Its 11:30 am on a typical spring Wednesday in Mr. Boerger’s senior level Government classroom. The students shuffle towards the desks with varying urgency. One group of boys from the soccer team stands in front of class boisterously recalling last night’s game. When I interrupt their dissection of the game, they immediately try to bait me into the conversation to get class off-track. I say, “we will talk about that later, your Bell Work is on the board – get going”! I look over at Josh who was having an animated conversation with Anna and implore them to find their assigned seats and get their Bell Work started. In the back right corner of the classroom, I find a quiet group of wonderful students, in their desks and intently focused on completing their Bell Work assignment. Upon further inspection, I realized that it wasn’t my wonderfully worded Bell Work topic that held their attention, but small miniature computers some people refer to as phones. “Lucy!” I exclaim, “I’m sure glad you got your Bell Work done, please share your answer with the class”! Lucy, gives me a half smile-half eye roll as she knows she was busted committing a fairly high offense – cell phone use in school. The students all around the back corner of the classroom discretely slide their phones away, except Brooke who still had her phone out. “Brooke! What is the answer to the Bell Work… How many District Courts exist in the US, and where is the closest one to us”? Brooke smiled and looked up from her phone and said, “There are 94 federal courts in the United States… and there is a District Court in Anchorage.” Other students who were flipping through their textbooks for the answer immediately stopped and wrote the answer in their Bell Work. “Good,” I said, “make sure you also write that answer down in your Bell Work.”
Grace Christian School is a fairly traditional school, although not really that different than many public schools that I have worked at. Most of the schools I have been with struggled to find meaningful cell phone and or BYOD policies that fit the times. Grace Christian, like almost every school out there is a BYOD school whether there is an official policy to deal with it or not. It used to be that cell phones could just make phone calls, thus were easy to regulate. Then they could make phone calls and send text messages. I still remember students cheating in my class a decade ago by texting each other answers. I didn’t notice… I was oblivious. Now practically every student has a smartphone with Internet capability and there are some realities that schools need to consider as they deal with cell phones and devices in schools. I was at one school where they let students have laptops and tablets but not phones. With messenger/Skype and so many applications out there… what is the difference between a cell phone and a laptop? Laptops of course can allow students to create more conveniently… but if a student is intent on being off task… they can get off task with either device.
Now I never would expect it to be appropriate for students to field phone calls while in the classroom, yet we do need to look at policies that will allow for students to utilize their device as an educational tool. In the Grace Christian School Technology Plan, there is a hope of moving towards a BYOD environment and a 1 to 1 device plan, should the budget allow. In fact, there are devices that 90-95% of my students already have in possession every day, a cell phone. While a smartphone can’t do everything a laptop can do, in the scenario above, Brooke was able to find the answer quicker and more efficiently than her page-flipping friends. As a teacher, teaching in a classroom where students are connected to the Internet opens up the depth and breadth of research topics and discussions. It also easily allows me to turn paper and pencil assignments into digital posts, blogs where students can contribute to each other’s learning. “BYOD can increase student and teacher collaboration, extend learning beyond the traditional classroom walls and cut costs for many school districts” (Martini, 2013). BYOD allows for blended learning and transfer traditional learning into Blackboard or Moodle formats that will broaden learning outside of classroom walls. The Bell Work assignment discussed above can now be housed in a closed class website where others can discuss/collaborate and respond to each other’s posts.
Every school should have a BYOD Policy in place and students should be very familiar with it. If a school does not yet have a BYOD policy, one of the first steps a school should take is to get community engagement. There are some potential perils and pitfalls that come with BYOD in schools, and all stakeholders need to be a part of the conversation. There will be abuses, distractions and other unwanted side effects (i.e. stolen devices) that will need to be considered. “The biggest unanswered question surrounding the BYOD trend is the concern that laptops, tablets or smartphones are more of a distraction than a viable learning tool in the classroom” (Holeywell, 2013). To a certain extent, they already are a distraction at many schools. Teachers will learn to find ways to keep students more actively engaged with use of the devices. Certainly students will have these devices with them at College, at their jobs… part of what we need to be doing is equipping students with responsible means of utilizing technology in their lives.
Second, there needs to be appropriate physical infrastructure. “99% of school districts identify a need for additional bandwidth and connectivity to support the explosion of devices on the network. Given most users carry more than one Internet connected device (i.e. smart phone and tablet), bandwidth consumption can easily quadruple overnight with a BYOD rollout” (Martini, 2013). There also needs to be a system set into place to help students problem solve issues with their devices. In addition to extra needed bandwidth, there will be a increase in issues with devices that the IT department may need to assist with.
Third, schools need to develop an Acceptable Use Policy. Students also need to use the school’s network so that their browsing can be monitored/protected (Walsh, “Awesome Free Ed Tech Resources eBook!”). There are many Acceptable Use Policies out there and any policy needs to have a programed student training highlighting appropriate and inappropriate device behavior. Consequences for violating the Acceptable Use Policy also need to be clear. This policy is a great starting point: http://ohlsd.org/portfolio/byod-developing-an-acceptable-use-policy/
Finally, schools need to partner with teachers to effectively train them in best practices to engage connected students and to provide dedicated oversight to the program and enforcement of the BYOD policies. Teachers need to be part of the Digital Citizenship education program at any school that implements a BYOD policy. It also needs to be reinforced that teachers are still in charge of their classroom and device usage still needs to occur within the granted parameters of the teacher in the classroom.
Every school needs a BYOD policy to protect itself as well as to take full advantage of student interests and assets. Our world is rapidly changing and schools need to embrace that change. Trying to cling to old practices for tradition’s sake is denying students the full opportunities that are out there and fail to prepare them for their future. BYOD does NOT make technology required in every classroom and it may not fit every teacher right away. But having an effective policy does allow schools to advance technology goals in a safe and controlled environment.
BYOD Teacher Management Tips. (n.d.). Retrieved July 13, 2015, from http://www.be.wednet.edu/cms/lib2/WA01001601/Centricity/domain/23/tech policy docs/educational tech supports/BYOD Teacher Management Tips.pdf
Holeywell, R. (2013, September 3). BYOD Policies, Growing More Popular, Create Challenges for Schools. Retrieved July 13, 2015, from http://www.governing.com/blogs/view/gov-byod-policies-create-school-challenges.html
Martini, P. (2013, December 22). 4 Challenges That Can Cripple Your School’s BYOD Program. Retrieved July 13, 2015, from http://www.teachthought.com/technology/4-challenges-can-cripple-schools-byod-program/
Walsh, K. (n.d.). Awesome Free Ed Tech Resources eBook! Retrieved July 13, 2015, from http://www.emergingedtech.com/2012/12/making-byod-work-in-schools/