I’ve written more posts on BYOD/BYOT (Bring Your Own Device/Technology) than Sylvia Plath penned woebegone prose, so I’m going to put all of you out of your misery and promise you this is the last one. It’s been just over five school years now that I’ve invited students to bring their own wifi enabled devices into the classroom to use for learning. The first couple of years were a whirlwind of learning for everyone involved, but I can say fairly that the dust has settled quite a bit in the time since. Has it gotten easier or harder, you ask? As my fourth grade French teacher would say, comme ci comme ça.
And another thing: “easier” and “harder” aren’t exactly the most appropriate words here, but they’re as correct as one can get. Kind of like how kids says their teacher is “nice” or “mean”; it means nothing and it means everything at the same time. I was initially going to juxtapose “the good and the bad” as far as my experience has gone, but I simply couldn’t position the ideas in that way. I think this is because it’s hard to discuss BYOD/BYOT without the uncomfortable merging of pedagogical, sociological, psychological, and nuts-n-bolts practical considerations. In other words, the plight of the teacher in general. After year five of saying, “Ya, sure, kid, get out that mini supercomputer you got for Christmas”, here’s my little State of the Union.
My experience doing BYOD has always been in relatively affluent public school communities. We’ve also been fortunate to be well supported by my school board with technology to provide for students who do not bring their own devices in. This is to say that I really don’t know what to say about our progress in equity, because we can speak about this issue from many different vistas and contexts. I will say that I’ve always had great difficulty pinpointing what makes a student more or less likely to: a) own a personal device; or b) have permission to bring it in. It isn’t easily defined by their parents’ income, political stance, or cultural background. It’s also weird but unsurprising to me that technology is just another item on the epic novel that are our school supply lists for parents.
In the first few years of this initiative, my part-time job was as communicator and, unfortunately, evangelist for why BYOD should at least be allowed in a classroom. Whether it was colleagues, administrators, parents, and even, in some cases, the students themselves, I spent a lot of energy touting its benefit for learning. These days, no one asks questions anymore. Ironically, I myself have more critical questions than ever.
Apps and Software
Nearly all apps and tools are in the cloud and device agnostic these days, so it’s never been easier to have multiple devices talk to one another, and share/sync files with. There have been numerous times where we’d find a clever DIY workaround to a software problem, but folks like Google and Apple have taken care of a lot of that hassle. Again, the irony being that it has made our devices more… vanilla.
Focus and Attention
Over four years ago I wrote that one of the best ways BYOD can succeed in your learning environment is to rethink what it means to be attentive. I still whole heartedly contend that we need to abolish the notion that eyes-on-teacher-hands-in-lap is the Everest of attentiveness (perhaps we should remember that this may have always been the case, regardless of the exponential growth of digital and mobile technologies). These days, however, I will admit that I find it more challenging than ever to teach BYOD students to be focussed learners, able to block out some of the distractions their devices present. The writings of Maria Konnikova on multitasking have made me reflect even harder on this of late. Which leads me naturally to…
As with the proviso on ‘attention’ above, another tenant of successful BYOD implementation I’ve always touted is the need to at least address social media. Considering BYOD in any school without contemplating how social media will be leveraged is like buying your kid a car and expecting them not to go anywhere unexpected. Which is why I’ve always integrated social media spaces and tools into classroom learning. In 2014, though, this has been more difficult than ever. The world of social media for youth is, at times, the antithesis of school culture. Where school functions on rules set out by adults, social media spaces are governed by the adolescents themselves; where there is a state-sanctioned curriculum in school, there is only fun, intrigue, and experimentation in social media. What is more, particularly because of the work of danah boyd, I’m very wary these days of what I perceive as an over-step by educators into the social lives of teens online. But I’ll leave that little morsel for you to chew on, and perhaps write about in a future blogpost.
This post is neither an endorsement nor rejection of policies or approaches to students bringing their own technology for education. Deal with the murky ground, folks; it’s actually joyful and soothing.
What about you? How’s the BYOD going in your school or classroom?