When you see a student with a personal mobile device in the classroom, what do you think is happening with that device?
In the above illustration, what is the student doing? Here are some possibilities…
- conducting research
- creating a project
- texting a parent, friend, or teacher
- watching a video
- playing a game
- reading a news article
As educators, we could argue the instructional merits of what is happening with the smartphone that the student is holding. Many of our initial thoughts and concerns are framed by our own perceptions and experiences of how we personally use technology.
I read a heavily circulated article this week that detailed some research from the UK on the banning of students personal technology tools. This research revealed that students perform better on standardized tests when their schools ban the use of personal mobile devices. Apparently, this improved performance was due to the lack of distractions. Obviously, I can’t argue with the research, but I do have several questions and thoughts related to the focus of this study and the topic of banning students’ technology tools.
Q1: Why is there so much importance placed on student performance on standardized tests when we have to learn to thrive in a nonstandardized world?
I understand the importance of accountability, and in education, we keep trying to find just the right assessment that will tell us whether or not teachers are effective and students are mastering the appropriate content and skills. However, in our globally connected work force, many of us are faced with choices on the job that challenge us to be creative, communicate well, and think critically. A standardized test should not be the only form of measurement to assess student learning and skills in the conceptual age when they need to generate new ideas for solving problems.
Most students carry mobile learning tools in their pockets. These are the tools they will carry with them in the real world, and these resources should be maximized for success in that complex world.
Q2: How will students learn how to manage distractions and develop the self-discipline to utilize personal technology responsibly when it is banned from school use?
Of course, students¹ personal technology tools can lead to distractions; likewise, students can be distracted by anything that removes them from the tedium of traditional teacher-directed instruction – even their own thoughts. In order for students to learn how to use their devices responsibly, they need to be nurtured and guided with some strategies for learning with these tools; for focusing during a conversation; and for completing tasks at hand. We have all seen adults who have difficulty using their devices responsibly, but most of us are self-taught in their use. By bringing their technology tools to school and with the support of their teachers, students have a greater potential for developing new responsible habits.
Q3: How do schools think they can successfully ban student devices?
With the influx of mobile technology tools, including those that are meant to be worn, there is really no logistical way to successfully ban student devices from school. Students will have the devices in their pockets, bookbags, and even on their wrists. A more sustainable approach is to focus on the responsible use of technology, and the first step in this process is to develop a learning community that acknowledges and respects student access to their devices. It is also important for educators to be prepared with digital resources and curriculum so that students have something to do with their devices when they bring them to school. Learning how to ask the right questions that inspire student inquiry is essential for mobile learning.
Now, note the thought bubble in the illustration…
What do you suppose that the student is thinking?
What is the Passback Effect?
We have all witnessed the Passback Effect when sitting in a restaurant, and to keep a young child content and quiet, parents hand over their own technology device. This phenomenon also occurs when parents pass smartphones or tablets to their children in the backseat of the car or in a shopping cart. The result is usually the same as the child becomes enamored with the device, and the parents earn several precious moments of silence. What are the children doing with the device? Most likely, they are playing a familiar game, but they could also be taking photos, listening to music, surfing websites, etc. The possibilities are endless, since they are holding the doorway to all of humankind’s recorded history within their little fingers.
What are the ramifications of the Passback Effect? It is difficult to tell how the use of mobile devices at early ages changes student learning. I considered making two columns for positive and negative effects, but I decided that those two categories were too limiting and judgmental. Maybe the results are just what they are since the devices won’t be going away anytime soon. Because teachers will have to realize that many young children will enter Kindergarten and pre-school with so much exposure to digital content and tools, there are many aspects of technology use that will have to be taken into consideration. I have listed five traits below, but feel free to respond to this blog post with your own suggestions and strategies.
Ramifications of the Passback Effect
- Increased understanding of technology – Young children will continue to become even more adept at using technology, and when something doesn’t work, they will have developed the resiliency to just try another method. Of course, these children are developing their own strategies for how the devices can and should be used, but they may not know specifically how to learn with them. Teachers need to learn how to ask questions to focus on the learning, but they also need to be willing to learn alongside and from students and develop the confidence to say “I don’t know.”
- Accustomed to making choices – Since the students are choosing their content and developing their own strategies for using devices, they will want to make choices about the ways they learn. Teachers will have to focus on scaffolding learning experiences to keep the students engaged and developing new academic abilities and to provide choices that match with the students personal interests and talents. Lessons will need to be carefully planned with short meaningful chunks of information followed by interactive assignments and formative assessments in order to maintain student attention.
