BYOD: The Benefits of Embracing Diversity

I encourage my students to bring their own devices to class. As a result, they walk through the door with a diverse assortment of tech tools — iPhones, androids, tablets, iPod touches and the occasional laptop. The moment they enter the room, my low tech classroom is instantly transformed into a buzzing technology hub. It’s easy to forget that I don’t have any actual technology in my classroom.

class pic 1

I know many teachers fear the chaos they assume will accompany a bring your own device (BYOD) approach to technology integration. Yes, students are working on different devices, but they are working on their devices. There is something powerful about allowing students to use their own devices in the classroom. These are the devices they use to navigate the world. They are also the devices they are most comfortable with. Both of those factors translate into more meaningful, relevant and engaged learning.

Of course, teachers need to establish “norms” to ensure devices are an asset and not a distraction. I have one expectation for students. When we are not using their devices, they need to be volume off and screen down on the corner of their desks. This way they are in full view and treated as a learning tool. When I say “screens up,” they know they are welcome to use their devices.

class pic 2

My favorite part of the BYOD approach is how easy it is to shift the focus from me to my students. My goal is to create a student-centered classroom where kids work together and use their devices to research and solve problems. I want to cultivate confident learners, which is easier to do if they feel they are capable of finding information.

Many teachers have expressed concern over equity in a BYOD model. What if all students don’t have a device? That’s okay. It definitely should not be an excuse not to try this model. In fact, I like that we have fewer devices than students. Instead of isolating themselves with their devices, students lean in and collaborate using the devices available. The trick is to design learning opportunities that encourage conversation and collaboration. This approach is more social and engaging for students anyway and allows teachers to leverage the collective intelligence in the room.

For schools that don’t have the funding to put a device in each student’s hand, BYOD is a wonderful alternative. I would venture to say that it is a preferable strategy for most schools moving forward because maintaining hardware is a constant drain financially. I also question how much of what students learn on a school device will translate to the way they use their personal devices. If a school goes 1:1 with iPads and utilizes a variety of apps that students do not have access to at home, how much of their technology literacy translates to the work they do on their computer or iPod touch?

Teachers often want to simplify. Our jobs are demanding and technology is changing quickly. Even though having all students on the same type of device or using same tech tool to accomplish a task creates uniformity for a teacher, it may not be the best strategy for cultivating “technology fluent” students. To be truly technology fluent, they must understand when to use a particular tool for a specific job, and they have to know why the tool they are using is the best tool for the job. Understanding the when and why behind using technology is easier when students have exposure to different types of technology.

This is another reason I encourage educators to celebrate the diversity that comes with a BYOD model. Yes, there will be questions that pop up and situations that need trouble shooting, but that’s life! Why not use those moments as learning opportunities and encourage student to help each other and figure out how to use a particular device or tech tool. If teachers and administrators can move past their fears about a BYOD model, the reward is vibrant classrooms where students are engaged and empowered to drive their learning.

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16 Responses to BYOD: The Benefits of Embracing Diversity

  1. Jack Smith says:

    Hey Catlin, Its a really good start towards a new educational trend. Its amazing to hear that you have started it. As a technology coordinator, I like your efforts. We have also started implementing this in our school. To manage these devices easily, to control the use of them for the private things by student, we use Faronics Insight software. Its a classroom management software. It helps us a lot. I would like to recommend it to you. Good going. Cheers.

  2. Nice post. The bring-your-own-device “problem” was central in our design strategy for polltogo. It was important to make sure that anyone could participate in a mobile poll/quiz created with our system, using any device, without necessarily having to download a device-specific app. This has proved particularly pertinent in classroom settings. If a school were to force monolithic use of a specific device, then it’s almost no better than those old audience clicker devices. An educational tool, a classroom response system in the case of polltogo, should ideally be BYOD-friendly: accessible on all platforms.

  3. Our school is piloting something similar this year. It’s something I’ve only tried a little bit so far (only first few weeks of school!), but the class I’ve used it with is responding well to it and seem to like having it as an available tool.

    As a world language teacher, I’ve always had dictionaries available for students to use in class, but personally I feel more comfortable using an online dictionary – now that my students have the choice between the book and the internet for looking up words, I feel like they’re more empowered to use the tools that work best for them.

    Haven’t had any issues yet, but as you mentioned, it’s about establishing a “norm.” Hopefully things will continue to go well!

  4. “…and they have to know why the tool they are using is the best tool for the job.”

    Context matters…different tasks…different locations…different available resources always provide an opportunity for unique approaches to problem-solving and creativity in learning. Hopefully, your learners have an opportunity to reflect on how they solved a particular problem and why it worked versus other available paths…and not just that they solved it.

    I enjoyed your perspective…

  5. faisal shamali says:

    Dear Catlin and All,
    I do believe in integrating technology especially smart devices in learning within norms set from the beginning of the teaching semester. I am teaching in a conservative society with mixed classes: One side for girls and the other is for boys. They do not look to each other sides. I try to ask them girls and boys to use their mobiles in reading, projects and writing essays. I just remind them to copy every single word. They need to read carefully and try their best to discuss in groups and transfer reading information into their own writing with keeping citation if possible.

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  12. Teresa Kim says:

    Hi Catlin,

    You said that you have established a set of norms for the classroom. Could you elaborate? Also, if you require students to sign a tech use contract, could you post a copy of what this might include? Thank you !

    • Hello Teresa,

      My norms are simple and straight forward. When class begins, devices must be volume off and screen down on their desks. When we are using devices, I say “screens up.” I use a phone cubby when they are taking formal assessments that do not require devices. I do not have students sign a contract. I do communicate expectations with parents on my syllabus and at Back-to-School Night, but that is it. I have not found a formal contract necessary. Students appreciate that they are allowed to use their phones for academic purposes. They haven’t abused that privilege.

      Catlin

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