Sunday, May 19, 2013

The connection: BYOM and personalized learning

This week I've spent a lot of time thinking about and preparing for ASB's presentation at ISTE on our BYOD laptop programme.  At the same time I've also been involved with one of our R&D teams investigating the value of students bringing in and using their secondary (mobile) devices, which we are now calling BYOM.  Recently we also asked teachers to volunteer to be part of a prototype as we investigate mobile apps and mobile devices and have had an overwhelming response from our faculty.

Interestingly enough, I have recently heard from teachers in a previous school who asked for any information or research we had access to that showed that technology/1:1/BYOD could improve learning.  This caused me to go back through some previous research that I'd already submitted to the school when I worked there several years ago.  This week our High School Tech Coordinator also shared the Project Tomorrow Speak Up report on Learning in the 21st Century that provides plenty of evidence about how mobile devices and social media lead to more personalized learning.  This weekend, therefore, I've been synthesizing all of our experiences and all the research and thinking about how the BYO programme is leading us closer to our goal of personalizing learning for all our students.

In the 3 BYOM prototypes we have run this year in Elementary, Middle and High Schools we have seen students using their mobile devices for research, to take photos and videos, to set reminders in their calendars about upcoming events or assignments, to collaborate with each other, to take notes, to use apps to keep their work organized and many other things.  Following this prototype the R&D team recommended that all students be permitted to bring their mobile devices and access the network.  At the same time we realized that we needed further  time to study and document the success of secondary mobile devices, so recommended three further prototypes for next year - one with teachers (up to 10 teachers in each division) who would be provided with an allowance to purchase a mobile device of their choice, one with teaching assistants who would also be provided with an allowance to buy a device to explore how they an use it, for example to document student growth, and one prototype for "App Explorers" who would be gifted apps to devices they already own to help promote greater experimentation with new apps in the classroom.  Alongside all of these prototypes is a further commitment to greater personalized professional development opportunities for our faculty, including online courses, to highlight the pedagogical approaches and instructional uses of mobile devices and apps.

It always amazes me that in situations where the majority of students have devices that they are able to use completely independently of the school's network through their own data plans, that schools still believe it is even possible or desirable to block students from using their own devices.  Many students already have a clear idea of how these devices can and are transforming their learning by making it more personalized, and there is a huge body of evidence that shows trends in the link between the use of technology and student achievement, teacher productivity and parental engagement.  Speak Up 2012 notes:
As teachers and administrators have become mobile device users, or mobilists, their appreciation for how these devices can support and enhance learning is exponentially increased.
Our aim in giving mobile devices to our teachers and TAs to prototype is to give them the opportunities to discover for themselves how effective these devices are in improving learning.

In summary, two key points of the 2012 Speak Up report are :

  • mobile devices combined with social media and wireless connectivity are enabling more personalized learning opportunities for both students and teachers
  • a challenge to expanding mobile learning is changing teacher practice as the success of mobile learning depends on a shared vision for how to personalize learning
It is therefore important for our tech coordinators/coaches to support this change in teacher practice, so that it is more in line with our goal of personalized learning. (This actually brings me onto another conversation I've been having with one of our Educational Technology Specialists as to how we can further implement the NETS-Cs - but that will be the subject of a forthcoming blog post).

Around the world there is more interest in, and acceptance of, mobile technology and the role it can play in learning.  Parents, teachers, administrators and students who are using mobile devices to support learning already see the advantages of being able to choose the right tool for the task.  In our Elementary prototype, the majority of students were easily able to make an informed choice about which device was best for the task they were doing, and within the class I also noticed a collaborative "pick and mix" approach as students shared devices.  I frequently observed, for example, two students working together sharing one iPad and one laptop between them.  An observation from one teacher was that this collaborative work using two devices completely eliminated copying and pasting - students read together on the iPad, discussed what they were reading, and then used the laptop to make notes either in Google Docs or Google Slides that both students would then have access to later.  

