Shawnee Mission issues new recommendations to principals on device use, including no iPads at recess

There are more than 350 apps available for students to download on district iPads — though they are restricted to certain grade levels.

As the new school year gets underway, the Shawnee Mission School District’s central administration has issued a set of new guidelines to building principals about the use of the district’s 1:1 technology initiative devices in and out of the classroom.

A message sent to building administrators in recent weeks outlined five recommendations “you should implement that are just good practice” based on that work of the Digital Learning Task Force that met earlier this year.

Those recommendations are:

  • No devices during recess
  • A balanced approach to instruction and resource utilization
  • Use the technology for educational purposes
  • Encourage self-directed [professional development] around Digital Learning
  • Devices in specials/elective courses only when they pertain to the curriculum (especially at the elementary level).

The message indicated that “for now, these are recommendations” — meaning building principals retain the authority to decide whether and how to implement them. Some principals, however, have taken up the guidelines and enacted additional new policies. At Trailwood Elementary, for example, principal Greg Lawrence instituted policies this year that prohibits non-educational gaming on district devices, and prohibits the use of devices in the school’s commons area before the start of the school day. He told parents Trailwood teachers will be “following the practice that instruction drives technology use rather than technology driving instruction.”

These are the kinds of steps that would be welcome to many parents who have been questioning the implementation of the district’s 1:1 technology initiative for the past several months — though other areas of concern remain.

The district recently posted a list of all the apps approved for students to download through the Manager platform on its website, a list that members of the Digitally Wise parent group had been asked to have made public for months. At present, nearly 350 apps are available to Shawnee Mission students, though not all apps are available to every student. (Apps are approved for student use based on their grade level).

Keeping on top of so many apps and ensuring that they continue to meet the district’s criteria for acceptability has proven a major challenge for the district’s technology staff. Each app goes through an approval process before being OKed for inclusion in Manager, but there is no set policy for periodic review. As such, parents and students have seen apps that didn’t have advertising on them before start serving ads for age inappropriate content to students.

Shawnee Mission Chief Information Officer David Smith said this month that each app in Manager had been reviewed in the past year, though the list posted on the website does not include information about when each app was last reviewed.

Of additional concern to some parents, the list posted on the district’s website has the name of each app available for students, but includes no information about its educational purpose.

“The app review committee plans to add information about the educational use of the app to its listing, as it goes through and reviews apps during the current year,” Smith said. “They also plan to add the date when the app was reviewed.”