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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iPads, and Netbooks, and Chromebooks! Oh My!

Posted by Will Kimbley on November 3, 2013

Netbook, iPad, and Chromebook

The times they are a-changin’. Previously, there have been haves and have-nots with regard to the presence of technology in education. Now, the demands of the Common Core, and their attendant Smarter Balanced assessments, dictate that schools provide technology tools for students.  In California, State Superintendent Tom Torlakson’s soon to be released ed-tech blueprint says the goal is 1:1 devices for everyone. So, how do we meet that goal? What devices do we purchase, and why?

We have seen a number of districts roll out one-size-fits-all solutions. It sounds a little like the Oprah show: “You’re getting an iPad, you’re getting an iPad!”  But is that the best decision? What are the key factors to consider?

One of the primary considerations is the Smarter Balanced assessments. There are requirements that whatever technology is purchased meets a set of minimum specifications, e.g. 10 inch screen, 1024 x 768 resolution, keyboard, as well as certain operating systems (click here for complete information).

Besides the new assessments, there are other considerations.  Cost, of course, is a big one. How much money do you have to make the purchase? What about sustainability? What is the life of the device? Which devices are easiest to manage? All of these are important, but they neglect one of the biggest factors that often gets overlooked: the classroom.

The decision-making process must include how the device will be used in the classroom. The mobility of tablets is great for science classrooms and allows students to do science.  What about a class where the primary use will be word processing? Then an iPad or Android tablet may not be the best solution. What about Chromebooks? They work great with Google Drive and web based applications and you can’t beat the price. You can get two Chromebooks for the price of one iPad, and you don’t have to purchase an additional keyboard. But if you need to install software, then you’ll need a different device. Netbooks are another possible solution, but they tend to have slower processors and have a difficult time running large operating systems such as Windows.

The reality is there is no single device solution that will cover all your needs. While a single device type may be easier to manage, you should consider a variety of devices. Talk to teachers who are already using devices in the classroom. Find out what devices they prefer. Pilot a variety of devices with teachers of various skill levels. Survey students to find out what they prefer to use. Weigh the pros and cons of the various devices and how they will be used. There is no perfect solution, and no way to make a good snap decision. Whichever devices you choose will require careful consideration and planning.

 

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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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Same Song, Second Verse

Posted by Susan Brooks-Young on April 29, 2013

Image of The Prune Song sheet music 1928Do you remember The Prune Song? A camp classic, this silly ditty reviews the travails of life as a prune. The pleasure in singing the song comes from repeating over and over its first verse —“a little bit louder and a little bit worse!” A fun way for nine-year-olds to wile away the time perhaps, but not so amusing when adults persist in this same behavior.

Two decades ago Apple Inc. hired independent researchers to evaluate the impact of the Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow (ACOT) project. One important outcome of this report was the recognition that when technology use is limited to supporting traditional instruction or increasing student productivity, any improvements in student performance cannot be attributed to the technology. Subsequent studies and models (e.g., the Substitution Augmentation Modification Redefinition (SAMR) model) draw similar conclusions.

What kinds of technology-supported activities actually make a difference? The research is clear on this as well. When students engage in project-based learning experiences or solve authentic problems using technology as one of several available tools, increases in achievement can be attributed—at least in part—to technology use. How does this information impact classrooms today?

In their eagerness to incorporate use of mobile tablet devices into classrooms, some educators are taking the same-song-second-verse approach instead of taking time to think through how this technology could be used to significantly change classroom instruction. As has been the pattern with earlier technologies, it’s not uncommon to hear about schools and districts that have purchased equipment with minimal planning for actual classroom use. Or to run across teachers who envision primary use of tablets consisting of apps that cover discrete Common Core performance indicators. The upshot of this is teachers spending their time searching for and deploying stand-alone apps that have a limited shelf-life and use minimally effective instructional strategies to teach or review very basic concepts.

What can school leaders do to reverse this trend? Here are a few simple suggestions:

  1. Resist the temptation to deploy mobile tablet devices to ‘see what will happen.’ Take time to plan thoroughly. The College of William & Mary School of Education Learning Activity Types wiki offers a variety of technology-supported activities based on the TPACK model.
  2. Work with staff to revisit Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy. Several talented educators have posted work online designed to help teachers rethink classroom use of touch technology. Check out Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy and Bloomin’ Apps for ideas.
  3. Think beyond drill and practice or task automation. The most effective use of tablets is for content creation, not content consumption. Encourage teachers to explore ways students can use tablets for project-based learning and to solve authentic problems.

 

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A Tablet Isn’t a Silver Bullet

Posted by Stephen Vaughn on February 22, 2013

NO silver bulletI know lots of people have mobile devices, and I know most of them wonder, “How did I ever live without this thing?”  I have my iPad and I like it, too; it’s a great tool.  Unfortunately, like other great tools, in the hands of the incompetent, it can be nothing more than an expensive toy, even a tool of destruction.

I have firsthand experience with this. Last year, my district deployed iPads to all certificated employees for use in their special and alternative education classes. We had full-day mandatory trainings. We provided access to some online training as well. For most people this level of training appears to have been enough to get them started on using their mobile technology effectively, but not everyone.

Most of the teachers are using their iPads for instruction of small groups, as assistive communication devices, or as individual reinforcement of prior learning.  However, I’m still finding teachers who either lock the iPad away—they say they’re afraid the iPads are going to get broken—or they’re just using them for games to pacify students. In these cases, it would be better if the teachers didn’t have the iPads in first place.  They’re either using them as crutches or not using them at all.

As you can guess, my point is: it’s not the quality of the technology that matters; it’s the quality of the teaching that counts.  We are continuing to work with these teachers to help and encourage them make better use of the technology at their disposal.

My motto: never buy technology at the expense of effective teacher training.  What do you think?

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