Students working on art projects with hand-held devices by their side. Photos by JKloppenburg
At a recent staff meeting, a colleague announced a “We Are Silent” day put on by the student council in April where no talking for the entire school day would be encouraged to create awareness for all those around the world whose voices are not heard. Added to the “Silent Day” would be no use of devices, meaning no cell phone use. Immediately, one of the teachers blurted out “Oh, why can’t we have ‘no cell phone use’ every day!” This is not the first time I have heard negative remarks about devices in the classroom. The fact of the matter is BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) is viewed by many teachers as a distraction and a major annoyance. Many classroom teachers would rather not deal with devices in their classrooms and instead would like to continue to trudge their whole class to a computer lab (where Netop can be used to monitor all computer screens) for Internet use. In his Blog post Inequity and BYOD, George Couros aptly points out, “Technology should be at the point of instruction and be as accessible in learning as a pencil; it shouldn’t be an event” (2013). An ordinary day in my art class will have students working in groups of six at large tables throughout the room. On the tables beside the students are their art tools (pencils, erasers, smudging tools etc.) and their cell phones or tablets. One student quickly brings up a YouTube video on how to shade noses, while another searches for just the right photograph showing the correct stance of a bird for their composition, and while yet another does a Google search for an artist mentioned in class with a similar style they choose to use. These students have technology as close to their fingertips as their pencils. Are there students that show off task behaviour and play games, such as Minecraft, instead of working on their art project? Absolutely, but as the teacher it is my job to engage that student and redirect his attention back to a project in art he can be inspired to work on (I did make a plan to view his creatively built house in Minecraft at the end of class). Instead of negatively viewing handheld devices, what we need is a complete attitude shift on adopting a BYOD model for all classrooms. This attitude shift for BYOD needs to begin with embracing digital technologies in learning (based on sound pedagogy and improved teacher training) and creating a district policy that addresses appropriate use and digital citizenship, equity of access and bandwidth.
The Alberta School Technology Board (2013) outlines what embracing digital technologies in learning based on sound pedagogy using BYOD can provide:
· a means for students to engage in inquiry learning
· opportunity for learners to collaborate with teachers and peers and to express themselves and their ideas most effectively
· a vehicle for personalized learning
· opportunities for student choice in the use of multimedia to explore, research, think, analyze, evaluate, communicate and express ideas in high quality products
· a platform for student voices
· access to digital content and digital learning environments that provide multiple pathways to learning
· connections locally and globally that add authenticity to school work
· platforms to attain high standards in digital citizenship
· opportunities for students to construct ideas, opinions arguments and evidence-based reasoning collaboratively
Along with embracing digital learning, educators need to look for ways to address appropriate use of hand-held devices by creating a positive culture of digital citizenship. An excerpt from the Red Deer Public School District Policy (Alberta, 2012) states “digital citizenship is the appropriate and responsible behaviour with regard to technology use. Digital citizenship should be practiced in every course, throughout the school and at home.” Educators, parents and students need to build awareness for the importance of digital citizenship and reinforce the concepts at home as well as throughout their school lives.
While digital citizenship is an essential piece of digital learning, the challenge for a great many educators to shift their attitude about BYOD rests in the equity of access. I must agree with George Couros (2013) when he speculates that some groups see a negative spotlight shone on those students who are without or have a lesser device and that alone is their reason not to even try to attempt a BYOD policy. As Couros (2013) points out, it may well be a legitimate concern for some, but what we need to look at is our current practises we have in our schools to date. Students share class cameras, check out video recorders from the library and are even able to sign out a laptop from administrators, so why couldn’t schools have hand-held devices for borrowed use or lease for the year? In my art class of twenty-five students, I would say fewer than three students come to class without a hand-held device. Certainly, funding for those students to get connected to the world should be worth every effort from our districts.
If school districts could shift their attitudes and invest in digital learning by funding hand-held devices, addressing the bandwidth capabilities must be an equally important investment. The Albert Technology Board (2012) goes so far as to state “If the BYOD model is to be a success, the technological infrastructure must be configured and enhanced to meet the needs of the personally owned devices on a scale probably not seen in the school authority in the past” (Alberta, 2013). Last year, the experience of having a class of iPads on loan from my district to teach digital art lessons only to have a few of them able to hold a wireless connection meant the endeavor ended in frustration and an aborted lesson. Districts need serious upgrades to their wireless service to support a BYOD policy.
Even though challenges such as unifying digital learning, increasing digital citizenship awareness, addressing equity of access and upgrading bandwidth exist, overcoming them can begin with a simple attitude shift towards moving forward with technology and making it as accessible as a pencil (Couros 2013). If putting a device in the hand of every student can enrich their learning to such a great extent, then districts need to follow Alberta’s lead and shift their attitudes and create a working model for successful BYOD implementation that teachers, students and parents can embrace.
Alberta Technology Board. (2013) Bring your Own Device. A Guide for Schools Retrieved from https://education.alberta.ca/media/6749210/byod%20guide%20revised%202012-09-05.pdf
Couros, G. (2013) Inequity and BYOD Retrieved from http://connectedprincipals.com/archives/9885?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter