As funding for computers in classrooms has dried up, many private and public schools have had to take the plunge into BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) as a way to provide 1:1 access for their students.
Since 2013, the NSW Department of Education and Communities has advocated BYOD, allowing students to bring their own personal mobile electronic devices to school for the purpose of learning. Similar approaches are taken in Victoria, Queensland and other states. Regardless of location, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to BYOD implementation; while the exact model is generally different from school to school, the practical experiences of allowing students to bring their own device to school is more universal, and many teachers are now facing the same classroom challenges.
If your school hasn’t migrated to BYOD, is still in the planning stages, or could use some help, here are 5 essential tips to ensure your program is successful across your school community in 2016.
1. Recommend preferred devices
It’s widely acknowledged that technology plays a huge role in the everyday lives of young people, and the general consensus is that use of mobile devices at school will deepen learning. A recent finding also revealed that HSC students who had been educated with a laptop did better than those who had not, to varying degrees in subjects such as biology, chemistry and physics.
Providing laptops for students is beyond most school budgets, which is why many students have already purchased their own smart device, often without considering the practical or “pedagogical potential” implications of the technology…
From a recent survey of 1,000 parents, half of all respondents said they’d received little guidance as to which laptop or tablet they should buy for their child. Two-thirds also said they wanted schools to recommend a range of appropriate devices. It also emerged that one in five students were stuck with a device that does not do what they need it to!
With holidays and Christmas just around the corner, now is the time to discuss appropriate devices with your students and parents. The capability of each device type needs to be fully-considered in the context of your program, and the types of learning activities that will be delivered using the potential of these devices.
Commonly, schools will supply their BYOD specifications, providing guidance around the device size (physical dimensions, operating system, wireless compatibility, etc). This approach allows for greater flexibility, while recommending minimum and maximum screen sizes. Other schools will instead opt to provide a list of recommended devices (which can vary from junior to senior years). Whatever the approach taken, it’s important to clearly document this information in your school’s own policy and communicate the information through newsletters, emails and your school website before the end of the school year.
2. Consult with your staff and students
You can hire all number and manner of consultants to provide general and technology-related advice, but if you want your BYOD program to be successful, your school community will need to create their ‘own’ BYOD program.
Your school community should drive the vision of online learning in your organisation, and help shape the vision for technology-based activities at home and in the classroom. For a BYOD program to be successful requires not only involvement – but commitment by all staff.
As the NSW DEC suggests, BYOD programs should occur in consultation with school communities to effectively ‘meet the expectations of teachers, students, parents and caregivers’. As a starting point, engage with your student SRC and speak with teachers about their expectations and how they envisage using the program.
While the principal is responsible for developing and implementing the school’s BYOD policy, they should first see if they have the support of teachers and leaders in their school – educators need to understand the benefits of a BYOD program before getting involved in creating one. Once a consensus has been achieved, school leaders can collaborate, or drive learning activities, providing advice for other educators who want to improve their own BYOD teaching practices.
Careful consultation and planning now will mean that you are ready to kick-off (or make changes) to your BYOD program in the new school year. Continuous consultation and feedback (via Information sessions or notice boards), and regular updates to students and parents throughout the year will help keep your school community ‘on board’ with any upcoming changes.
3. Promote anytime anywhere learning
As someone clever once said: Great teachers don’t just happen – they need to be developed and supported. Great teaching adapts to the changes around it, keeping pace with expectations from students, parents and peers.
As part of a BYOD program, teachers are required to keep pace with changing technologies, being able to quickly adapt to a plethora of devices in their classrooms including laptops, tablets, phablets and smartphones (depending on their school’s approach).
Education consultant Tom Vander Ark observes that ‘delivering quality education has moved away from ensuring access to technology, to embracing the new pedagogies enabled by that technology’… The crux of this is that new learning styles won’t be just invented – they will be expected.
Many elements will come together to build meaningful lessons for these new learning styles, but at the heart of the any lesson will still be great teaching. Educators need to understand students needs, the technologies at their disposal, and be inspired to create learning experiences to develop the skills students need.
