Is classroom technology good for learning or wasting time?

Posted by Michael Simkins on August 21, 2017

Elementary school students look at a tablet together.

In this article from the Dallas News, UT Austin professor Joan E. Hughes compares active and passive uses of technology.

Research has shown these passive uses of tablets are about as effective as a teacher’s lecture. Innovative, progressive teaching with tablet technology requires creative solutions.

She also highlights the issue of inequitable use—especially the tendency noted in some research for students of color, those from low-income families, or those who are low-achieving primarily to use technology in school to passively receive information while their more affluent, gifted, or advanced peers have more opportunity to use technology for active, creative and social learning activities.  Hughes encourages schools to take a look at how technology is being used in different classroom and instructional contexts and to be alert for such discrepancies.

This is a nice article to share in your school newsletter or with parent groups.

Source: Is classroom technology good for learning or wasting time? | Commentary | Dallas News


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.


Mobile Watching Pioneered at Ozark High

Posted by Jim Yeager on August 26, 2014

I can easily recall the late summer of 1965 and the events surrounding the first day of school at Ozark High. Paris was our football rival, although I am not sure why, since I can’t recall a single victory over the Eagles in the entire decade of the 1960s. Nonetheless Ozark felt compelled to use Paris as a measuring stick, not only in athletics, but every area of education.

Dari-Delite signRumors spread at the Dari-Delite

I am pretty sure I was at the Dari Delite, where all news for teenagers was discussed, when I heard for the first time our arch rival’s innovative academic plan. Paris High School was initiating 1-to-1 television. Now television had been around for quite some time and most of us had a set in our homes. We could get all three networks, ABC, CBS, and NBC, by simply going outside and turning the antenna from west to east and from Fort Smith to Little Rock. TV was our main source of entertainment and in the last few years we were even able to see the World Series in color, but new technologies were about to change this narrow view of television as only a source of entertainment. Education was coming to TV and Paris was way ahead of the game. Televisions had gotten smaller and lighter in the last few years and Frankie and Annette could even take one to the beach. Portable TV was a reality, and now mobile watching meant blossoming possibilities for education. The Arkansas Legislature had passed a bill creating AETN, the Arkansas Educational Television Network. This new station, located in Conway, would broadcast educational programming all day, every day starting in 1966. Paris had seen the possibilities.

Which device to get?

Woman holding portable TV circa 1957
An early Philco portable television.

There were several choices for mobile watching devices. Philco had a small, lightweight portable with a no-frills look and a modest price tag. Most of us had Philcos in our homes. Zenith was the choice for discerning viewers with the means to have one. Zenith’s portable had the added feature of a Z on the back of it’s portable model, which readily identified the owner as a more informed and well-off individual. Folks liked that Z even though Bonanza looked about the same on their device as on our Philco. Paris’s plan was that each student at Paris High would get their own Philco 12 inch portable. They would carry the 20 pound model in a specially designed backpack with cushioned straps and pockets for supplies. Girls and smaller students could use carts designed and maintained by the shop classes. These were painted blue and white with an eagle on the side. There were no bounds to our envy!

Infrastructure needs

Old Zenith logo
The cool “Z”

Wires would have to be run to each desk and connected to an antenna on the roof, a small price to pay if students could see television at school. Add to this already innovative approach to mobile watching the added perk that kids could actually take the TV home! They could start watching an AETN program at school and finish at home. The school-issued TV would eliminate the need for fine tuning and channel selection since the student was already tuned in at school. How cool! Ozark had only two weeks to catch up! The school board meeting drew a standing-room-only crowd and the packed house cheered when the superintendent announced a plan to “beat Paris in mobile watching.” Every student at Ozark High would get their own take home Zenith! Our carrying backpacks would be much cooler and our carts a beautiful purple and gold.

Funding priorities

The day after Labor Day 1965 I started my senior year at Ozark High. The excitement normally associated with the opening of school was heightened exponentially by the anticipated implementation of 1-to-1 TV. Ozark had to let Mrs. Smith go. She was our Spanish teacher and since there was really no need for Spanish in Arkansas, she was expendable to make ends meet. We would miss her. The district hired the superintendent’s nephew to direct the new 1-to-1 TV program. He came highly recommended by the superintendent as a “young man who has probably watched more TV than anyone in Franklin County.” He could recite the plot of every episode of Andy Griffith. We also employed Mr. Homer Bosworth who ran the TV repair shop in town as a technician and Billy Wilson, an athletic young fellow, to run wire. No school could be more ready than Ozark for 1-to-1. We all met in the cafeteria to get our Zenith portables and backpack. The newspaper was there taking pictures and the cheerleaders even did a cheer spelling out Z-E-N-I-T-H and ending with “beat Paris!”

