BYOD and the Swiss Army Knife
Everyone has their opinion on Bring Your Own Device schemes. The pros and cons of BYOD get debated frequently online and at some point I guess I had to wade in.
So here's the deal – from my own experience with BYOD, I like it.
I like it a lot actually and I find it invaluable as a modern teacher who uses iPads on a daily basis. The fact that I can show students an app or start a task in class and then see them willingly take their learning beyond the classroom is priceless and far outweighs any cons anyone can put to me.
Imagine if kids were only allowed to use a pencil in school. How limiting would that be? How about a paint brush? We should be encouraging the blurring of walls between learning spaces so that students no longer see school as the place they learn but more so the place where they learn how to learn. The concept of the iPad as a tool akin to a pair of scissors has become more commonplace in the last two years and I myself have spoken before about the iPad being like a digital Swiss army knife. I think this is an apt analogy as yes, there are “dangers” to letting students use it and fiddle with the various parts but a well-trained student is far better equipped to look after themselves and become a leader rather than a follower.
Now one thing I should point out is that the primary school I work at operates a BYOD policy that essentially only allows iPads to be brought in. This is nothing to do with me and we have no deal with Apple. It evolved naturally through early adoption of mobile technology and the simple fact that the iPad is the best tool for this job. Oh and yes, we did try some other tablets out and no, we didn’t find them anywhere near as good. At the GESS Conference recently, myself, Luke and Simon actually visited the Samsung stand. The rep saw our iPad Educators speakers’ badges and started trying to pitch us on why “iPads are struggling in the region.” Five minutes later we left. In that time he had openly stated that the Samsung tablets were nowhere near as good for educational use as the iPad and even admitted he planned to buy the new iPhone!
Damn we’re good. LOL
Now it is true that usually I’m all for offering students choice in the way that they approach a problem. Allowing them to bring in a wide range of devices with varying quality and functionality is asking for problems in my opinion though, especially in schools where every teacher is by no means a tech-spert. It’s taken three years for some of our staff to feel confident using the iPad to teach with and dealing with natural tech issues that arise in the flow of usage. Imagine if they were faced with five different devices? Or ten? You can hear the common question already when a suggested app is not available - “What do I use instead of X?” With older students this may be less of an issue but with students at primary level, they still expect and require their teacher to be the guide.
Plus students can still approach a task freely through consolidated use of the iPad since the range of apps on offer is so broad. We have spoken of this practice numerous times across the site – just check out the feature articles section. We have small banks of iPads in every department at the school as well so that those that don’t have an app can try it out using one of our devices.
So my advice to those considering a BYOD scheme is to go for it. In fact here are some helpful tips for you as you embark on the journey:
1. Brief the parents first and have every answer lined up. People fear the unknown but are fundamentally driven by what's best for their kids. Getting them on side is imperative.
2. Don't insist that they buy a device, just suggest it. If some cannot afford a device, have a small bank available for their regular use in school. Number/ label them in some way so kids get the same one.
3. Develop a contract of acceptable use. Have the kids sign it as well as their parents. Use it to explain contracts, laws etc if you wish but ensure that they understand that BYOD is a privilege not a right for them.
4. Operate a three strikes and you're out policy for if they break the terms of their contract.
4. Don't force students to buy piles of apps. Collate a list of cord apps that are used across the curriculum and insist they are installed. Suggestions would include: BOOK CREATOR, POPPLET, EXPLAIN EVERYTHING, SHADOW PUPPET, PUPPET PALS, TELLAGAMI, ZAMURAI, COMIC LIFE and NOTABILITY (Plus anything else that's free and useful!)
If you plan on using an app just once for a specific lesson, show them it in advance and let them try it out. Some will get it without being asked (many of my students' parents have a policy with their kids that they are allowed any educational app.) get it put on school iPads though and use it that way. Parents will appreciate your discretion in what is being asked of their wallets.
5. Train students to charge the device, bring their power cable AND headphones on a daily basis.
6. Ensure they have a decent cover that specifically protects the corners of the device and is labelled with their name clearly.
7. Encourage them to start making full use of the device's core functions - setting reminders; events etc. one boy in my class will frequently snap a photo of anything pertinent from the whiteboard at the end of a lesson so he has a reference for later. His idea not mine!
At some point things will go wrong - when do they not? But if you have this type of system in place, you are better set to deal with any issues that arise. There are a few core problems that I have faced...
The iPad has an excellent battery life if fully charged however as your use of devices throughout the day increases, so will the drain on their power. Having somewhere for students to plug in (and ensuring that they bring their charge cables) can really get you out of a jam.
We recently received a fantastic charge unit from Chargebus to test out. Incredibly compact and able to take up to 16 devices at the same time (they also have a 32 device version), it sits happily in a corner of my room. Students know that throughout the day, they can charge up as needed. I only need one power socket and the speed of charge is excellent. It also have over-current protection and an effective cooling system. I highly recommend it as an investment. Even one per department could be invaluable. You can visit their site here to find out more.
Here's a fun little example. A couple of months ago, whilst working on an iMovie project, I had a student connect to my IWB through Apple TV to model the picture in picture editing function. Having finished the demo, students broke off around the building to record audio in quieter areas. The boy who had helped me and another boy went off into a small room just outside my classroom.
They then closed iMovie and opened up a game. I know this because the boy who had helped me had forgotten that he was still connected to my board via the Apple TV! Talk about caught red-handed. When I called out to them, I watched in amusement with the students that had remained in the room as the game was swiftly closed and iMovie reopened. They scurried back into the room, denying any duplicitous actions - then I pointed to the board.
So what should I do with them? Remove their device altogether?
Shouldn't we teach kids to learn from their mistakes? We sat down and re-read the terms of the BYOD agreement together then they continued the task. I've never had an issue with them since. It reminds me of a quote I read on Twitter recently by David Wees (@davidwees) - "I'm in favour of internet filters. I just want to move them from the router to my students' heads." Educating students about acceptable, responsible use of technology is an integral part of the puzzle. Challenging? Yes. Essential? Definitely.
Of course for repeat offenders, removing access altogether is its own problem. It's the digital equivalent of sending kids out of the class - it achieves nothing for them as learners. In such cases I recommend you look into harnessing the power of the Guided Access functionality the iPad offers. For those unfamiliar with it, it essentially means you can lock students into one app.
If you are having students bring their iPads every day then this shouldn't be a problem. Nonetheless, kids are kids and forgetting stuff is in their DNA. Paired work can be a solution for the odd day as can sharing via Dropbox to allow hem to access work at home. In some cases I'll make them complete a task they were unable to in class when they get home.
Of course the opposite can be an issue too - students forgetting their device AT school at the end of the day. In these cases I usually hide the device and feign ignorance to let them suffer that stomach drop moment of fear when they believe the device has been lost for good. Then I'll promptly return the device and inform them that they've got one strike against them.
As I wind up, I’d like to reiterate that I am writing this based on experience rather than theory. As such I don’t feel it is appropriate for me to address other issues that arise from BYOD such as theft, wifi issues etc which I have not had to face. As a good friend of mine (and my current boss) once said – don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions.
If you want it to work, you can make it work for you. Give your students access to that digital Swiss Army Knife and watch them carve their own path.
Feel free to get in touch via our social media channels and I’ll try to answer any questions you might have.