When I speak to schools about their BYOD plans, often their response reminds me of the following story.
A man was galloping on his horse down the main street of town. One of his friends yells out to him, “Bill, where are you going?”
Bill looks over his shoulder and yells back “I don’t know! Ask the horse.”
If you are in charge of developing ICT in your school, an interesting question to ask yourself is “Who is driving our technology agenda?”
When your technology agenda is driven by technologists and technology companies, you can fall into the trap of feeling like you always need the latest and greatest technology to achieve your outcomes. Technology companies are fantastic at creating the desire to upgrade your technology every year; their business model depends on it.
When your decision making is informed by research, you can be headed for disaster. As educationalists we love research. It informs our thinking, validates our direction, and makes us feel secure in our policies.
I can still remember the shock when a researcher explained to me that a large percentage of research is funded by big business. The ramifications for schools that blindly follow the latest research findings can be enormous.
Sounds cynical I know, however the reality is that a large percentage of the most popular research being quoted in conferences and in blogs has been funded by large technology companies eager for you to buy their products.
Does this mean the research is invalid? No. School leaders can still glean insight from this research. However we need to approach this research in a balanced way.
When parents drive the agenda, you run the risk of making decisions that make sense in a consumer market, but do not always suit the needs of education. When parents are involved in the decision making process, often the driving factor is price.
Price is important when making decisions about what technology families should purchase. We feel the weight of asking parents to dig into their pockets and finance these new tools. But not all devices are created equal when it comes to learning, price is one factor, but should never be THE factor.
I am not saying that parents should not be given a voice. Every successful BYOD program I have seen has found ways to include the parents as part of their new collaborative environment. This environment goes beyond communicating with the parents about the changes that are taking place, and invites the parents to join the learning community and be involved in their child’s education.
Sometimes we feel pressured to follow what other successful schools have done. Schools that do this often adopt a program without understanding the context and school culture in which this program flourished.
When we do this, our results fall short of expectations. It is not that the program was flawed, but rather it was perfect for the environment it was designed for.
Your school can have an incredibly successful BYOD program
Your BYOD program does not need to be complex. It does, however, need to answer these three fundamental questions:
- How do our students learn and how do our teachers teach?
Some things to consider when answering this question:
- Do students learn better when they have access to a pen? (See the research on the Design of Future Educational Interfaces by Sharon Oviatt)
- Do our teachers display resilience and persistence when facing technical difficulties?
- As a school, do we tolerate, celebrate or resist change?
- Is student engagement and learning enhanced with the use of technology? How will we measure this?
- How will the use of technology enhance the outcomes we are already experiencing?
- Are we trying to fix our weaknesses or build on our strengths?
You may notice that there are not any questions about wireless infrastructure and internet speeds. These aspects are vitally important, but are not essential to your first stage of BYOD planning.
- How will our students learn and our teachers teach?
This question deals primarily with your vision. Your vision is not about which device you will purchase and how this will be funded; that is your strategy. Your strategy will change but your vision should stay the same.
When it comes to developing and communicating your vision, it is best to remember that we speak in pictures not in words. Let me explain. If I say the word ‘elephant’, what do you see? Do you see the letters that spell elephant or do you see an elephant? You see the elephant, right?
Now, the elephant I see is completely different to the elephant you see. That is unless the elephant you see is small enough to fit on a ten cent piece, has pink legs and a yellow trunk. The more I describe my vision, the clearer the picture becomes.
The more detail you provide of your vision, the more successful your BYOD plan will be.
- What is the best way to establish our vision whilst being realistic about our present?
Once you have a clear picture of how your students learn now and how they will learn in the future, you can begin to design a plan that will meet your unique needs.
This is where you can design your professional development, infrastructure and device strategy to bridge the gap between your vision and reality.
As you progress with your plan, your strategy can change to address the issues that arise, but as you do, you continue to establish the vision and culture that will make your plans a success.
Too often schools want to start the discussion about which device is best. My answer is always best for what?
If your vision includes quick access to the internet, browser-based activity through websites, online document creation tools, and apps, then something like a chromebook will be perfect for your needs.
If your vision requires your students to use peripherals such as microscopes, or not being reliant on a stable and fast internet connection, then a PC will be a better choice. Furthermore, if your vision includes your students taking notes, drawing diagrams and annotating over class notes, a tablet with pen or PC tablet with pen would be the best fit.
When you start the discussion with the device, quite often the device you choose dictates the vision, the infrastructure, the staff training and, ultimately, the pedagogy.
Just like Bill on his horse, you are moving – you just do not know where you will end up and who will make the journey with you.
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- Not All Devices Are Created Equal - April 9, 2015
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