Program planning, and providing opportunities for staff to engage in professional learning during 2016 will help guide interactive learning activities that support a variety of devices… ‘With the right ICT (Information Computer Technology) environment and development, teachers won’t feel confined within school walls and the regular hours of the school, allowing anytime, anywhere learning to become the reality’.
4. Use the cloud to flip your classrooms
Most teachers would be familiar with terms like ‘flipped classrooms’ and ‘blended learning’, but putting these concepts into practice is often more difficult than it sounds. Teachers who are new to online learning can be underwhelmed by the student response to such activities, and/or can struggle to create efficient systems to support BYOD learning models.
All students attending a NSW Department of Education school have access to download and install Microsoft Office 365 and the Adobe Creative Suite of software – valuable document editing and design tools for creative projects. While these applications foster the development of workplace skills, they don’t provide the necessary framework for delivering classroom activities on a day-to-day basis – they can also be can be difficult for teachers to learn and demonstrate!
Cloud-based tools like Google Classroom (Free to Government schools in many states) and Emodo can be used to help make the shift towards self-directed learning in collaboration with peers, teachers and other available online resources (for instance eBooks, or interactive activities). The learning curve for using such platforms is generally short; within minutes of getting started, teachers can easily upload and manage lesson resources, discussions, quizzes and manage self-grading assessments.
Students who already spend a lot of their leisure time on social media will easily grasp the key concepts quickly, allowing lessons to take shape at home or in the classroom with only a small amount of house-keeping.
Another advantage to using the cloud is that most platforms are now mobile friendly, and don’t require any additional software installation. Teaching staff who want to avoid the headaches of traditional software (installation problems, errors, incompatibility across devices, etc.) should be encouraged to explore cloud-based technologies they’d like to use in the classroom (or at home).
Ideally, a single platform to connect the class, and track student progress should be used across your entire school. Providing a consistent format to lessons and delivery will help keep your school’s BYOD community on the same page.
5. Bring your lessons to life on any device
Using Google’s platform to manage your classroom can help manage homework activities, lesson activities and scheduling, creating a smooth transition from traditional classroom activities to working online, but it’s no silver bullet. These online tools are aimed at streamlining the management of documentation, class activities and assessments, not on delivering critical learning outcomes to students. If teachers really want to power up their pedagogy, they need to look at ways to make their lesson activities, content and assessments inspiring.
Uploading a document to Google Classroom, and adding a quiz might be easy and convenient, but doesn’t transform the learner’s experience. If the content was seen as boring or demotivating before it was added as a resource, there’s a good chance it will be received the same way online.
To create truly meaningful learning as part of a BYOD program, helping students to achieve their potential, teachers need to embrace new technologies and integrate them into their teaching practices.
Cloud-based tools like eCoach and Versal allow teachers to completely transform their lessons for any device (although Versal requires the installation of a separate player). Both of these tools incorporate interactive eLearning elements and activities into lessons with 1-click publishing, allowing you to share your courses anywhere.
While teachers are hesitant to constantly adopt new technology, the next generation of online authoring platforms means that anyone can make great looking online lessons with little or no design expertise.
If teachers have the right tools to bring their BYOD lessons to life, it will also help their students explore, discover, and problem-solve their way to better learning outcomes from any device. If students are engaged in what they doing, it will also provide better opportunities for support and mentoring in the classroom.
As many schools have now shown, BYOD can work in your school community as long is it’s well planned with clear policies. Most importantly though, your school’s staff need to get on board, inspiring students by using digital resources that to build momentum in the classroom.
Now’s the time to start planning your BYOD training, tools and technologies for 2016, building a roadmap for the scholastic year. It’s also important to regularly review your efforts throughout the year to apply what’s learned in future policies.
Ryan Macpherson is an Educational Consultant and has a proven track record in developing strategies and supporting programmes of work to enhance learning practices through the use of innovative technology.