WINFIELD, W.Va. -- Students in Putnam County will be allowed to use their personal computer or mobile devices in the classroom starting next January if a pilot program goes smoothly.
The county's current policy prohibits students from having their phones out during instructional time, but by January that rule could be a thing of the past.
Technology consultant DataCom, based in Cincinnati, is working with the county on the Bring Your Own Device, or BYOD, program, as well as efforts to get a one-to-one student-to-device ratio across the entire school district.
Last fall, Putnam County schools superintendent Chuck Hatfield and some central office staff visited Oak Hill Local Schools in Cincinnati, where all students have access to a computing device and many bring their own.
"We did some research to find a system that was known for technology and successful use of technology in education, and they're renowned for this," Hatfield said.
DataCom works with that system, and when Putnam County sought bids for its program, DataCom was the winner.
Four DataCom representatives, including the president and CEO, attended Tuesday's board of education meeting to give a report on the program's status and potential for growth.
Buffalo High School currently has a one-to-one ratio of students to devices as part of their New Tech curriculum, which emphasizes project-based learning and technology integration. The curriculum is funded with a state Innovation Zone grant.
Buffalo was the first school to pilot BYOD, though only a few students there are bringing their own devices since a laptop computer for each student is available through the school.
But buying enough devices for every student in the county isn't feasible, according to Hatfield.
"While the BYOD thing may appear to be innovative, I think it's a necessity," Hatfield said. "I think it's the only way that we will ever be able to truly provide a one-to-one ratio or anything close to that for 10,000 kids in Putnam County."
According to DataCom's report, the county currently has about 5,000 devices countywide for about 10,000 students.
Part of the company's plan is to refurbish older computers the county already owns to extend their life by turning them into what they call Speedsters. They install a lightweight operating system designed for web-based computing that is less demanding of hardware resources.
Students would work and access materials on a cloud system, so each device wouldn't have to be loaded with materials or programs.
Board Member Deborah Phillips asked about hardware specifications and if there would be guidelines pertaining to minimum requirements for the devices students bring from home.
DataCom President and CEO Liam Cummings said that hasn't been an issue in other schools, though part of the project will involve developing device guidelines for BYOD.
In the first nine weeks of the school year, at least two teachers at every school in the county -- including elementary schools -- are involved in piloting BYOD in their classrooms.
In the second semester, the plan is to open the pilot program up to more students, and by January both DataCom and county officials hope to take the program countywide.
"We're going to be a leader in the state," Hatfield said. "As we expect to be."
Hatfield sees the program as necessary to keep up with modern education.
"I don't think there will be textbooks five years from now," Hatfield said. "Certainly 10. Or at least textbooks as we know them."
The Putnam County Board of Education meets at 7 p.m. the first and third Monday of each month at the central office in Winfield. All meetings are open to the public.