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.
Sustainability is defined as the “capacity to endure” (“Sustainability,” 2013). Most people agree that the natural environment has to be sustained so that we can long-lasting and renewable benefits from its resources. Similarly, we must develop sustainable practices that continue to support digital age learning within the learning environments of today’s schools. When the initial enthusiasm for shiny new technology devices begins to pale, what will help to keep the spark alive?
Digital Age Learning describes the shift from traditional teacher-directed instruction to student-centered learning with the use of technology tools. Those resources may be provided by the school or through a Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) initiative. I have observed the transformation of many typical classrooms in my district through the implementation of BYOT supplemented by the school’s technology devices and infrastructure. However, that transformation has to be sustained so that teachers and students don’t revert into the old habits of standardized, rote instruction – mainly characterized by the activities of lecturing, memorizing, and recalling information.
Based on my collaboration with teachers and students throughout my district, here are some practices for sustaining digital age learning.
Build the Learning Community
I’ve written before about the importance of developing learning communities in schools and classrooms, and one hallmark of an effective community is trust. When students and teachers are working with technology devices and applications, there is always the possibility that someone could make a mistake or a poor choice. Yet, I’ve seen classrooms with clear, consistent expectations and an atmosphere of safety and respect that rarely experience issues related to the inappropriate use of technology. When teachers expect the responsible use of technology, they convey that they believe in each student’s ability to accomplish great things.
Utilize Student Expertise
Because students are accustomed to using their own technology tools for consuming content and communicating with their friends, they have already learned how to troubleshoot many technology issues. Of course, not every student has the same level of interest, ability, or expertise with technology, but they can learn to rely on each other for support. The teacher can also begin to depend on the students for technology assistance. This strategy builds empowers students to discover new skills for life-long learning.
Focus on Digital Age Skills
Teachers often become frustrated when they focus their instruction on a particular application or device. In fact, as we implemented BYOT, we quickly realized that we needed to talk more about digital age skills (communication, collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking), rather than on technology. As teachers begin to incorporate those skills into their content standards, technology becomes purposeful, meaningful, and relevant.
Encourage the Regular Use of Technology
Having special technology times or days means that technology use occurs outside of the norms of learning. However, when it becomes a normal part of teaching and learning, teachers and students are able to discover new uses for the available technology tools. Then technology serves a legitimate function in the process of learning, and its use becomes an enjoyable, necessary process, rather than a big production or event.
Provide Continuous Professional Learning
Teachers and students need time to “play” with the technology tools, but the real paradigm shift for many teachers is learning how to share control and direction of the learning with the students. It is also helpful if teachers can see digital age learning in action by observing each other trying new strategies, using technology, and facilitating learning experiences for students. This support should be on-going and include opportunities for feedback and reflection.
In addition to the above strategies, the buy in and support of the parents and other stakeholders also ensure the sustainability of digital age learning. Technology hardware, applications, and processes will continue to change over time, whether students are using school-owned or student-owned devices, but the supportive practices that truly leverage change are everlasting.
Sustainability. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved November 26, 2013, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sustainability
It is homecoming week for instructional technology in Georgia; otherwise, this event is known as the Georgia Educational Technology Conference - GaETC 2013. This is the time when educators from around Georgia and beyond come together to explore innovative new ways to utilize technology to create exciting learning opportunities. I will be collaborating with colleagues and friends in instructional technology and extending my personal learning network (PLN), and I will be co-presenting two workshops and one additional session throughout the week.
I am including all of the links and information for my sessions in this post. Select a title of a presentation for an outline and additional resources. For all of my presentations at GaETC 2013 (@GaETCconf), I encourage everyone to backchannel ideas, questions, and comments to the hashtag #gaetc13 in Twitter. I hope to add you to my PLN by the end of the conference!
Workshop: Transforming Learning with BYOT
Tuesday, November 5, 2013, 1:00PM-4:00PM – Room: Board Room 3
Wednesday, November 6, 2013, 1:30PM-2:30PM – Room: Salon A Marriott
Thursday, November 7, 2013, 9:00AM-12:00PM – Room: Board Room 3
We’ve written previously on our decision to implement a Responsible Use Procedure rather than an Acceptable Use Procedure. And while we’ve shared some of the philosophical reasons why we believe in the idea of a Responsible Use Procedure, we’ve not spent much time on strategies to make that move successfully.
Grappling with and being ready to break from a long list of things that users shouldn’t do and moving to a shorter (and more memorable) list of responsibilities is both a philosophical and operational shift that takes consensus building. And it might seem like this would be opening the floodgates of disciplinary issues without the necessary “rules” to shore up necessary response. We have found that through consistent communication and ongoing training those things are not happening.
