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BYOD benefits include engagement, relevance, personalization of learning

By Gail Marshall
January 1, 2015
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If you're concentrating on the device in a BYOD initiative, you're setting your students up for failure.

That is the secret to implementing a successful Bring Your Own Device initiative offered by Lenny Schad, author of the book, Bring Your Own Learning: Transform Instruction with Any Device, (ISTE 2013). The book is based on his rollout of a BYOD project in the Katy Independent School District in Texas, which has about 70,000 students. He's now implementing a 1:1 program in the massive Houston (Texas) Independent School District (HISD) with about 213,000 students.

" "I get lots of calls from school districts wanting to know how HISD is being successful in its initiative," " he says, " "because they would like to do the same thing. And the very first question I ask every time is, 'Why do you want to do this?'

" "They want to talk to me about the technology and the infrastructure, and I don't even go there because if they can't answer the 'why' question for me, I tell them, 'You're not ready.'" "

So, what is his answer to the question?

Future focused

" "It's very simple. The kids are growing up in a digital world. Everything they do in their personal lives — everything they're going to do in their professional lives, whether it's blue collar or white collar — everything relies on their ability to navigate in a digital world. It is incumbent on us to prepare our kids from a young age to leverage the tools in a digital world to be successful.

" "We also know that by bringing the same tools kids use in their personal lives into the classroom, they're going to be much more engaged. Look at how kids spend their time. They are willing to spend four hours creating a video, creating a podcast or blogging, and they don't even think about it. If we can bring those same tools and concepts into the instruction model, engagement goes through the roof." "

Once you have a clear vision of your motivation behind the changes, the next step is staying focused on the goal: learning and teaching.

" "The power of these initiatives is changing the culture of instruction and [putting] digital content at their fingertips," " Schad says.

Don't be dazzled or distracted

But it doesn't end there. Even among schools eager to adopt BYOD or one of its cousins, too many get dazzled and distracted by the hardware. When Schad looks at struggling or failing initiatives, a very high percentage of those efforts are all about the device.

" "The devices came in," " he says, " "and the teachers did not change the way they were instructing. The kids got frustrated because they weren't using the devices, and more importantly, when they did, they weren't using devices to get relevant content." "

Tim Clark, Ed.D., understands that a seismic shift is happening in education, and teachers are at the center of attention.

Clark works with educators nationwide in his position as director of learning innovation at Safari Montage, a company that specializes in K-12 digital media management and distribution based in West Conshohocken, Pennsylvania. Before taking that position, he was well known for his BYO technology successes in Forsyth County Schools in Georgia. He has 5,600-plus followers on Twitter, and his popular blog, BYOT Network, addresses all aspects of learning and teaching with technology.

In his work among diverse schools and vast web contacts, he is seeing firsthand that everyone is grappling with the notion that students are coming to school with devices in their pockets that have access to all the information that has ever been recorded by mankind. So what happens to the role of the teacher?

" "At one time, we owned all of the textbooks and we gave them to kids," " he says. " "We did make the learning very linear. Now, kids love learning in webs, and it is a very global process." "

Student becomes the teacher

Clark has had the same experience as many adults with technology today — a child became his teacher. With BYOD, " "You don't have all the answers, because you don't own the device. You don't know all the applications. There are multiple times when a kindergartner or first grader is like, 'Here, let me show you.' They can take their devices and walk me through the steps of how something works." "
But although students know their own personal devices better than the teacher, they don't really know how to learn with their devices.
" "That is where the teacher can step in," " he says, " "by knowing how to ask good questions." "

For example, Clark was visiting a kindergarten teacher who was using the essential questions technique to challenge the students to show her what a compound word was.

" "Some kids would record themselves saying it, or some kids would record themselves doing something to show it. But one kid actually opened his own device and built a treehouse in Minecraft.

" "That really made me say, 'Wow.'

" "He is using his knowledge of a compound word as a kindergartner, and using a tool for gaming or for entertainment, for an instructional purpose. Again, we are making it relevant to the kid's experience." "

Advice for educators

Rachelle Wooten is a digital learning specialist and technology coach for Fort Bend Independent School District in Sugar Land, Texas, which has 71,000 students on 74 campuses. Wooten and other experts say teachers could use instruction and coaching along the way as they implement BYOD programs.

Here's her advice to educators:

  • Do make sure you communicate with parents. Tell them how you plan to use the device in the classroom and what safety measures are in place. Don't leave them out of the communication loop.
  • Don't hesitate to interact in person with parents. Consider having parents' night to inform families about the most common tools you use on campus. Help them understand what their children are learning.
  • Do give parents resources to manage their children's digital life. Reassure them, and allay their worries and concerns.
  • Don't ever stop learning. Get some training, formal or informal. Even Twitter chats can be helpful. Search #byot. Start researching on your own so the information is not so overwhelming.
  • Don't assume all students have devices. Do a quick, anonymous survey, ask questions and make everyone feel comfortable and included in the process.
  • Do have Plan B ready for your students. What if three or four children don't have smartphones or other devices? Have an alternative prepared. Get access to available devices they can use.
  • Don't forget to prepare a backup plan for your lessons. Infrastructure can fail. Think about what the lesson would look like without devices.
  • Do vary your device activities and time. Be both digital and analog. Just because students are in your class for 45 minutes doesn't mean they have to be on their devices for all 45 minutes. Change it up by putting away the devices, then initiating a discussion or breaking into small groups.
  • Don't sit at your desk. Mobile devices require a mobile teacher. Wander around the room and check up on what they are doing with their devices and encourage questions.
  • Do teach students a wide array of ways to use their devices. Don't always use the phone just for research. Have them do presentations, for example. This gives an opportunity to see the many different ways they can use their phones to learn.
  • Don't be rigid. Create! Students can do photo collages or videos on their phones. Move them to a different level of higher-order thinking.

