Sunday, November 18, 2012

BYOD: diversity -v- monoculture

 Because this year we have transitioned into a BYOD programme, and because one of the things we are working on in one of our R&D task forces is investigating the value a secondary BYOD can bring to learning, I've been reading as much as I can about schools and teachers who are also engaged in different pilots and prototypes.  This week there have been some great discussions on an online forum for independent schools where I've come across the term monoculture - referring to one-size-fits-all solutions or policies.

One discussion I've been following concerns the way that schools use standardized environments simply because they are easier to administer and manage, to explain to parents and to have teachers use year after year.  However the monoculture is not better for individual learners and nor is it easy to move forward when something better comes along - schools that have spent a significant number of years and money investing in one system often find it extremely difficult to move staff away from hardware, apps and content that work with the specific devices that they are trained in and comfortable using.

BYOD has also been a subject discussed in a Google Teachers Group that I am a part of.  One teacher, Lisa, explained that hers is an inquiry based classroom and so it is up to her 10 year old students to explore and discover ways to use their devices to extend their thinking and learning.  She writes that when and what specific learning activity the devices are used for is up to her students:  "they are figuring out how to effectively use their devices independently which I believe is real world application of learning."  She also writes about how she observes more collaboration as students use different devices depending on the type of activity they are doing and states: "if we believe in empowering students as learners, that we are guides on the sides, then we need to remember to follow that practice as we institute new technology methods in the classroom."

Another member of this group, Mark, responded and described the situation at a primary school in the UK.  This is not actually a BYOD school, but one where a variety of devices are used.  He writes about the students becoming device-agnostic as they simply use the best tool for the job:  for research they may use an iPad where they can easily pinch and zoom on the touch screen, while for writing up the results of their investigations they may choose to use a Chromebook because it is easier to write with a keyboard.  He concludes:  "it's the content and the creation and the collaboration which matters, not the tool that is used."

As our BYOD2 prototype is getting underway in Grade 4 I've been making the time to observe how things are going.    A variety of devices have been brought in:  iPads, iPod Touches, Kindle Fires and smartphones.  The most important instruction that I've heard is the class teacher give is this:  Use your second device only if it is better than your first device - if it makes your work easier or faster.  Following this I was able to observe some students using iPads for investigating mangrove biomes, others sharing an iPad between them and at the same time using a laptop to type into a Google Presentation, several students using both phones and laptops (investigating on the phone, typing on the laptops) and another student using a translation device to help her write.

What I'm seeing, hearing and reading about is that diverse environments are more "real-world", where not all devices are the same.  And as another teacher, Ann, pointed out, it leads to a change of mindset by taking the focus off the device or the technology and forcing teachers to view them as tools for learning.  

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