These strategies have been essential to our successful transition.
Engaging the Stakeholders
Is everyone swimming in the same direction? Are you involving members of your Safety, Academics, Student Support, Special Education, Educational Leadership and Technology Services departments? Did you consider all levels of school leaders? Don’t forget to include Media Specialists. By being inclusive and transparent throughout the process, stronger support can be garnered.
Don’t drown as people start considering their worst fears. Take a look at the research, blogs and tweets about responsible use. SEDTA’s Broadband Imperative is a helpful white paper as is Grunwald and Associate’s Living and Learning with Mobile Devices. Look at other school systems’ policies on responsible use. A few that were particularly useful in our process were Katy ISD, TX, Canyon School District and Holy Spirit Roman Catholic Separate Regional Division. Check out this post from Katrina Schwartz on MindShift: Teach Kids to Be Their Own Internet Filters. NPR’s All Tech Considered blogged about this issue in “For The Tablet Generation, A Lesson In Digital Citizenship” as well.
Focus on Digital Age Skills
The vision for instructional technology within our district is embedded within the FCS Learner Profile. This profile describes the attributes of students attending and graduating from a Forsyth County school, and digital age skills are reflected within those hallmarks. When highlighting how the responsible use of technology is an essential digital age skill rippling through each student’s path to success, it is possible to achieve a growing groundswell of support and buy-in throughout the district.
What are the statistics on current issues with “appropriate use” in your district or school? What percentage of students is being reported for inappropriate use? Is there a surge of issues or is it a small minority of students (maybe 5 percent or so) and the imagined problems are bigger than the reality. Maybe the “rules” are being written for the 5% of students who may make poor choices rather than the 95% who will usually make appropriate decisions.
Are there ways to ease up on filtering (for example, unblocking YouTube for teachers and then later for students) to test the waters? What about allowing students to use devices before and after class as a first step (like in the lunchroom or between classes)?
Technology Rules Shouldn’t Be Separate
In Forsyth we were able to take some of the most important ideas from our Acceptable Use Procedure and have them flow into the Code of Conduct. For instance, we had an AUP rule about not vandalizing computer equipment. So we incorporated that statement into the existing statement about not vandalizing school property. Since we already had a statement in Code of Conduct, we didn’t feel that we should have a separate and different rule for technology.
Provide Learning Resources – For Staff and Students
By providing videos and other resources to educate staff as well as students on the new procedures, we were able to ensure a consistent message throughout our schools. Whether you develop your own materials or rely on those from places like Common Sense Media, consistency of message is essential.
When we started on our implementation of BYOT about six years ago, we would never have been able to predict that our community would embrace changes to our Appropriate Use Procedure as they have. We’ve gradually seen the rise in the tide of support as we have all been able to understand how much our students need us to model being a responsible digital citizen and learner.
On Friday, October 4, 2013, Forsyth County Schools welcomed approximately 130 educators to tour its Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) initiative at three of its schools, Chattahoochee Elementary School, Little Mill Middle School, and Forsyth Central High School. The district has had numerous tours over the last few years. Not only do these tours highlight the implementation of BYOT, but they also provide an impetus for professional learning within the district to help us continue growing and refining our teaching practices with instructional technology. Although the district has been encouraging students to bring their own technology tools to school to improve learning opportunities, each school is at a different point in this transformational process. This post details the journey of Chattahoochee Elementary School as it prepared for its first BYOT Tour.
BYOT actually began a few years ago at Chattahoochee Elementary School, and the school’s Instructional Technology Specialist (ITS), Missy Payne, had me visit some classrooms in grades 3-5 to discuss the responsible use of BYOT and some ways that students could learn with their devices. The teachers of those classes wanted to begin utilizing BYOT. I also met with the school leaders at that time to discuss the vision for BYOT at the school.
The use of BYOT was voluntary, however, and although some of the teachers and students began using BYOT in the classroom, the practice did not spread throughout the rest of the school.
Then last year, a new principal, Barbara Vella, was selected to lead the school. She was enthusiastic about the possibilities for instructional technology, including BYOT, for engaging student learning through higher-level thinking and project-based learning. She encouraged both the ITS and media specialist (Michelle Smith) to attend districtwide training in teaching and learning with BYOT. She also requested that her school participate in a BYOT Tour when every teacher’s class would be visited so that others could observe BYOT in action.
