How can my classroom go BYOT if my school does not?

guest written by JD Ferries-Rowe, CIO and Debate Coach, Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School

Much of the #byotchat writing on is focused on the big picture: how to implement for a school, why this paradigm shift works, and how it empowers students broadly. But there is a growing number of teachers who work in schools that do not have the infrastructure ready to go, who do not have a voice in the broad school policies, or who are already in a school that has settled on netbooks or iPads.

This post is for you… you can also get a little BYOT Goodness in your classroom! Here are a few hints about making the most out of allowing personal devices in your classroom.

Understand your context
A lot of this depends on your school, administration, environment, students, socio-economics, etc. Suffice to say: every situation is different. If your school has a complete lockdown on personal tech, something may have to change for this article to be useful. If your students are only bringing smartphones, not everything I write in the following will apply. But, the power behind BYOT is about empowering students, so hopefully, there may be a little something for everyone.

Keep Focused on the Learning and the Students
Mark Prensky made a comment once that has become the mantra at our 1:1 BYOT school: Focus on the verbs, not the nouns. You set the expectations for learning based on the objectives. Tools and technology — whether it is in pockets, school-owned carts, backpacks, or the cloud — are the means to get a student to reflect on experience, incorporate new knowledge, and demonstrate/apply that knowledge in class and beyond. The teacher maintains focus on the goal as students choose the way to get there.

Letting Go, Empowering users
The most common BYOT questions (indeed maybe all questions) come from fear: How will I know what my students are doing? How will I support all the different devices? How can the students do this when I can’t? The key difference between digital.natives and digital.immigrants is a lack of fear to experiment. When a teacher lets go of the means of educational tools (see above), then she empowers the students to experiment, play, and find the tools that work. Teachers can still play a key role in providing examples, asking questions, and approving the outcomes, but it becomes a mutual project of discovery.

<> Use Case 1: Shifting the Encyclopedia 
In almost all classrooms at almost all grade levels, teachers have experienced the question from a student for which they do not have the immediate answer. At this point, the teacher must defer (which can kill momentum), fake the answer (almost always a bad choice), or stop to look (which can also kill the forward progress). In a BYOT-inspired environment, the teacher hands the power of the world’s largest encyclopedia over to the students…it’s right there in the pockets of one or more students.

Say, “I don’t know. Who is looking that up?” In almost all cases, the answer can be found quickly. This can also lead into excellent discussions about search strategies, multi-cite verification, information bias and all of the other higher order thinking skills that we are supposed to be focused on until the standardized testing months. Because the question is authentic, the research is valued more by the students than if it is an artificial question posed by the authority in the room.

<> Use Case 2: Different Devices, Different Uses
One of my favorite moments in our digital citizenship class this past year was working with students on a very general task: Make a presentation that effectively communicates message X (it varied from group to group). Some groups captured video or took pictures. Some students found apps that they could use to demonstrate. At one point, the students were self-solving how to move video from phone-to cloud-to computer-to presentation. Very little guidance was provided by me and despite the lack of a “techie” student, they were able to successfully search and find answers for their difficulties.

<> Use Case 3: Note Taking, Ebooks, Annotations, Oh My
Even within a non-integrated classroom (even when the teacher *gasp* lectures — it still happens and is sometimes even effective), BYOT affords students the ability to apply the technology normally reserved for social communication and gaming into an academic tool. A disorganized student can capture photos of handouts that can be turned into PDFs (we use a cross-platfrom tool called camscanner). Students can take notes on a lecture and have access to them whenever they are connected to the internet (Evernote). Whether a student uses iBooks, Play Books (google’s version), or the cross-platform Kindle or Nook versions, students with a preference for electronic text can find a number of novels, stories, and even textbooks available (remember, many classics are free through Project Gutenberg or other resrouces). Keep in mind that each of these platforms have their own systems for taking notes, looking up words in built-in dictionaries and exporting the notes for personal or teacher review.

One final thought: the key to BYOT, in its theory and implementation is about being open. Our students were accessing Adobe Connect, Google Docs, and cloud-based collaboration long before we were a “Google School.” A veteran teacher first came to our #edtech team with the idea of blogging and they experimented with students to find a system that worked for the class and the unit. BYOT is a gateway to a more experimental open classroom. It’s crtical thinking’s trojan horse…and it can even invade one classroom at a time.


About the author: JD has been working at Brebeuf Jesuit in various roles for a decade. He has taught in three departments, served as an academic assistant principal, and run the technology department (twice). When he is not doing strategic planning and accreditation work, he is busy implementing a 1:1 BYOT program (complete with financial aid), developing units for his Digital Citizenship class, or reading comic books. He was awarded the 2010 Technology Advocate of the Year award by Indiana Computer Educators which he is mercilessly teased about by his colleagues. He is one half of the soon-to-be-popular Jen&JD Show, which is avidly watched by his wife and three daughters, and can be found on youtube and his blog: Confessions of a Jesuit School CIO.

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