EducationWorld is pleased to present this article by Carl Hooker, Director for Instructional Technology in the Eanes Independent School District (Austin, TX area). There, Hooker successfully expanded the Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) policy from the high school to all district campuses. This article originally appeared in TechEdge, a quarterly magazine published by Naylor LLC for Texas Computer Education Association members. To join or for more information, visit www.tcea.org.
Eanes ISD has had a bring your own technology (BYOT) policy in place for several years. Starting in a few classrooms at Westlake High School in 2007, the policy has adapted quite a bit from those initial, early-adoption days. What follows here are the research and trends around mobile devices in schools and the world, as well as the challenges and benefits we discovered during our own BYOT initiative.
Readers of the New Media Consortium’s K-12 Horizon report have seen the trend in mobile computing rising quickly. In 2007, when some classroom teachers started allowing cell phones in our high school, the report talked about how mobile devices were two to three years from adoption. It turns out they were correct. Pockets of schools were experimenting with bringing in your own cell phones or laptops back in 2007, but it really didn’t start to gain traction in education until 2009. The term BYOT itself wasn’t really readily available on the Internet until late 2008.
The SpeakUp 2011 study by Project Tomorrow asked students, parents, and educators what value they placed on students having mobile devices on hand. Each group had its own take.
Administrators felt that BYOT had potential to increase student engagement and extend the learning day. Teachers felt like it could improve communication and personalize learning. Parents (and some teachers) were concerned about distraction and the possibility of personal devices getting stolen, lost, or broken.
Students showed the strongest preference for using their own personal devices vs. school-issued laptops, which is hardly a surprise. They crave control of their own learning, and a school-issued device feels like a borrowed tool that they don’t value as much as their own device.
Current Global Trend
Google CEO Eric Schmidt remarked in 2009 that eventually there would be more mobile devices created than babies born in the world. He was right. It’s predicted that the number of mobile users by the end of 2013 will reach 5.9 million. And many of these users have more than one mobile device on hand.
During a recent debate on 1:1 initiatives in education at SXSWedu, I stood up and proclaimed that 1:1 is already "old school." We should be looking at 3:1 initiatives now. A laptop, tablet, and mobile phone make up the office of the mobile worker as well as the dorm room of the college student. With the amount of access to mobile devices increasing, what are some trends that are being discovered?
According to research by the ODM Group, it’s predicted that by 2014, mobile devices will surpass all desktop and laptop access to the Internet. And access to cloud-based data versus local-server data is a trend that has increased alongside the mobile trend. One could even assume it’s a corollary trend, in that the one is increasing because of the other, and vice versa.
The Role of the K-12 Institution
Education can no longer ignore the glaring trends and research. We need to use technology to our advantage to reach kids and personalize their learning experiences. There are some inherent challenges and concerns when it comes to allowing BYOT in schools, some of which we cannot answer right away. While the decision to move forward with a BYOT initiative should be done with an eye on the instructional positives more than the disciplinary negatives, this doesn't mean we should turn a blind eye to potential pitfalls.
Equity has been a rising challenge, regardless of districts' socioeconomic status. Basic cell phones are actually readily available to teens, regardless of their economic status. In fact, this is one area where we see no real separation in research between the haves and have-nots (91% in high-SES districts vs. 88% access in low-SES districts).
However, when it comes to the type of device, there is a new "digital divide" of sorts. The “app gap” between those with smart mobile devices and those without is pretty glaring. Common Sense Media research in 2011 indicated that 57% of higher-income children had access to a smartphone vs. just 27% of lower-income children. That presents challenges both instructionally and when it comes to social status. The second most important form of social status among middle school kids is now what kind of phone they own (clothes/shoes still rank number 1).
As a teacher, how do you handle a lesson when only a few of the students actually have a smartphone with Internet access? Schools have overcome this challenge by providing supplements in terms of extra laptops or iPod touches to fill out a classroom doing a lesson with devices. Training for teachers is important, but there is an advantage in that the kids already know how to use their own devices much better than the student-issued ones.
Legal challenges can arise as well. What happens if a device is stolen? What if a child goes over his or her text message threshold for the month? Does the school pay for that? After some initial successes in various classrooms at the high school, our eighth and fifth grades decided to jump in across the board in 2010. They created a BYOT policy that each student and parent had to sign.
While the policy absolved the school district of liability, it also reinforced the notion that the student needed to be responsible no matter what the tool, whether cell phone, camera, pencil, book, etc. We have since amended our AUP (Acceptable Use Policy) to address what students should and shouldn’t be doing with technology, whether school-issued or their own devices.
Finally, there’s the wireless access question. Do you let students (and others) access your wireless Internet? The answer is yes, with a caveat. When we added an “Eanes Guest” network SSID on our system, we thought there might be a couple hundred students at the high school accessing it, so we provisioned 1,000 IP addresses that could be leased. About halfway through fall of that first year, we had reached our limit and had to expand the licenses. Students knew our Internet was faster than their mobile one, and even though it was filtered heavily, kids preferred our network to access most of what they needed.
With all of these challenges in the face of current trends, you have to really focus on the instructional and educational benefits of BYOT in your school to make it successful. Back in 2007 when high school math teacher Bob Witowski allowed students to use their cell phones, he didn’t just let them bring them in and turn them on. He put them to use.
Students in his class were asked to text a math problem to someone in their contact list and see who could text back the correct answer. He didn’t stop there, though; he also gave bonus points for the distance which the text covered, even going so far as plotting points on a map as text responses came in. Bob knew that these devices had instructional benefit beyond engagement, but he also knew that you have to gear your lessons to leverage that benefit rather than letting students wander off into cyber-space.
With our 2010 pilots in the eighth and fifth grades, we assumed certain uses like increased communication via email, better organization, and possibly some uses for quick assessment like Polleverywhere text response-type lessons. By allowing the devices, we discovered many more uses for them. When I say “we,” I actually mean the students. During an eighth-grade science lesson on projectiles, one student discovered an Android protractor app on his phone that could accurately detect the angle of launch. As students created their projectile launch devices, they passed his phone around to get an accurate reading. Fifth-graders discovered that they could load up spelling words in a fun game that helped them practice their words in an engaging and different way.
These discoveries and many more would not be possible without allowing student use of the devices in schools. Communication with parents, training with teachers, and student expectations need to be in place before successfully embarking on this endeavor, but don’t let the fear of distraction or potential problems cause you to reject this real educational advantage. There will be many more challenges and questions that will arise as you explore this in your schools, I can promise you that.
And when those challenges arise, feel free to send me a text.
Project Tomorrow. (2011, April). The New 3 Es of Education Enabled, Engaged, Empowered (Speak 2010 National Findings). Retrieved from Project Tomorrow 2011 Web site: www.tomorrow.org/speakup/pdfs/SU10_3EofEducation(Students).pdf
ODM Group. Living in a Mobile World. Retrieved from visual.ly
Johnson, L., Smith, R., Levine, A., and Haywood, K. (2010). 2010 Horizon Report: K-12 Edition. Retrieved from The New Media Consortium Web site: www.nmc.org
Gutnick, A. L., Robb, M., Takeuchi, L., and Kotler, J. (2010). Always Connected: The New Digital Media Habits Of Young Children. Retrieved from New York: The Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop Web site
The App Gap – Zero to Eight: Children’s Media Use in America, A Common Sense Media Research Study. Retrieved from Common Sense Media Web site
Mobile Usage Survey by GSMArena, March 2011. Available at www.gsmarena.com/mobile_phone_usage_survey-review-592p2.php
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