Empower Students to Choose Technology

Isn’t it amazing how choice has developed in our world, particularly in the developed world?  You walk into a large grocery store and you are faced with what seems like an infinite set of choices.  In some ways, choice has become a bit of burden for our brains.  I mean, how many types of breakfast cereal do we really need?  But seriously, it is a valued aspect of our freedom – to make choices for ourselves.  When our choices are limited or constrained by others in ways that Bring Your Own Devicedon’t make sense to us, we are frustrated and disengaged.  I believe this is the experience for most students in most schools most of the time when talking about using technology.  Technology use is usually limited to what teachers prescribe.  If and when students bring personal technology to school and class, they are usually asked to power it off and put it away.  This seems rather bizarre given the limitless power digital tools exhibit.  Shouldn’t we leverage all the tools at students and our disposal for consuming, creating, and learning?  I wrote Why BYOT previously to emphasize the importance of this for learning. At the Vancouver School Board we have embarked on a mission to explore how we might…

“Empower students to choose technology to facilitate their learning in class and other spaces”

A bring your own technology (BYOT) approach to improving access to technology is viewed as a key enabler for the District vision to transform learning and work through technology where students are empowered to choose technology to facilitate their learning in class and other spaces.  The BYOT approach supports sections G1-1.2, G1-4, G1-5.1, G1-6.4, G3-3 of our District Strategic Plan.  To research and experiment with BYOT, we have formed a Focus Group (research/pilot initiative) with four schools as a representation of some of the diverse environments we will encounter in schools as we move towards implementing BYOT more broadly in the future.  We shared District guiding principals for BYOT where we believe:

  • A BYOT (student choice) approach will improve learning and engagement
  • Students are more likely to use technology any time and any where if they own it
  • Students are not required to bring and use technology, rather it is a choice
  • That equity is an essential ingredient and part of the solution might be to require students to share their technology with classmates who have none
  • Age and subject matter will require a differentiated approach
  • A heightened emphasis of social responsibility, digital citizenship, and codes of conduct will be necessary
  • That teachers should encourage students to bring personal technology and use it for learning
  • That teachers do not need to be experts on the technology but will need to adapt lessons to leverage technology that is more prevalent in their classrooms
  • Students should choose the type of tools (apps, etc.) they wish to use to complete learning tasks

I like to share this scenario for how a learning experience might look differently when BYOT is a given.  The teacher assigns her grade six class a novel study.  The students are required to read the book, write a summary of the key points that resonated with them, and then in groups of three, present their integrated thoughts to the class.  Notice, other than a ‘book’, a reference to ‘writing’, no technology is specified or required.  However, in a BYOT enabled class, the students might choose a paperback from the school library, an eBook from Google Books or the public library, or perhaps they own the book already on their Kindle or Kobo reader.  Students might make notes using a paper journal, Evernote or OneNote, or directly in their e-reader.  They might hand-write their summary, write it up iStock_000015033392XSmallin Evernote, OneNote, Google Doc, or the Word App in their Office 365 account.  Perhaps they took pictures of real world artifacts and / or recorded a video of themselves describing the book with their smart phone or tablet to support their summary, storing these directly in their e-notes to create a multimedia summary.  When it came time for creating presentations, the teacher suggests various ways students could consider for this including Web PowerPoint (Office 365), an oral report, a drama, KeyNote, Google Docs, Prezi, etc.  This teacher does not know much about KeyNote, Google Docs, or Prezi, so asks three students per tool to research and present / demo to the class how these tools work so that other students could choose the one they prefer.  Essentially, students are in charge of how they accomplish the learning and the teacher is in charge of why and what must be learned – technology agnostically.  Cooperative learning is built in (groups) as is students being researchers and teachers (of the tools).

At our first focus group meeting, an activity we led with is called “Looking Back / Looking Ahead” (ref: Groups At Work).  We asked the group to individually list their thoughts for three dimensions: Technological, Sociological, and Schools for three contexts:

  • Things that have changed since you were 12 years old
  • Things that have stayed the same since you were 12 years old
  • Things that will be common 12 years from now

I use this periodically with new groups and it’s always interesting and informative to hear what they come up with – it helps group leaders quickly understand the individual perspectives on what’s changed and changing in our world.  After they spend 5-10 minutes working on it, I ask them to share out one item from each context.  You might want to try this out with groups you work with.

We have asked the school’s principals/VPs to each invite two teachers, two students, and their parents to join us in this ‘research’ project.  Together we will develop and experiment with guidelines that will assist schools, teachers, students, and families in successfully enabling student choice to use personal technology for learning.  These guidelines will significantly inform a District-wide implementation plan next year.  Equity of access will be a prominent feature of this initiative.

One of the support structures we will be defining and promoting is a “genius club” idea.  I’ve had some push back on the term “genius” as it has an elitist feel to it so we might call these groups ‘Digital Guides’ or something like that.  Schools would form teams of students who serve as Digital Guides for teachers and students in using technology.  The Digital Guides would help with choosing tools, learning how to use them, how to hook up a projector, mirror an iPad to Apple TV, how to exchange information digitally, etc.  In some schools the Digital Guides might be in a particular course where they iStock_000019296536XSmallreceive credit for this work.  Essentially, this structure will support leadership opportunities for technologically savvy students.

It will be an exciting year for us and even more so in the subsequent year when we expect to provide guidance to all our schools in embracing a BYOT approach.  I know we are not the first (see Alberta Education) to tackle this and we hope to continue to learn from others as they roll-out their BYOT strategies.  Feel free to comment here and share questions and advice.


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