHS principal, addressed two groups of school patrons and local leaders last week in sessions hosted by Kim Wilbanks, Jonesboro superintendent of schools. The sessions were a follow-up to last month’s statewide “summit” on the new Common Core State Standards, which Arkansas has adopted.

Skelton said he had just come from a meeting with the JHS junior class, at which he was given a standing ovation when he announced the BYOD experiment, which begins in May.

BYOD stands for Bring Your Own Device, meaning a laptop computer, smartphone or tablet such as the iPad. Skelton distributed copies of a Student, Teacher and Parent Guide, which may be available on the district’s Web site but I didn’t find it.

The experiment will modify the standing policy, which has been:

“From the time of the first bell until after the last bell, students are forbidden from using cell phones, any paging device, beeper, or similar electronic communication devices. It is preferred that such devices be stored in the student’s locker or vehicle in a silent mode of operation. …”

Students using cell phones or other electronic devices during school hours were subject to having them confiscated and could be disciplined or even expelled.

That’s a tough policy most of us wouldn’t tolerate in the workplace. These devices can be wonderful for accomplishing all sorts of tasks and keeping us in touch with our families, friends and the world. Of course, we also know they can be abused.

Such a practice opens the door to all sorts of new learning experiences — doing useful research on the Web (i.e., finding more reliable sources than blogs and Wikipedia), participating in webcasts, reading online books, taking tests electronically and much more. It also opens the door to all sorts of problems, and the new JHS guide tries to anticipate some of those.

The district has established its own network, and students who agree to the policy terms will have access as guests. The network’s content is filtered, as required by law. Students will not be allowed to use their devices to access other networks during school time.

Smartphones are also much more limited in what they can do. I love my iPhone, but I certainly wouldn’t want to do serious research on it or write a column. Devising electronic tests won’t be simple either. For example, iPads won’t run software using Flash Player (at least not without a paid app), and Flash is commonly found on many Web sites.

And certainly students, being human like the rest of us, will figure out ways to abuse their newfound privileges.

But remember, this is an experiment. Changes will have to be made as the school gains experience. The question is whether it’s worth the trouble, and I think it is.

During the past quarter-century, computers have changed practically every field of endeavor in our world drastically, mostly for the better. They have drawn us closer together, empowered us for new ideas and even helped spread freedom around the globe. We are foolish to resist the use of technology in education, when so many of our young people already have access to that technology.

What we must do is to guide them to use it wisely.

I’m still skeptical about whether the Common Core State Standards is an important step toward educating our children better, but there is no doubt that we’ll need all available tools in the world ahead.

• • •

Roy Ockert is editor emeritus of The Jonesboro Sun. He may be reached by e-mail at royo@suddenlink.net.