One district's BYOD approach

In Patti Bostwick's school district in Zionsville, Indiana, about 98 percent of the families have internet access at home, and 77 percent of students bring their own devices to school. The district exists in a conservative area were folks are skeptical of new taxes, even school bonds. So that makes them one of the wealthiest districts in Indiana, with the lowest funding. Students in Indiana are required to rent their own textbooks and devices unless they qualify as a low-income family. At the same time, the parents have very high expectations of their schools and their children.

But money challenges didn't stop Bostwick, chief technology officer for Zionsville Community Schools, from helping her schools move ahead. About seven years ago in the middle of the recession, they started a 1:1 pilot device project in the middle school. They began with sixth graders and have expanded it every year through the high school. They were able to use textbook money to buy computers, and the students could rent them through the year as if they were books.

But as funding fluctuated, this became more and more difficult. The students were no longer satisfied with the school's rented devices because many families had far better equipment than the district could ever afford to buy.

" "The only way we could sustain this is through BYOD," " Bostwick says. Three years ago, they opened the rental program, saying, " "OK, you can sign up for BYOD and you don't have to pay the rent on the computer." " The first year, Zionsville Community Schools had 30-some percent; the second year, it was closer to 40 percent, and this year, when they expanded it to the high school, they hit 77 percent at BYOD. The remaining students rent their equipment.

The students who rent pay a fee for the year and they pay for any damages they do to the devices. The school provides repairs and gives them loaners. The school also maintains batteries and replaces things that go bad on the device. The devices are warranted. 

What if the child does what kids do: stands on it, closes pencils or earbuds on it, breaks the LCD? 

" "We have actually had all of those things," " Bostwick says. " "We have a price list; parents know up front if the kid breaks a screen, they are paying this amount and that includes our labor. If we have to reimage the machine multiple times, they get one freebie. After that, we charge them $20 to reimage their machines, and we learned that one that hard way. Before we started doing this, we were reimaging some machines 20 times a year. So this really helps us as far as time, but we still have broken hinge covers, cases, broken batteries." "

For schools that have tight funding issues with a prosperous demographic, BYOD is a practical goal.

" "Our goal was to get our BYOD percentage as high as possible because that means we do not have to pay as much in equipment," " Bostwick says. " "We have our network set up at this point so that students can get to our wireless." "

Virtualization do-over

Teacher and studentsLast summer, Bostwick moved the game ahead by leaps and bounds by prompting the schools in her district to invest in " "virtualization." " Virtualization is where the servers do the processing power, an old idea that they have reworked and improved. Remember the old dummy terminals where the machines sitting on the desk did not do a thing? That is what this is.

" "This is really the game changer, and it doesn't matter if a kid has got a boat anchor his dad had and brought home from work seven years ago," " she says. " "If that is what he is using and the kid right next to him is using a MacBook Air, it levels the playing field for all of them. We are in the process of rolling that out right now." "

They have perfected it to the point now that " "you can run Autocad — which is a very involved program, really big and a good video card — on an iPad, a Chromebook or a 10-year-old machine.

" "When we started having money problems six or seven years ago, we stopped replacing our equipment and just maintained it. Remember, wealthy community/poor district. And so we are to the point now that we could not update some of our computers to Windows 7 or 8. They were running XP, they are too slow, they do not have RAM and they are frustrating to use because of the age. For us to replace all of that equipment would cost us over $2.5 million if we replaced everything we really should. By going to virtualization, it cost less and it makes things work like new again." "

" "Everything is processed back on the servers," " Bostwick explains. " "If you are working on a document at your desk and you need to leave, you can pick up your iPad at home and it will show that document you were working on exactly where you were. Kids who are taking an art class or a photography class and need to work on Photoshop, a lot of them would beg their parents for the program for their computer at home because they had homework to do and they couldn't get to it unless they were coming in early, staying late because the program is here at school.

" "This way, they can log in, and because they are a member of that class, they have access to that program they need, and it doesn't matter where they are as long as they have internet access and the backend server is doing all the work.

" "It really is a game changer and something we are really excited about. We are taking our time rolling it out because we want to make sure it is working. You can't hurry this." "

BYOD's bold new world

Brandon Olszewski is a senior educational consultant at ISTE and a part of the team working with the Verizon Mobile Learning Academy, among other programs. He says the goal must be to put the devices in students' hands. It is not about teachers having all the technology, using the same lesson plans and then " "just replacing the lectern with a PowerPoint." "

Debbie Smith, principal of Coal Mountain Elementary School in Forsyth County Schools in Georgia, wrote a guest post on Clark's blog in which she suggested teachers ask themselves these questions to determine if teaching in this bold new world is right for them:

Am I committed to what is best for my students? With the knowledge that using digital devices is hugely successful in engaging students in their learning, what am I doing as an educational professional and leader to hone my technological skills? Am I committed to continued learning and growth as an educational professional, with technology as well as the design of quality instruction that calls for students to think deeply and " "show what they know?" "

Gail Marshall is a writer and editor for the Fresno Bee, a major metropolitan newspaper in California. She also owns and operates a freelance business, Marshall Arts Communications.