We first conducted a walkthrough of Chattahoochee Elementary School to ascertain the levels of technology use within the school. This was an attempt to establish some baseline data that would clarify where to invest time and resources to assist the teachers and students more effectively. In this walkthrough, very few technology resources were in use. In fact, the majority of the classrooms were using whole group, teacher-directed instruction, and many of the instructional activities were being conducted solely to improve performance on high stakes testing – lecture, worksheets, and recipe-like standardized projects. There was very little focus on developing digital age skills, the 4 Cs – Creativity, Communication, Collaboration, and Critical Thinking, even without the use of technology tools. It was apparent that this is where the teachers and students needed additional support.
In preparation for the BYOT Tour, instructional support came in various forms. First, we organized a panel presentation of teachers from a neighboring elementary school (Chestatee Elementary School) that had previously hosted a BYOT Tour. At a faculty meeting, those teachers shared personal stories about how they were originally hesitant about implementing BYOT and welcoming so many people into their classrooms but then how rewarding the whole process was to student learning. We shared the data from the preliminary walkthrough and had a conversation about the vision for student learning with BYOT. As a group, the teachers decided to work toward developing strategies for incorporating those skills into their classrooms. They began planning for additional small group instruction to utilize their school-owned technology resources more collaboratively. In addition, they brainstormed new ways for students to be creative through project-based learning organized around higher-level questions and inquiry to stimulate critical thinking. These types of learning activities ultimately necessitated the use of BYOT.
Missy and Michelle assisted the teachers in their school as they planned for student learning with the 4 Cs. They recommended apps and projects that would help the teachers incorporate the content they were teaching with digital age skills, and they modeled that instruction for the teachers within classrooms so that the teachers had additional support with the technology when necessary. They continued to plan additional walkthroughs and invited the ITS and MS of other schools to visit their classrooms and nurtured the teachers with specific feedback to help them with their instruction. It was sometimes difficult for teachers to receive that feedback, at first, but Missy, Michelle, and the school leaders worked with each teacher individually and offered constructive support to help them develop into a professional learning community.
The teachers also began to participate in walkthroughs within the school to see BYOT being implemented by their colleagues.
The school community also worked on transforming the physical space of the building. They cleaned out and updated the collection of books and resources within the media center and selected some new furniture for the space to better facilitate the 4 Cs. They also rearranged the furniture in the classrooms to create learning environments that supported group and individual learning activities. Finally, they painted the building and incorporated murals and splashy new colors to show a new vibrancy and enthusiasm for learning.
The planned BYOT Tour was a success, the visitors raved about the students and their use of both school-owned and student-owned technology resources. Even if the students did not own all of the devices, it was evident that they owned the learning. Principal Vella had even ordered shirts for the staff with the motto “Cs the Moment” and the 4 Cs listed on the back. The BYOT Tour is just the beginning of the school’s journey on the path to transforming into a digital age student-centered learning environment. However, with the commitment of the dedicated teachers at Chattahoochee Elementary School and support of their school leaders, they will most assuredly accomplish that goal.
It is exciting to have the opportunity to attend the Mobile Learning Experience 2013 in Tucson, Arizona from September 16-18! In addition to collaborating with colleagues and friends in instructional technology while extending my personal learning network (PLN), I am honored by being asked by Tony Vincent and the Arizona K12 Center to present two sessions and deliver the keynote on Monday, September 16! I have long been inspired by Tony’s work, and his Learning in Hand blog shows the true learning power of connecting students with digital age tools.
I am including all of the links and information for my sessions and the keynote to this post. Select a title of a presentation for an outline and additional resources. For all of my presentations at Mobile Learning Experience 2013 (@mobile2013), I encourage everyone to backchannel ideas, questions, and comments to the hashtag #mobile2013 in Twitter. I hope to add you to my PLN by the end of the conference!
Session 1: The First Five Days of School with BYOT
Monday, September 16, 2013, 2:00PM-3:00PM – Room: Canyon I
Session 2: The Quest for the Magic App
Monday, September 16, 2013, 3:15PM-4:15PM – Room: Canyon I
Monday, September 16, 2013, 6:30PM-7:30PM – Room: Grand Ballroom
After spending the last week observing classrooms at various stages of implementing Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT), I reflected on how I could encourage the members of those schools to find new ways to learn with their technology tools. I turned to my own Personal Learning Network (PLN) in Twitter in #BYOTchat for suggestions regarding the components necessary for initiating and sustaining a schoolwide BYOT implementation. I’m sure that everyone has some different opinions about the order of significance of the following recommendations, but please share your ideas by commenting at the end of this post. This compilation is ordered in the way I received them from my PLN, and I added some of my own ideas about each of the following areas:
- Administrator Support and Expectations. I began the discussion by suggesting this item. From my experience, when an administrator relates that BYOT is important for students and expects that students should be using their technology tools for learning, then teachers are more motivated to encourage BYOT. I think that school and district leaders need to walk through their buildings and recognize effective uses of technology and offer support when necessary.
