What can BYOD programs learn from cycling events?

Posted by Geoff Belleau on October 31, 2015

“No child left offline.”Smart phone on bicycle handlebars

That is the challenge California’s State Superintendent of Public Instruction has put to schools in our state. All students and teachers should have access to an electronic device that will connect them to the Internet. How in the world can this happen? One possible solution is “bring your own device”—or BYOD as it’s commonly known.

Over the past few months I have participated in several organized cycling events. One was to raise money for diabetes. The other, the “Tour de Tahoe,” was for a similar purpose and took us all the way around Lake Tahoe. In both events, a group of people got together and rode for a cause, for fitness and for fun.

Parallels abound

I see parallels between BYOD for computing and for cycling. Obviously, in both cases you bring your own equipment! But more importantly, BYOD is about the experience and not about the device. In the Tour de Tahoe, there were expensive bikes and cheap bikes. There were people with lots of experience and expertise and others who looked like they had just jumped on their bikes for the first time. Those who are novices have a harder time than those who are “in-shape.”

In both situations, lots of things are assumed. In the cycling event, there were no directions on how to get around the lake, how to ride a bike, or how to put your helmet on.  Similar expectations tend to apply when we ask students to bring their own computing devices to school. We assume that if they own them, they know how to use them.

Both involve issues of equity. Like bicycles, computing devices vary in features, style, power, and capabilities. Users vary in their own abilities which may dictate specialized equipment; in our Tahoe event,  one gentlemen “pedaled” around the lake with his arms, rather than of his legs, and had a partner who rode with him to make sure he was always seen, since he was only about six inches off the road surface! Equity also suggests we need to provide devices for those participants who do not, in fact, own their own.

Planning is key to success

Finally, BYOD in either case needs planning, organization and coordination to succeed. In the Tour de Tahoe, everyone knew the cyclists would be out there. There were rest stops and Support and Gear (SAG) vehicles to help give worn out cyclists a ride when needed. BYOD in schools requires similar advance planning and special arrangements such as solid WiFi and good policy to keep everyone safe and allow students and educators to communicate, create, and collaborate in school as effectively as they do when they are outside the doors of their school.

Remember it is about the journey, not the device, and the trip around the lake is always more fun and safer with a friend.

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One Size Does Not Fit All

The case for hybrid BYOD initiatives

Posted by Susan Brooks-Young on May 31, 2015

Collection of apples and orangesRemember when computer labs were the solution to making technology available to all students? When most teachers had limited personal experience using desktop computers, this approach seemed to make sense. But it didn’t take long for educators to discover that limited access to computers housed outside the classroom was often more a disruption than meaningful learning experience.

Enter 1:1

The development of laptop computers meant that schools that could afford them suddenly had more options for where students and teachers could access technology for learning activities, giving rise to the concept of 1:1 programs.

In addition to equitable access to hardware, 1:1 initiatives addressed concerns related to equipment maintenance and upkeep, software licensing and updates, and monitoring how equipment was used because the laptops usually represented a single platform and belonged to the school or district. However, some of the positive elements also become the source of complications. One-to-one programs are expensive to implement and sustain thanks to on-going costs ranging from infrastructure to staffing and professional development. Furthermore, unreliable funding sources can make 1:1 a dicey proposition.

Enter BYOD

The notion of bring your own device (BYOD) programs started gaining traction in the business world in 2009. Concerns related to theft and network security (among others) made educators reluctant to embrace this strategy. In 2011 more than one-half of schools responding to Project Tomorrow’s Speak Up survey prohibited any form of BYOD. Then tough economic times and the realization that students were bringing devices to school with or without permission tipped the scales and just one year later, only 37% of participants in the same survey reported prohibiting BYOD (2013 Congressional Briefing). Does this imply a happy ending? Hardly!

Proponents of BYOD argue that students prefer to use their own devices and a majority of parents are willing to purchase devices for school use. They also say that reduced costs for hardware purchases and maintenance enable schools to reallocate funds to improve the infrastructure and increase IT staffing. On the other hand, successful BYOD requires access to a robust network—often far beyond what the school currently has in place. In addition, BYOD relies on students bringing devices that are capable of handling the demands of serious academic work and teachers must understand how to plan and implement cross-platform learning activities designed to reduce distractions and support equal access. Another concern is outdated procedures and policies for managing BYOD on campus. None of these potential barriers are deal-breakers but do require immediate action.

Then there is a heretofore unanticipated outcome of both 1:1 and BYOD programs. These days, access to just one type of device—regardless of who owns it—is probably not enough. A recent report based on 2013 Speak Up survey results states, “Just as we do not assume that students will only access one book for all classes, the idea of using only one mobile tool to meet all assignment needs may be unrealistic.” (From Chalkboards to Tablets: The Emergence of the K – 12 Digital Learner). My own experience working in schools with 1:1 or BYOD supports this statement. Mobile devices are fine for some tasks such as shooting photos and video, reading eBooks, or simple web browsing, but most students find it difficult or impossible to use tablets or smartphones to edit multimedia projects, write more than a couple of paragraphs of text, or for serious research. If instructional need drives classroom use of technology, students need access to more than one kind of device when completing various learning activities. This is where another alternative—hybrid BYOD programs—come into play.