Another important aspect of using mobile devices to personalize student learning is being able to use social media to meet their learning needs.  Elementary students already use blogs, wikis and some classes use Twitter.  In Secondary some teachers are using Facebook with their students (for example see this blog post by Rory Newcomb).  Conversations with friends at other schools, however, have shown me that many administrators are still reluctant to allow students to use their own devices at school as they are concerned about distraction, network security, theft and student internet safety - most of which could be dealt with through a more dynamic responsible use policy and better classroom pedagogy on the part of their teachers .  Research from Speak Up shows that
Principals that are adopting, piloting or evaluating the concept of BYOD are 17% more likely to see the value of students using their own tools as a means to create a more personalized learning environment
and these principals are also more likely "to increase the capacity of their teachers for using technology more effectively within instruction":
BYOD friendly principals are 24% more likely to see the inclusion of those devices in the classroom as a catalyst for improving teachers' skills and over a third increased teacher productivity.  (the emphasis is from me)
Our experience is also that parents are also largely on-board with using mobile technologies at school.  Quite possibly at ASB this is because of the fabulous job we do with parent education.  We have weekly Parent Tech Connection sessions on both campuses, require parents to take various online courses through ASB's Online Academy, and send weekly tech updates to parents.  We also give parents various books when they join the ASB Community, such as the Phillips and Fogg book Facebook for Parents.  Our parents are very supportive because they exhibit a strong desire to help their children achieve and be successful and because they understand how mobile devices can improve personalized learning.  They are also supportive because they see their children moving ahead and want to take advantage of the parent education we offer to keep up with what their children are doing.  Offering parent education has been a huge step for us in being able to move forward at the rapid rate that we have done at ASB.

Last week I wandered the Elementary campus with one of our Directors of Technology Support.  We are making a video about our BYOD programme to show at ISTE and so we interviewed teachers about what questions or concerns they had a year ago before we transitioned into BYOD, and what they feel now.  Teachers expressed that their greatest concern was that they would be unable to support the number of different devices that students brought in.  Now they feel these fears were totally unfounded because firstly we provided an IT Kiosk for tech support on every floor of the building where students were 1:1 (Grade 1 upwards) and secondly because they learned a lot from their students.  An inadequate infrastructure and not providing enough teacher training and support were two of the key findings as to why BYOD might not be successful in other schools - ASB has both of these things nailed!

More and more we are discussing the importance of supporting teachers as they change their practice.  At ASB this support has come as a result of superstructing:  we have reorganized ourselves into the R&D team and the T&L (teaching and learning) team which makes it possible to prototype and iron out  possible problems before implementation, and because we aim to give personalized professional development to our teachers.  With the introduction of mobile devices, teacher need both the pedagogy and the time to think about how to change their practices to incorporate these devices.  Both R&D and T&L are vital as it is not possible "to simply overlay technology onto pre-existing pedagogy and practice".  Technology provides both a challenge and an opportunity for us to rethink what we are doing and how we are doing it.

Speak Up 2012 ends with this:  "students, parents, teachers and administrators are all increasingly tapping into mobile devices and social media to personalize learning, enhance collaboration and increase professional productivity".  Some administrators need to rethink education, embrace the change and stop trying to stuff the genie back into the bottle.

Do you want to know more about our BYOD programme?  Our 2 Directors of Technology Support, our Middle School Tech Coordinator and myself are presenting BYOD in 4 Easy Steps at ISTE next month.  Our session is completely sold out, but if you are at ISTE and want to know more, we are happy to connect with you there.

Photo Credit: Do8y via Compfight cc


  1. Just read your article which really supports a presentation we gave today in Melbourne at the ICTEV conference on Digital Natives. Thanks for this article, just Tweeted it for you too.

  2. Really interesting to see your experience with this. We're just going through this process now and we really need to involve students more. Great post!

    Security for bring your own device