- Distracted by technology – Through the implementation of the pass back, parents have often unknowingly supported the concept that technology is a distraction device. After all, it is meant to keep the children quiet. However, when I have seen classrooms with multiple technology tools available, those learning environments are active and full of communication as students share their experiences. Teachers will have to nurture positive uses of technology and may need to help students become producers of content rather than solely consuming information.
- Unaware of social norms – Because children have been focused on the technology, they may not be aware of when it is time to put the devices down and look someone in the eye in order to have a conversation. Some educators mistakenly ban technology tools for this reason; however, a more effective strategy is to nurture mindfulness and teach students appropriate behaviors for face to face communication as well as appropriate online netiquette. They have modeled most of their behaviors after the adults in their lives, and unfortunately many adults have difficulty with the responsible use of technology.
- Ready for online learning – With all of this early access to online resources with mobile technology tools, students will be prepared for learning online. They may even enter school possessing mastery of many of the traditional standards taught to students in the primary grades. This early preparation will continue to move learning away from the one-size-fits-all model of instruction, and each student can begin progressing at his/her own personalized pace through online learning environments. These educational spaces will need to be dynamic and visual to meet the needs of early learners.
It’s an exciting time in education that will continue to transform traditional classrooms. The Passback Effect will have a lasting impact on young children as it demands change to engage their learning and forces teachers to adopt new teaching strategies.
In facilitating the integration of technology tools within classrooms, I’ve heard teachers complain that devices can be distracting. This was also one of the fears that Lisa Nielsen (@innovativeEdu) addressed in a recent blog post – Confronting Fears – #BYOD for Students. The idea that technology itself is a distraction to students is a myth. It is perpetuated by educators who believe that banning technology will keep students more focused on the learning happening within the classroom. Technology, however, does have the potential to be a distraction for several reasons:
- Students have developed their own norms for how technology should be used, and responsible use isn’t nurtured within classrooms.
- The use of technology is often teacher-directed when it is utilized so students have few choices about the process or product.
- There is an assumption that compliance with direct instruction means that students are engaged and focused.
- Technology use is sometimes perceived as an extra add-on to traditional instruction instead of integral to the learning process.
- Teacher lectures, direct instruction, and independent work with worksheets are regularly used as a means of behavior management to keep students quiet and pacified, and technology use encourages interaction.
Here are some strategies for addressing the issues listed above.
- Teachers and students should collaboratively develop expectations and guidelines for the responsible use of technology tools. These procedures should be posted and continually communicated and practiced. Remember that students will sometimes make mistakes with technology, and they should be consistently redirected, as necessary, with how to use technology responsibly.
- Students generally know how to use to technology, or they are generally able to quickly adapt to its use. However, they don’t usually know how to learn with technology. This is something that teachers can facilitate by utilizing the expertise of the students in the classroom to help each other. Teachers can also make assignments more open-ended so that students have opportunities to make choices in both process and product.
- Students can be distracted by many things within a classroom, even where technology tools are underutilized or banned. Many students have learned to play the “game” of school. They can look at a teacher and pretend to be focused and learning even though there thoughts are elsewhere. Teachers can create opportunities for collaboration, communication, and critical thinking in learning activities. In dynamic, active classrooms, there is a greater opportunity for effective technology use to support digital age skills.
- Technology by itself isn’t always engaging. Teachers have to utilize a variety of instructional strategies and digital content to engage student learning. With the effective integration of technology tools, teachers are able to personalize learning, flip the classroom, provide differentiated learning, and work with small groups and individuals – knowing that the students can utilize technology to access learning resources.
- Teachers have to model the desire to learn by learning alongside students new ways to utilize technology and discover new facets of a topic. With technology tools, students are readily able to access information, so there is no need for a teacher or a textbook to be the sole source of content. This can be intimidating for teachers who often perceive that their role is to disseminate everything they know about a subject.
By developing a positive learning community within a classroom, a teacher can take the initial steps necessary to begin integrating technology tools and resources. With consistent perseverance and practice, soon these teachers can find new ways to transform learning experiences while dispelling the myth of distraction while learning with technology.
