Saturday, March 2, 2013

How to BYOT for Learning?

I have been out visiting a lot of schools over the past few months learning about culture, demographics, economic status of neighbourhoods, existing and historical use of and interest in technology, and capacity to weave technology into common practice.  My District has a fascinating array of schools.  I was in a 105 year old secondary school last week in a highly urban area with a rather low socio economic status.  The school is quite oddly designed and has an institutional feel and look, but I suppose 100 years ago architects and District officials thought differently about school.  I also visited one of our newest elementary schools which replaced a very old school but retained part of it for heritage reasons.  This new school is a 21st century design with open aggregation spaces, learning communities for grade pairs with varied sizes of learning studios (aka classrooms).  It is designed for collaboration and public display.  They have a “tech loft” overlooking a commons area.  They are now encountering students bringing and wanting to use personal technology.  It is important to envision how technology will transform learning and teaching in the varied learning environments we have.

I seem to increasingly find myself entering into bring your own technology (BYOT) conversations during my school visits.  Let’s be honest, many students are bringing powerful devices to school every day but… in our schools they are almost always asked to put them away, to power down.  Although I understand the fear, the messiness, and challenges BYOT poses, this power-down default needs to end and we really need to figure out how to embrace this trend to maximize learning, rather than fight against it!  I previously wrote about why BYOT is important for us to pursue.  Now we really need to get our heads around this and move forward.  We will create a focus group with teachers, principals, and students (perhaps parents as well?) to undertake the necessary research and experimentation with BYOT.  The outcome will be guidelines and advice to help schools, teachers, students, and parents implement the use of personal student technology in our varied learning contexts (different grades/ages, subject areas, special programs, etc.).  I want to be able to visit any of our schools in the spring of 2014 and see students using the technology they own, for useful and productive learning purposes.

iStock_000012865598SmallFor a BYOT approach to be successful we need to ensure we have key technical requirements in place:

  • robust wireless network (ours is rolling out now and will complete by fall 2013 in all schools)
  • robust District and Internet network connections (ours are in trouble and assuming funding is secured, will be upgraded fully by fall 2013) – this needs to be a utility like service, always on, always enough
  • ability to detect technology that isn’t compliant from a security perspective (anti-virus, patched where applicable) and present safe options to the user (a constrained Internet connection only)
  • space to store and create content using any device (we will be pursuing an implementation of Office 365 for students, see case study, see review/comparison of Office 365 Web Apps to Google Docs)

Logistically, there are some areas to address such as:

  • security (prevent theft, vandalism) of student technology, in particular when they don’t have it with them – where do they store it securely – not all schools have lockers
  • safety of students who walk to/from school (as more studentsiStock_000001398345XSmall have technology, the incentive to steal should decline when technology is more pervasive and this concern should diminish)
  • home insurance requirements to address possible theft or damage while at school
  • effective acceptable use and social media policy implementation
  • clarity of and orientation to BC Privacy requirements for staff, students, and parents
  • where and how to enable charging of devices when students forget to at home or their device doesn’t hold a charge all day

Minimum standards for useful digital learning devices:

  • wireless networking built-in to the student’s device
  • Smart Phone (iPhone, Android, Windows, newer Blackberry) that can install a multitude of apps, browse web pages/content, efficiently allow typing
  • Tablet (iPad, Android, Windows 8)
  • Laptop (Mac, Windows, Chrome Book)

Contexts and challenges to figure out:

  • less than 100% (or 50% or 25%) of students are able or willing to BYOT – how to leverage and create shared use of the technology only some of the students bring
  • allowing students to choose to use (take notes, look up article, share ideas) their technology even though the teacher is not expecting any technology use
  • dealing with the distraction factor where students can easily be off task using Facebook, Twitter, texting, and YouTube when they should be engaged in the learning activity
  • determining when and how to require students to put their devices away – ie, not all learning and teaching requires them to use their digital devices
  • addressing the have and have-not reality – how to ensure all students feel and are included (need to design around shared use models, create comfort/willingness in students to share,iStock_000017184468XSmall perhaps make that an expectation when they BYOT)
  • ensuring students treat devices shared with them, with the utmost respect and privacy
  • determining what the appropriate amount and type of personal use outside class time should be (impacts network bandwidth, can be unhealthy for the person if too much, can create a socially disconnected student body)
  • designing teaching and enabling learning activities in a diverse device and app context by focusing on the outcome or product rather than the how – be independent of app and device, focus on tasks and outcomes like writing, reading, researching, audio/video capture/edit, collecting, recording, reporting, presenting, collaborating, sharing, diagramming, mapping, content acquisition, etc.
  • facilitating provincial exam writing
  • encouraging (leading to expecting?) teachers put all their lesson materials, homework assignments, helpful tips, up online where students can access them anytime
  • making BYOT work effective in Kindergarten, primary, intermediate, through to grade 12, in English, Socials Studies, French, PE, Math, Chemistry, Media Arts, any subject area, etc.
  • measuring success, improvement, and benefits
  • capturing problems, challenges, downsides and overcome them

I remember visiting a classroom in my previous District a few years ago where the teacher encouraged her students to bring hand held devices.  About seven in a class of 28 students brought one that day, varying between iPod Touches, iPod Videos, and other iPods.  They shared them amongst seven teams of four.  There were students using a five-way audio splitter gathered around iPod Videos listening to and watching some French dictations making notes (on paper) and they took turns reading French text and dictating it on the device for playback to the teacher.  The teacher also did impromptu research activities – asked each team to pick a theme written on the board for a history project they had worked on, and take 10 minutes to research using their Internet connected devices, synthesizing the flickr - langwitches - kids around a laptop - 6461718207information and then each team did a report out to the class on what they learned. 

Another class I visited a year or so ago had students bringing laptops and handhelds.  The teacher had worked with the kids to willingly share their technology with their fellow students.  They used a tool called Socrative, a student response system.  Students were creating questioning sets for assessing the class knowledge on a science unit they had just completed.  Students ran the assessments while their “colleagues” responded using the various student brought technologies available.  This was a useful knowledge and understanding checking activity for the students and their teacher.

These two examples show that we need to look at this through an abundance lens rather than thinking with a mindset of scarcity.  We don’t need a 100%, 50%, or perhaps even a 25% response from students for BYOT to have value for learning.  Essentially, we need to strive for flexible learning environments and to not expect a 1-size lock-step learning and teaching environment.  A 1-many (teacher to class) approach to learning probably made sense at one time but I believe in this world where all information, knowledge, and people are a few clicks away and students own the devices that get them there, we need to rethink the model.  This focus group work should prove to be invaluable for us as we venture into a world of learning where students stay powered up when they enter our schools and classrooms and are able to fully engage in many diverse sources and experiences that only technology can enable for them.