Category: BYOT/BYOD

Hang Up? Crawfishing (a Little) on BYOD

For years, I have been an avid supporter and advocate of BYOD. Specifically, I have argued that students’ smartphones were powerful, pocket-sized computers with high-speed internet capable of connecting, creating, engaging. They were a fabulous solution to the very significant problems of digital divide. Schools lacking in computers or infrastructure would no longer be shackled by the technologies they lacked–just get out your pocket PCs, kids!

Lately, though, I must admit that I wonder about this idea and really have been questioning the validity of my beliefs. I more and more frequently encounter news stories and blog posts about schools or even entire countries abandoning their phone-friendly policies. Policy makers have decided the competition for students’ attention, the distractions, the discipline problems, the effects on student emotions were all too high of a price to pay for any positives the devices might promise. Surprisingly, their arguments against the devices in the classroom are starting to resonate a lot more with me.

Some experts, such as the folks at Common Sense Media, have determined that teens spend an average of 9 hours per day looking at a digital screen. I will testify that at least seems pretty accurate in my own household, even if I haven’t put a timer to it. Life is intently focused on a screen of some sort the vast majority of waking hours, riding in the car, sitting in their rooms, eating a snack, etc. The majority of the time, my kids, wife, and I are thumbing robotically through Instagram, watching YouTube or Netflix videos, checking Snapchat, or something similar.

I will say that the number and range of topics that my kids are learning about is sometimes really amazing. This is especially true for Reilly, my son, who watches videos on every topic under the sun. Also, I have much appreciation for the way that my kids are able to stay connected to their friends, particularly during the summer, as we live a half hour from most of them. I can completely understand my son’s penchant for gaming, as I enjoy an admittedly smaller variety of games almost as much. We ditched cable and satellite television a few years ago, too, so much of their phone time is a substitute for former television hours. All that to say I recognize there is considerable value, for sure.

On the other hand, though, it is unrealistic to deny that there are significant problems that come along with the devices’ constant presence. One that I think is most significant is the devices’ tendency to become the attention priority of the user. In other words, the user is so distracted by the device that he/she cannot maintain focus on anything or anyone else. Just try to count the number of times in a day when someone checks their phone while having a face-to-face interaction with someone. I’ve sure been guilty of it. Watch families/friends sitting together at restaurants. We see it (maybe take part) constantly–groups become zombies making idle chit-chat while staring at PewDiePie on their new iPhone or Galaxy. A 2018 study by Common Sense Media revealed more than half of teens acknowledged that phones distracted them in negative ways. Additional research by Common Sense shows that not only do a large number of kids check their social media feeds pretty much constantly, the negative outcomes (hateful comments, posts not being “liked” enough, etc.) more profoundly affect the kids already facing social/emotional problems.

For the teacher optimistic enough to try and use them in the classroom, a particular challenge I have heard about endlessly since basically the debut of the iPhone in 2007 is management. Even teachers who are still open-minded or enthusiastic about the possibilities struggle with ensuring that they are being used in purposeful, learning-focused ways. For a teacher who may not be experienced or especially skilled at general classroom management, this becomes an even bigger issue. I know that I and countless colleagues in the edtech world have attempted to share effective management strategies, but the dismal tales persist.

What’s the point to all of this then? Well, I suppose it is that I am probably less convinced of the power of student devices in the classroom than I was a decade ago, when my former superintendent abruptly declared our district to be a BYOD environment. Certainly, there have been some cool moments of real success, from creative student video productions to collaborative documents to engaging formal assessment and feedback apps and many more. I won’t begin to argue against those. I think, though, that more than a decade’s time passing should have ironed out many more of the wrinkles in the plan and the process. It hasn’t, and I still hear more negative feedback than positive (Okay, maybe complainers are just more…expressive.). I am currently running a Twitter survey to gauge my PLN’s feelings on student phones in the classroom and already seeing some interesting results.  My mind is far from made up, and reflection is critical to my own professional practice, so I’m going to keep mulling the pros and cons of this issue for awhile. As always, I would welcome and respect your thoughts and comments!

