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In Depth: BYOD

Thursday, July 31, 2014 -- Scott Sterling

This month, we’re going to focus on some pedagogical ideas currently taking hold in classrooms. The goal is to give you some ideas worth trying out once the doors open in August. This week, it’s Bring Your Own Device (BYOD).

What is it?

Although BYOD is more of a policy suggestion than a pedagogical approach, it can facilitate a lot of teaching and lesson ideas that were otherwise unavailable, which is why it’s worth covering during this month.

The premise is simple: every student in your classroom (of a certain age) already has an internet-capable device in his or her pocket. Many schools punish students for using them during class. Instead of that approach, why not allow them to use their own devices for learning? Schools with sparse technology budgets especially like the idea of BYOD because it means less devices need to be bought or leased by them.

How it works

I don’t think we need to talk about how it works (the technical stuff is usually above a teacher’s pay grade), and instead talk about how it might change a teacher’s style.

When a school is considering BYOD, the teachers need to start thinking about how their practice could change if every student in the room had access to a device. Are there any projects that come to mind? How can learning be differentiated? How do you make sure students stay on task instead of texting?

The best start might be to do some online searching for 1-to-1 lesson ideas, meaning one device for every student. It’s amazing what some teachers have thought of when given this opportunity. Then look back through your own lessons and see if any of them call out for the use of tech toys. If none of these strike you, it’s not a crime to only use devices sparingly or not at all.

The challenges

The first challenge is obviously curbing off-task behaviors. Hopefully your district or school IT people figured out a way of blocking inappropriate sites for anyone using the wi-fi. That’s the only protection under a BYOD scenario because filter software can’t be installed on a student’s personal device. If not, you’ll need every monitoring trick in the book.

The second is making information available to anyone on any device. Some kids will have iPhones while others will have Androids. Some will bring tablets you’ve never heard of. If you’re going to make something available, or required, you need to make sure it works for everybody. Try staying away from apps for a while. Some apps simply aren’t universally available (or do the research to make sure they are before asking your kids to download them). Stay with websites and generic apps that anyone has on their phone, like the camera and video functions.