Hybrid BYOD

In hybrid BYOD settings, students are encouraged to bring personal digital devices that meet basic minimum specifications to school. They understand that they are responsible for care and maintenance of these devices and are permitted to use them during class for learning activities. But the program doesn’t stop there. In addition to personal technology, teachers and students have access to school-owned devices such as tablets and laptops which may be available for check out from a central location or permanently placed in classrooms in small numbers. The driving philosophy behind hybrid BYOD programs isn’t to create 1:1 access to one specific technology, but to make it possible for teachers and students to select the appropriate tool for a given task from several readily accessible options. Some hybrid BYOD programs also include devices that students whose parents cannot afford to purchase something may check out either as needed or for the entire school year.

Why is this preferable to thinking of 1:1 and BYOD as either/or propositions? Although more expensive than BYOD only initiatives, hybrid BYOD programs are less expensive to implement and maintain than 1:1 initiatives, and insure that teachers and students have access to different kinds of devices as needed. When 1:1 is not the expectation, teachers feel freer to design paired and small team activities in which students learn skills such as communication and collaboration in addition to academic content. And, those students who wish to augment an activity using personal devices are able to do so. I’ve also learned that teachers new to classroom use of mobile technologies appreciate being able to learn how to use the types of devices provided by the school first and then gradually incorporate more formal use of students’ personal devices. This approach also provides the assurance that student teams will be able to use a common platform for group activities in the assurance that specific apps or programs required for the lesson will be available on school-owned equipment.

Simply adopting a hybrid BYOD program does not guarantee success—this strategy is more complex than going down one road or the other. This means that educators must be willing and able to devote the time required for intensive planning prior to implementation and ongoing monitoring to make adjustments as needed. However, given the benefits of hybrid BYOD, it is a strategy worth considering.

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Next-Gen Assessments: It’s about more than devices

Posted by Geoff Belleau on April 27, 2014

Students looking at computer screens
It’s about more than devices!

Across the state of California and the whole country, purchase orders have been filled out and new devices are arriving in warehouses. Why? Because our students will be participating in the field test of the SBAC and PAARC “next generation” assessments. Gone are the days of fill-in-the-bubble answer sheets and boxes of standardized test booklets. The SBAC and PAARC assessments are all completed on computers. Here are four critical questions to consider before, during and after this field test.

Four Big Questions

First, has the network been updated? Is there the capacity to deliver the assessments. Think of it like a freeway. How many lanes are going out from your district. District administrators, here’s a practical experiment to try: for your next two district-wide principals meetings, hold one at a middle school and the other at an elementary school. Check how it is for everyone to get online with the iPads, laptops, and smartphones.  Compare the level of connectivity in each case to what you experience in central office.

Second, what is the inventory plan for the devices students will use to take the tests? Are they going to be checked out to the school, to the teacher, to the students? Something else to put on the list is what is the replacement plan? These devices may be purchased with one time money at this point.  Do you know their anticipated life expectancy?  Are they insured?

Third, what’s the quality of digital citizenship in the district, not only that of the students, but of the staff as well?  What are the norms of appropriate, responsible behavior with regard to technology use? Staff, parents and students are all really concerned about online life. Clear, accurate information for each of these groups will go a long way to alleviate concerns.

Fourth, where is your staff in terms of their readiness to implement new pedagogy, new standards, and new technology?   This almost should be the first question. What professional development have teachers had that addresses the new standards but also the appropriate integration of technology? Getting ready for SBAC is just the first step; developing TPACK is the journey ahead.

Bonus Round

OK, that’s the promised four, but here’s a bonus:  Has your LEA considered BYOD? Bring your own device (BYOD) is not requiring students to bring their own devices; it’s allowing students to use their own devices. Have relevant policies been updated to protect the district and the students?

This is by no means an all-inclusive list, but by answering questions like these, we have an opportunity for significant shifts to occur.  As educational leaders, we must be good stewards of the resources in our care. Having plans that thoughtfully address questions like those above is a great first step toward 21st century education.

 

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Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) Initiatives—Increasing the Odds for Success

Posted by Susan Brooks-Young on December 1, 2013

Cartoon hands with many tech devices
See “Security Amidst The Mobile Chaos” for a business perspective on the BYOD issue.

Unimaginable not all that long ago, growing numbers of schools and districts are launching programs where students are permitted to bring their own mobile devices to school for classroom use. The work I do makes it possible for me to spend time in schools and districts across the country. In the last two years I’ve had numerous opportunities to see several different manifestations of BYOD in action. It’s probably no surprise that some approaches to BYOD are more effective than others. However, I’m learning that irrespective of overall program design there are five specific issues that must be addressed to lay the groundwork for successful BYOD programs.  They are described here.

