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.
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.
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.