Levels of implementation

Mr. Wizard - television science man
Mr. Wizard – By NBC Television (eBay item photo front photo back) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
I remember Mrs. Willosent in English was not actually sure how to use the mobile watching devices, but she promised to find a way. Biology was a different story altogether and we had an assignment the first week. Our teacher was ready to go with the program. “Watch Mr. Wizard after school and there will be a test tomorrow.” It did seem odd that Mr. Wizard was covering simple machines and we were studying cell structure, but we had to adapt to the new technology. He called it “flipping the class” and we snickered. It was an exciting year. Ozark High was even featured in the Fort Smith paper. Our TVs with the cool Z were the envy of all the neighboring schools and most made plans for 1-to-1 TV for the next school year. Mrs. Willosent never really got it, but she let us turn on our TVs occasionally, especially when we had guests at school. We watched Mr. Wizard a lot and our American History teacher required us to watch the 6 o’clock news, which we eventually abandoned since we never covered the news in class. I also recall that I usually preferred to watch on my own television and I never quite got why I needed to carry one. I remember thinking it might have been a good idea to have a plan for how to use the TVs, but that was secondary to a need to compete with our rivals.

#1 in 1-to-1!

I graduated the next spring and I never really followed Ozark’s 1 to 1 TV program. I did hear that Clarksville was planning a “bring your own television” idea. I don’t know how that turned out. I will never forget the pride Ozark experienced touting an innovative technology program to compete with our rivals. We were number 1 in 1-to-1! I also remember that Paris beat us 36 to 0 in football.


Revisit Our Assumptions About “Digital Natives?”

Posted by Phoebe Bailey on May 8, 2014

I am not an avid subscriber to YouTube channels, but I do have a favorite—TheFineBros.  I love their series Kids React.  Created in 2010, it features Fine brothers Benny and Rafi off camera showing kids, ages 5 to 14, videos or introducing topics for discussion. New clips are released weekly.

Black rotary dial telephone with red indicator light
The rotary telephone – a spiffy model with red indicator light.

In the last month, two clips made me laugh and feel old! The content of the first video dealt with how kids reacted to rotary phones. The second looked at their response to a Walkman. In the discussion of phones, kids were presented a rotary phone. The question was, “Where have you seen this?” Answers ranged from in the movies to reading about it in a history lesson. Most admitted they had no idea how to work the phone and did not know how to dial. It was quickly agreed they would not want to use it because it would take too long. When asked what a “busy signal” meant, one boy suggested it meant something was “loading.” All agreed they wanted to keep their iPhones.

A fan of the classics

As the Fine brothers debriefed, some kids reflected on how technology has advanced. They wanted to know if you could text with a rotary phone, and they felt using one would make it harder to call each other because both parties had to be home. However, one boy did say he liked rotary phones and stated, “I’m a fan of classics!”

Watching the clip, I realized most children have had no exposure to the phone I grew up using. They see the symbol of a handset on their iPhone but do not make the connection of where that icon originated. Yet It was only about 20 years ago that land lines were the standard, because cell phones were too expensive and impractical. DSL or cable Internet was something only the rich families had, so most computers connected to the internet using the same phone line that you needed in order to make calls.

Sony Walkman cassette player with earphones
The Sony Walkman was introduced in 1979.

The Walkman clip was just as funny—and just as depressing! When presented with a Walkman, initial comments included, “What is this, a walkie-talkie?” and, “What do I do?” One girl knew it was a cassette player but needed help to find the on button. They were told they needed a cassette tape but they did not know what that was. When given a cassette, they asked how to put it in. A few of the children stated they were not going to give up but felt it was “so hard.”

You have to do stuff!

After pressing play they were frustrated because they couldn’t hear any sound. They tried to solve the problem by turning up volume but were told they had to have headphones. When given headphones, one girl stated that her grandpa had them. When they finally got the player going, one girl said she felt “so accomplished” but another said it took forever and was too complicated. One of the more telling statements was when a girl said she felt “lazy” saying so, “but you have to do stuff.” One boy remarked that he “could not imagine living in your day.” Others said they “felt bad” for people living in the 90s.

After watching these videos, I thought about the generalizations adults, especially educators, make about “digital natives.” We assume all technology is easy for students to learn since they were born into a technology-focused society. Yet, if we assume students know everything about technology, aren’t we limiting their opportunities to learn and ask questions?

Experience not age?

Maybe it’s time we look at basing the terms digital native and digital immigrant on experience rather than age. Some users over 30 are very technology savvy while we have students that lack tech skills due to lack of exposure in their educational settings or lack of access at home. Educators need to remember everyone has their own skill set and comfort level with technology. We need to be able to meet the learning needs of all. Don’t be afraid to teach technology skills when needed or pair students up for peer tutoring. Perhaps most important of all, make your professional growth goal to become a digital native yourself to better enable you to convert those immigrants in your classroom! While you’re at it, check out Kids React and the other series on TheFineBros.


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.