Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Personalized learning - can BYOD give students more voice and choice?

This is the third post in my series looking at what I've learned in 2013.  In this post I'm going to write about personalized learning and whether BYOD or BYOM can help to give students more voice and choice.  Earlier this year I started an online course called The 5Ws of Personalized Learning, and one of my first assignments was to look whether 1:1 learning was personalized learning.  I found that the evidence from various places indicates that students in 1:1 environments show an improvement in their learning, as measured in test scores and % of students who graduate though it is questionable whether or not these improvements are due to the technology, or the improved teaching practices that accompanied the adoption of 1:1 learning.  Research also shows that a 1:1 programme can certainly lead to more personalized learning, but it does not necessarily do so.  Many 1:1 programmes are focused on the technology, rather than the learner.  Personalized learning starts with the learner and his or her interests, but in 1:1 classrooms it's still possible for all students to be doing the same thing at the same time.  In these cases I would argue that a 1:1 programme is not personalized learning.

On the other hand, 1:1 learning can allow for students to participate in the design of the learning and give more voice and choice.  In personalized learning the learner selects the appropriate technology and resources to support the learning.  This would tend to suggest that 1:1 BYOD programmes which allow students a choice of device may be more successful at personalizing learning than a one-size-fits-all roll out of a particular device (laptop, tablet or whatever).  It's HOW the technology is being used, rather than WHAT technology is being used that leads to personalized learning.  Giving voice and choice into what device students can use, how they investigate and how they eventually show their learning and understanding, can lead to 1:1 programmes personalizing learning - and this involves moving from a traditional teacher-centred approach with direct instruction towards a situation where the learning is student-driven with teachers as partners in the learning.  Along this continuum are the following stages:
  1. Teacher-centred, but giving the learners voice and choice:  In this stage it is the teacher who designs the environment for groups and individuals, and the teacher who designs the learning engagements, taking account of the students' choices.  The students work with the teacher to create their own goals and help design their learning plans and how they will express their understanding.
  2. Learner-centred, with students and teachers co-designing the learning: In this stage teachers and students co-create personal learning plans, devise rubrics to measure understanding and keep ePortfolios of their learning.
  3. Learner-driven, with the teacher as a mentor/facilitator:  these learning environments are inquiry driven, learning is about the students' questions and much of the investigation is online, therefore teachers must ensure that students have the necessary digital literacy skills to find the information that they are seeking.  Students select the appropriate resources for their learning and are therefore more engaged and motivated.  They know their strengths and weaknesses so are able to work at their own pace and reflect on their learning.  Learning is more likely to be "anytime, anywhere" and not confined to specific locations or times.  Students design their own projects, decide how they will show their understanding and how this will be assessed.
I've been thinking about this in the light of working in the PYP programme, and about how inquiry plays a role in the different stages that schools can go through as they move from teacher-centred to learner-driven education.
From a PYP perspective Stage One corresponds quite closely with what we call teacher-directed inquiry, as teachers come up with the questions that address the lines of inquiry for each unit.  Students do have voice and choice in that they are encouraged to ask questions and share their thoughts and wonderings.  However the focus of the unit is not really on the students' questions if they don't match up with the pre-determined learning outcomes.  During the course of the unit, some of these questions will naturally be discussed and answered, but they will not be the focus of the inquiry.

The second stage in moving towards personalized learning is learner-centred.  Looking at this through the lens of the PYP, this stage would be one of teacher guided inquiry, where the students' questions are seen as more important and are combined with the teacher questions to decide the direction of the inquiry.  Students would work in groups based on their curiosities about the unit, and would come up with two or three broad questions that the group as a whole could investigate.  Students themselves would discuss how to go about answering the questions.  In teacher guided inquiry, students would have input into how their understanding of the central idea of the unit would be assessed;  they would also create their own rubrics so that they could assess what it is important for them to know, understand and do.  The summative assessment of the central idea could be the same for all students, but the way they demonstrate their understanding may be very different for each group or for individual students.  

The third stage of personalized learning is learner-driven with the teacher as a facilitator and mentor.  Looking at this from the PYP perspective, this stage would be characterized by independent inquiry.  In this case the central idea would be the same for all students, but individual students could come up with additional central ideas for their own inquiry.   In Stage Three students are also working collaboratively to decide how to organize and carry out their investigations, how they will show their understandings and how they will be assessed.  They mange their time and decide what resources they will need.   I was interested to see that at this stage the teacher is responsible for building his or her technology skills to support the learner and to assist them as they work in an online environment.  This points to personalized PD for the teachers and the importance of the role of the tech coordinators in providing this.

At the beginning of the year at ASB we ran 3 mobile devices prototypes, which have definitely led to more personalized learning fo our students.  In the 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 the next school 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.  We started these new prototypes in August and 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.  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.

The 2012 Speak Up report highlighted how mobile devices can personalize learning :

  • 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
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).  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)
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.

If you would like to know more about our BYOD, BYOM and personalized learning you might be interested in reading the following blog posts in full: 

Photo Credit: PHOTOPHONES via Compfight cc

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