- Adequate Infrastructure. This area was noted by @mrvandersluis, and @ZinkEd_u argued that infrastructure should be number one. I agree that having a robust Wi-Fi network is essential to the effective implementation of BYOT. I have also seen students use their own devices without necessarily being connected to the Internet, and in my district, students also can use their personal data plans (if they can get a signal). I do recognize, however, that teachers and students will be frustrated with an unreliable network within their schools.
- Dedicated, Interested Teachers. @sr_tutor shared that teachers have to champion the implementation of BYOT. Teachers have to understand that they don’t need to know how to use all of the technology tools that come into their classrooms. They need to focus on the teaching and know how to ask good questions so that they can facilitate student discovery of new ways to learn with their personal devices. They also need to develop a responsive learning community and negotiate strategies for the use of BYOT. Teachers have to be resilient and understand that they will sometimes make mistakes, but they can model how to be digital age learners.
- Parent Support. @meghorsley made this suggestion, and it is vital that parents understand the new role of BYOT in learning. Many parents see their children using technology for gaming or communicating with friends, and parents often hand their own devices to children to keep them pacified in restaurants or in the back seat of the car, but they usually haven’t seen children learning with technology. There are many ways to help parents understand BYOT. Use a polling app during a PTA meeting so that parents can participate with their own devices. Invite parents to a Technology Night at the school when students can explain to parents how they learn with BYOT. Finally, share out suggestions for apps and tools in newsletters or provide links to successful BYOT lessons and products so that parents can realize new learning opportunities with BYOT
- A BYOT Policy. @EmLeacy noted that there should be an agreed upon plan for use by all parties: administration, teachers, students, and parents alike. I don’t think she was specifically talking about a policy for BYOT, so I broke up this idea into two different strategies (numbers 5 and 6). Everyone needs to understand how the technology tools will be used and how issues will be resolved if the technology is used inappropriately. We never really experienced nightmare scenarios with BYOT in my district, and over time, we developed a new Responsible Use Policy that focuses on nurturing trust among teachers and students. Of course, as professionals, the teachers still monitor the use of technology tools in their classrooms just like they monitor other behaviors.
- A BYOT Purpose/Vision. @EmLeacy followed up with the notion of a sense of purpose, and this idea seems more related to the goals and vision for BYOT within the school. There are several reasons why a school may choose to begin a BYOT initiative. One reason is that so many students may have devices that a school needs to find ways (other that outright banning them) to deal with all of these forms of technology. In addition, digital age skills can be taught and facilitated with students own technology tools. Furthermore, students can be more engaged in learning when they become producers of original content rather than solely consuming content. The vision for BYOT needs to be understood and shared by all of the members of the learning community.
- BYOT Capacity and Equity. @mrvandersluis explained that this capacity addresses whether or not students have their own technology tools to bring to school and what the school will do for those that don’t have devices. BYOT equity can be a challenge to understand and accomplish. I prefer having different devices because those differences help provide more personalized learning experiences and more opportunities to transform learning within the classroom. Is it equitable when a parent chooses not to send technology to school because of fears related to screen time or when one teacher utilizes technology but the teacher in the next classroom doesn’t use it because of his or her fears related to technology use? A good blend of school technology resources and personal technology tools seems like the most equitable solution, and a school district also needs to consider the issue of home Internet access.
- On-Going Personalized Professional Learning. I added this final component to the list, and I think that there is no final resting place for professional learning in BYOT. The tools and applications continue to evolve over time, and a certain mindset is required for teaching and learning in the digital age. With so many different opportunities for engaging student learning with BYOT, a teacher has to receive support just in time and usually that support comes from the students in the classroom. Again, a supportive learning community encourages teachers and students to be risk-takers – willing to try new approaches and able to learn from successes and mistakes.
Having a great PLN like #BYOTchat in Twitter helps me to make my professional learning personalized to my unique challenges and interests.
I’m grateful to all of the educators who contributed to my understanding of the needs for BYOT implementation. I definitely suggest that you follow each of them on Twitter. If you think that there is an item missing from this list, or if you think of a creative way of ordering these suggestions, please leave a comment.
Also, join #BYOTchat in Twitter each Thursday night at 9 PM EST for an exciting discussion regarding an aspect of BYOT! This chat is moderated by @SteveHayes_RB60, @nathan_stevens, @MyTakeOnIt, and me. We also have many guest moderators who lend their various areas of expertise.