3 Student Activities For Easing Into BYOD This Year

byod

Image source: https://flic.kr/p/i3VoBV

BYOD (Bring your own device) initiatives have been around for more than a decade now in one form or another in schools and businesses. As I conduct workshops or engage in conversations with teachers on using student-owned mobile devices in the classroom, there is almost universal agreement as to the incredible potential of today’s pocket-sized supercomputers. There is, certainly, some trepidation, as well–questions regarding discipline, management, privacy, theft, etc.  The thing is, while these concerns are not unjustified by any means, we are not blazing a new trail here. Thousands of classrooms have gone before us, and there is a mounting evidence in the research of the benefits to students of the well-planned BYOD program. For those on the precipice, here are 3 painless ways to test the waters when school starts this year.

1. Student Planning/Scheduling –Instead of having students copy assignments off of the dry-erase board or projector screen every Monday morning, as is the ritual in countless classes, have them use their cell phones’ calendar apps to save assignments, due dates, etc. As quickly as young fingers nimbly text on their tiny keyboards, this isn’t likely to take up more time than having them use paper and pen. It’s also more reflective of what most college students or adults would do in 2014. My daughter’s principal told me last week that students at her middle school will do this starting this fall–kudos to Mr. Garza for a great first step.

2. Class Backchannel –Using free tools like Todaysmeet, Google Forms, Twitter, etc., teachers can easily leverage student devices to gather student observations, understandings, and questions. These can be used for quick formative assessment during class to re-direct activities or instruction as needed to clarify or correct misunderstandings. By creating a unique class hashtag (e.g. #mrsmithsmath), Twitter goes from a potential distraction to a very powerful group discussion tool, and it is not necessary for users to follow one another to utilize a common hashtag. Just search for the hashtag within Twitter and see the entire discussion at once.

3. Podcasting –Class podcasts, especially audio podcasts, are very easy to create and provide a powerful tool for archiving student learning, sharing creative works, communicating news, and more. If you’re still not sure what a podcast is, it’s like a TV or radio series, only based on the web. Here’s an example by an educator friend, Technlandia. The great news is that it doesn’t take incredible techiness to be able to put together a show like this. Basically, you or your students record an audio file and upload it to a host site, like Podbean or Podomatic. Even easier, try a tool like Audioboo for Education. Audioboo’s app is ridiculously simple to use. Students can quickly record, title, tag, and upload audio podcasts to their own or a class podcast. Ease into the idea by having a student record announcements into a daily/weekly class podcast, then move on to letting a student share a short summary of the day’s lesson(s) at the end of class, share their writing, etc.

These aren’t flashy, but they’re easy to get you and your students started. The aim is to give students opportunities to leverage the bigger capabilities of their phones and get students viewing their phones as something more than entertainment or 24/7 pipelines to their friends. Not an easy task, but management gets easier as the novelty fades. I’ve heard of teachers using many different strategies to varying effect. At the outset, a simple technique is to require phones to be left face-down on the desk’s corner when not being used instructionally.

If you’re planning on giving BYOD a shot this year, good luck! It’s likely to be a learning process, as with any resource, and you and your kids will come to see ways to use the devices naturally and effectively with practice.

Building BYOT

Over the next several months, we will be taking on the task of implementing a BYOT program here in Seguin. Although we are several months away from being ready with our wireless infrastructure, I am already looking at other programs and research and trying to reflect upon our experiences implementing the program back in Birdville. What I would like to do is keep something of a journal of our progress here as we go through the process. Hopefully, this will encourage some brilliant folks who visit here to share their insights. Also, it might be something of a learning tool for those who are considering, but not yet ready to give BYOT/BYOD a go.

At this point, there are more questions than answers. Among the questions we will be sorting out before we get the ball rolling…

  • What devices will be included as acceptable technology resources?
  • How will we meet the needs of students who do not own personal devices?
  • How will our current AUP need to be modified?
  • What does effective use of student technologies look like in the classroom?
  • Will we allow students to use their own cellular data networks or require them to access our network?
  • How can we provide technical support to students when trying to use their devices?
  • What are some classroom management strategies that will increase the likelihood of success for our teachers and students?
  • What professional development will be provided for teachers?
  • How will the program be rolled out? High school first? All secondary? District-wide?
  • How can a BYOT be successful at a low-income elementary campus, where very few student owned devices are available?

So, any answers?

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