1. Infrastructure: The state of your network matters—a lot. I’m not a technician, but from what I’ve seen and been told at multiple schools struggling with network problems, a common problem is that folks who design the infrastructure typically underestimate the amount of traffic that will be generated by a BYOD program. As a result, teachers and students can’t get online, become discouraged, and abandon BYOD altogether.

Schools and districts must have a realistic understanding of what their infrastructure needs to support BYOD. Until the network is at the point where it can handle the amount of traffic that will be generated by students using their own devices (and then some), limit the scope of the rollout to what the network actually can support. This may mean initially planning a small pilot that can be expanded as the network becomes more robust. While a staged approach may not please everyone, it is preferable to a situation where the network isn’t functioning reliably for anyone.

2. Hardware specs: BYOD does not mean that students must be allowed to bring to school any mobile device they happen to have on hand. It’s important to take time to identify the kinds of learning activities the technology needs to be able to support and then establish minimum specifications for the devices students may bring based on identified uses. When students’ devices meet a pre-determined baseline, it’s easier to for teachers to plan lessons and for students to fully engage in classroom activities.

3. Policies and procedures: I’m surprised at the number of schools I visit that launch BYOD programs having given little or no thought to how they will handle a range of issues from devices that are lost or broken to students who circumvent the school network using their device’s 3g or 4g connection (not to mention procedures for downloading apps, troubleshooting student-owned hardware, charging batteries, and much more). Of course it’s not possible, or even desirable, to craft policies and procedures that attempt to cover every possible circumstance, but a few clearly stated, reasonable expectations shared with students ahead of time and then enforced will set the stage for success.

4. Professional development: Incorporating effective use of student-owned technology into classroom activities requires far more than a mandate. Few teachers have expertise in use of multiple mobile platforms or are comfortable designing learning activities that require use of mobile devices to support collaboration or critical thinking. Yet it’s common for teachers to be asked to participate in BYOD initiatives with little or no professional development. Even teachers who embrace more traditional technology use benefit from training focused on strategies and tools for addressing academic content in mobile environments. Ongoing professional development that includes a coaching component is an effective model, but requires a significant commitment of time and financial resources.

5. Parent involvement: The importance of parent support for BYOD programs cannot be over-emphasized. Educators must include parent representatives in BYOD planning as early in the process as possible. In addition to garnering support for the initiative within the community, parent representatives can provide very useful information when determining minimum specifications for mobile devices that may be brought to school and as school officials design BYOD policies and procedures. Recent Speak-Up Survey reports indicate strong parental support for BYOD initiatives nationally. Capitalize on this to shore up local support for local programs.

Take the time to work through these five issues. Your teachers, IT staff, students, and parents will thank you.

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Say hello to the Free Agent Learner—that is, a typical middle school student!

Posted by Sandra Miller on May 11, 2013

Students are not waiting around for educators to provide a new type of environment for their learning. They are creating opportunities for themselves.

Middle school students, in particular, view learning in new ways, often very different even from today’s high school students, who tend to use technology for more “traditional” tasks such as checking grades, taking notes, accessing online texts, writing papers and doing homework.

Students using their own technology.
“Digitally Aided Education, Using the Students’ Own Electronic Gear” – click Todd Anerson’s great photo for related article in the New York Times.

Not so the middle school students in Project Tomorrow’s “Speak Up” survey, who use technology for a wide range of learning tasks.  These students use technology to:

  • Collaborate with classmates on problem solving
  • Tap into Facebook for schoolwork help
  • Text their teachers with questions
  • Solve real world problems
  • Find podcasts/videos to learn about something
  • Access online textbooks
  • Use mobile apps to self-organize
  • Access online tutors
  • Use online writing tools
  • Take online tests or assessments on their own

Teachers and administrators will need to work together to re-create learning environments for these “Free Agent” learners.  Many have smart phones and want to use them.  Their parents are supportive, using smart phones themselves and often using technology in their own jobs.

Understandably, administrators are hesitant to embrace the use of smartphones and other mobile technology at school due to concerns about internet safety and district liability, digital equity, network security, and teacher training.   Likewise, teachers hesitate with worries about distraction, digital equity, cheating, and knowing how to integrate new devices.  At the same time both recognize that  there are potential benefits to integrating new technologies:

  • Increasing student engagement
  • Personalizing instruction
  • Reviewing classroom material and extending the day
  • Providing access to online resources

Can we as educational leaders shift our thinking?  As Charles Darwin (English Naturalist 1809-1882) said,  “It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”

The Free Agent Learner already incorporates technology into learning beyond the school walls; it is up to us as educational leaders to take advantage of these new new tools and approaches within our schools and classrooms.  Let’s get on with it!

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