As students and teachers continue to have increased access to digital tools and resources, there is a shift in the traditional instructional practices that have been used for teaching and learning. Textbooks are no longer the primary source of information, and students can fact check their teachers with the devices in their pockets. Also, content has to be more than just digitized textbooks and documents. Students must interact with digital content and produce new ways to show what they have learned. Here is my list of ten strategies for teaching with digital content, but please share your original ideas.
1. Develop a learning community.
I know that I talk about this process throughout my BYOT Network blog, but developing a community is essential to any digital age learning environment. Students and teachers want to feel a sense of belonging within schools and classrooms. Teachers have to maintain high expectations for student behavior and performance, and students will strive to live up to these expectations. By modeling and supporting digital citizenship, teachers can help students internalize the responsible use of technology tools. As they work collaboratively to solve authentic problems and share their original projects with others, students begin to realize a purpose that sustains a learning community.
2. Have an instructional purpose.
With all of the demands of being a classroom teacher, it is understandable that teachers sometimes need to engage student learning with digital content. However, it is better practice to have an instructional purpose for the video being shown to students within a classroom. Teachers should consider why they are utilizing particular digital content within their planning and use it intentionally to make a difference for each learner.
3. Preview all content.
As with all forms of media being shared with students, teachers should carefully preview all digital content to be shared with students. Teachers should consider the particular needs and expectations of their learning communities – the age of the students; the learning standards; the values of the parents – before utilizing digital content for instructional purposes.
4. Scaffold understanding.
Within the design of a lesson that incorporates digital content, teachers have to scaffold understanding. How are those resources being used to engage student learning? Video should be used purposefully and with short clips (less than a few minutes) to stimulate questions and critical thinking. Directions need to be clear, yet minimal, so that students are able to use their thinking to solve problems. Finally, there should be a variety of types of formative and summative assessments so that students have multiple risk-free opportunities to demonstrate learning and ensure success.
5. Plan for interaction.
After students view video or another form of digital content, they should be encouraged to interact and collaborate with each other to construct new meanings from that information. Students can participate in a backchannel discussion using technology tools to pose new questions and ideas about their learning. Teachers can use digital content to help students compare and contrast new concepts in collaborative groups, and students can create authentic products to demonstrate their learning. There is a need for students to become producers of new digital content rather than just being consumers of information.
6. Incorporate digital age skills.
Teachers can support digital age learning by incorporating the 4 Cs – Communication, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, and Creativity – within their classrooms. By collaborating with others through online discussions and assignments, students practice and learn the appropriate netiquette for communication in the digital age. By using critical thinking to build a personalized playlist of digital content, they can learn or review information. Finally, they can create original projects to show what they know and upload them to share with others as new learning objects.
7. Consider the lesson design.
As teachers plan for instruction with digital content, they are able to consider effective lesson design. Beginning with an essential question, teachers are able to prompt critical thinking about the standard or concept. They can show a video segment that encourages student learning and then link to an interactive assignment that supports student creativity as they work collaboratively to solve authentic, real-world problems. Finally, the teacher can utilize another form of digital content along with questioning techniques (involving student response) to provide opportunities for formative assessment. There are so many choices with digital content that enable teachers to be lesson designers in a dynamic learning environment.
8. Utilize a variety of content.
One of the benefits of digital age learning is that students can access a variety of content types with technology tools. Audio, images, video, interactive websites, applications, and text can all be integrated to provide students with multiple opportunities to choose how they will learn. However, one reality is that students will eventually have to learn using different modalities, and teachers should carefully plan how to develop students’ skills to make meaning from diverse types of content. Focusing on the needs of the students and their learning goals can help teachers make wise choices about how and when to use particular digital content.
9. Personalize learning experiences.
Students have unique talents, abilities, and differences that can pose challenges to the one-size fits all classroom. By personalizing learning experiences, teachers can help students identify the pathways that meet their individual learning needs and interests. A teacher could begin helping students identify their strengths through a learning style inventory or interest checklist, but digital content can also be used meaningfully to differentiate learning experiences. This personalized approach provides voice to students as they show what they know in ways they perceive as relevant.
10. Encourage multiple devices.
With the tools in their pockets and backpacks, as well as the ones provided within their schools, students have access to multiple devices, and teachers should encourage their use. Students can use a handheld device to quickly communicate or access content, but there may be times when they need to use resources from the school, such as desktops, interactive whiteboards, or 3D printers to create other products. Knowing how to choose the right device, at the right time, to interact with digital content promotes the critical thinking that students need for academic success in the digital age.
An ecosystem is a system formed by the interaction of a community of living organisms with each other and their environment. (Dictionary.com, 2014)
When I visit a digital age classroom where students are actively using technology tools for inquiry and creating new products to show their learning, I see a similarity to an ecosystem. The students and teacher interact within the classroom environment in an organic way to construct learning experiences. What are the components of this digital age learning ecosystem? What facilitates a sustainable learning environment that endures over time and through adversity? After reading my suggested attributes of a digital age learning ecosystem, post a reply with your own suggestions that I may have overlooked and should consider for future reflection.
A Sense of Community
Teachers intentionally nurture a community in the digital age learning ecosystem. They know the interests, strengths, and challenges of their students, and they are eager to learn alongside them. Rather than viewing themselves as content experts with the primary purpose of directing instruction, teachers in the digital age learning ecosystem relish the roles of learner and explorer. Digital citizenship is ingrained throughout the practices of the classroom. Because students have typically developed their own norms and practices for how they should co-exist with technology, teachers in the digital age learning ecosystem must encourage appropriate netiquette and the responsible use of technology tools and resources.
Teachers should design lessons or units of study within the digital age learning ecosystem by posing essential, open-ended questions. This strategy provokes deeper thinking and encourages students to develop additional questions for future exploration and possible solution. As teachers frame learning experiences around questions, they promote a stimulating culture of inquiry and innovation.
Captivating Digital Content
Students need access to rich multimedia content, including primary resources and documents in a digital age learning ecosystem. Teachers can model strategies for conducting smart searches for the just right information needed to answer the essential questions of the lesson. That information can be further reviewed for accuracy, authenticity, and relevancy in order to develop the students’ skills with digital literacy. By utilizing a learning object repository, teachers and students can access resources as well as upload and share the content they create within their learning activities.
Assessment for Learning
Teaching rote information to prepare for standardized assessments has dominated classroom practice for the last several years, resulting in teacher-directed learning and high-stakes assignments, grading, and reporting. Conversely, the teacher in the digital age learning ecosystem employs assessment for learning. This practice utilizes more risk-free formative assessments where the teacher continually checks for student understanding so that students are able to freely share their developing ideas and skills. Teachers also use multiple forms of assessment in the process of learning so that students have more ways to experience success. These forms may include participation in discussion, student-produced content, and multimedia presentations.
Multiple Technology Tools
Whether students use their own technology tools that they bring to school in their pockets and backpacks or utilize school-provided technology resources, these devices develop new purposes within the digital age learning ecosystem. They are the means for building connections among teachers, students, and content. Different resources are also useful for different tasks. So, there may be a situation when a smartphone or a tablet is the appropriate tool for taking a photo, responding to a question, or accessing content, but other situations may require the use of a laptop or desktop computer, broadcast equipment, interactive whiteboard, or 3D printer. Learning when and how to use the right tool for a job are essential functions within the digital age learning ecosystem.
Designs for Differentiation and Accessibility
Because each student is unique, teachers in the digital age learning ecosystem realize that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to learning. Students have different strengths and challenges, so their learning experiences should be tailored for those personal differences. Personalizing learning should include support for English language learners and students with academic and physical needs as well as remediation and enrichment opportunities for all students, as needed. Thoughtfully designed accessibility features within the classroom engage all of the learners by reducing factors that may limit success and impede equitable participation.
Supportive Classroom Environment
The classroom environment of the digital age learning ecosystem includes both the physical and online areas that are used and curated by the teacher and students. There are a variety of learning spaces and tools available as needed for the students to use for different learning activities, including nooks for individual innovation and quiet reflection in addition to zones for collaborative work and discussion. The learning environment is vibrant, and furniture and equipment are mobile so that they can be easily rearranged to adjust for multiple learning situations and functions.
Engaging Instructional Strategies
Teachers plan instructional strategies that engage students within the digital age learning ecosystem. With a focus on the skills of communication, collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking, the processes involved in learning, rather than just the products, gain new importance. Not only does this focus ensure that students have multiple ways to show evidence of success in the classroom, it also helps them develop the skills necessary for success in their future careers. Digital age teachers consider how they implement these strategies throughout each day and realize that they can facilitate student learning without everyone doing the same thing, at the same time, and in the same way.
Although I described each of the above components of the digital age learning ecosystem separately, they are all integrated parts. With continued support, this learning environment begins to take on a life of its own as the teacher and students feel a sense of ownership and pride over its sustainable success.
“ecosystem.” Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 06 Jul. 2014. <Dictionary.com http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/ecosystem>.
How it begins…
When students first bring in their own technology devices for a BYOT initiative, the energy in the classroom crackles with their excitement. They are eager to share how they use those tools for connecting to others, consuming content, and playing games. Teachers usually prepare an introductory activity designed to help their students explore how to learn with BYOT. There are many discussions about apps, websites, networks, and hardware. However, there is a potential for magic to happen through consistent use, high expectations, and sheer determination. The devices blend into the normal part of the process of learning, and the technology becomes invisible. The teachers who are able to conduct that magic trick possess a common understanding – BYOT is a mindset, and here’s the secret; it isn’t about technology after all.
What it is…
The BYOT Mindset is a deeply ingrained (in your bones, even) conviction that students can and should own the learning (or at least share it with their teachers). Just as they own their technology devices, most students also possess an understanding of software, processes, and media that have to be acknowledged as possibilities for deeper learning. The BYOT mindset is more than the understanding of a technology device (most students don’t automatically know how to learn with their technology); rather, the BYOT mindset also takes into consideration that the students have particular knowledge of applications that may be beneficial for their learning.
How you embrace it…
As teachers, we often think that our job is to direct the learning in the classroom. We concoct the perfect recipe of lecture, project, practice, and assessment to lead to student mastery of a concept. However, what would happen if we challenged the students with a relevant question and have them research information and propose solutions to real world problems? Ideally, this situation would lead to greater student engagement and relevancy. The students can utilize their own technology tools in this pursuit of learning, as needed. Teachers can embrace the BYOT mindset by trusting that their students will be connected to their learning as they are challenged to discover for themselves new solutions to authentic problems.
By exhibiting the following five behaviors, teachers can venture along the path to embracing the BYOT mindset.
- Share control of the learning
- Ask more questions, than give answers.
- Realize that BYOT is about understanding as well as devices
- Provide access to rich content and resources
- Trust your students as members of a learning community
A Note from Tim: Forsyth County Schools in Georgia is in its sixth year of implementing Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT). Debbie Smith is the principal of Coal Mountain Elementary School, which was featured in NBC News for its use of BYOT. In this post, Debbie shares her ideas about how she coaches her teachers to embrace digital age learning with BYOT.
Guest Post by Debbie Smith @Napier000
Principal – Coal Mountain Elementary School
From my view point, there is a larger issue than a teacher’s willingness to become digitally competent. Because we greatly value using devices to engage students in their learning and to bring the world into our classrooms, our teachers know that becoming digitally proficient is an expectation. We provide ongoing professional learning to train teachers in the uses of technology in the classroom and provide mentor teachers if needed. The truth is that the students are the BEST teachers….and that is a paradigm shift that some teachers find hard to achieve.
Because we have been using digital devices in our classrooms for two years, with great success, all of our teachers are aware that this is the future of education. There is no doubt that student engagement is much greater when technology is used as part of classroom instruction. However, unless the design of instruction is of high quality, the use of digital devices is simply not effective.
With all that said, here is the issue of leadership as I see it:
From the district level leadership:
Has capacity been built and has infrastructure been put in place to utilize technological devices at the classroom level in a consistent, safe, and useful manner? Has support been provided in the form of technical personnel – Instructional Technology Specialists, as well as high quality professional learning for the BYOT/BYOD to be implemented with success at the school level?
From the building level leadership:
Does the school culture provide a “risk free” environment for teachers to try new things? Are there ample opportunities for professional learning to support teachers as they work to increase their digital expertise? Are the teachers provided the latest research supporting the use of digital devices in the classroom…do they understand the urgency? Has the building level leadership built trusting relationships with teachers, parents, and community members, and communicated the positive impact and aspects of digital classrooms? Is there a commitment to educating students about digital footprints and correct/acceptable use of devices in the classroom? Is the building level leadership committed to “staying the course” through, what at times can be, the troubled waters of change?
From the teacher leader perspective:
Am I committed to what is best for my students? With the knowledge that using digital devices is hugely successful in engaging students in their learning, what am I doing as an educational professional and leader to hone my technological skills? Am I committed to continued learning and growth as an educational professional…with technology, as well as the design of quality instruction that calls for students to think deeply and “show what they know”?
If the answer to any one of these questions is “no”, then perhaps it is time to reflect on the reasons I am still in the profession and research other career choices.