When students are encouraged to bring their own technology to school, this initiative has the potential to empower students and teachers in their learning experiences. We now have BYOT being implemented in all 35 schools in my district, and it is still gradually spreading from classroom to classroom. We have noticed varying levels of use of the technology devices that the students are bringing to school, yet our goal is to achieve the optimal potential of BYOT to impact student learning. To describe the use of instructional technology in our classrooms, we use Bernajean Porter’s Grappling’s Technology and Learning Spectrum to differentiate between Literacy, Adapting, and Transforming uses of technology. In fact, this spectrum has been incorporated into the classroom observation of our teachers to help focus on areas of strength and potential areas for future growth.
Here are some ways that this spectrum can translate into instructional activities of the BYOT classroom as well as some suggestions for encouraging higher levels of use.
Bernajean Porter describes Literacy Uses of technology as the focus on the technology itself rather than on the curriculum. When the students first bring their own technology into the classroom, they have to learn how to connect them to the districts wireless network. They are excited about the apps and capabilities of their devices, and they are eager to share and discuss them with each other. The students often have to help each other with using the technology within the infrastructure of the school district. This is part of the process of encouraging BYOT in the classroom, and the amount of time that it takes to progress through this level of use varies based on the experiences and abilities of the students. In my observations, I have seen this level of use quickly pass, and then the students look for some direction about new uses for their technology tools. The students are often not used to learning with their own devices. They may have used them for playing games, texting, and consuming content, but they need their teachers to facilitate some educational and productive uses.
A classroom can get stuck in the literacy level when BYOT is relegated to one day of the week or when it is seen as something extra to be used as a diversion or a reward in the classroom. To help BYOT progress to the next level of use, the teacher needs to brainstorm with the students how their devices can assist their learning on a regular basis in the classroom.
When students begin to use their technology tools to do the same types of assignments they completed without BYOT, then they are engaged in Adapting Uses of their devices. Some examples of adapting BYOT to the classroom can include the following: entering assignments on the calendar of a smartphone instead of writing them on an agenda; taking notes during a lecture with an app; using a word processor to complete writing assignments; making use of the calculator on a cell phone to finish a math worksheet; and researching facts on a topic. When a student logs into a website to play games with the sole purpose of improving their basic skills in grammar and math or even to watch instructional videos on a topic, they are also using their technology on the adapting level.
In typical 1 to 1 programs where every student has been provided with the same device, classrooms can easily get stuck in the adapting uses of technology. Instead of reading from a paper textbook, the students are sometimes given the assignment to read the digital textbook and then to enter their answers to questions at the end of the chapter on the device. Another example of an adapting use is when the teacher directs all of the students to complete the same project using the same software, and the end products all end up being basically the same. BYOT can help to encourage higher levels of use because assignments have to be more open-ended to account for the students’ differing devices. To move to the next level of use, the teacher has to provide flexibility for student choices and to be willing to learn alongside the students.
As teachers begin to empower students with the Transforming Uses of their technology devices, the tools seem to disappear in the classroom, and the focus becomes centered on the construction of new meanings. The teacher’s job shifts from teaching about technology or directing instruction into a more facilitative role of learning. The most important ability a teacher needs to possess in this BYOT classroom is knowing how to ask the right questions to help students collaborate in inquiry, to decide on the right tools, and to create original products that show what they have learned. The process of learning in this environment is as important as the end product, and the technology that is used is essential to the ultimate outcome of the learning experience. In addition to being consumers of content, the students now become producers of information to be presented in exciting new ways.
An example of a transforming use of technology in a high school classroom that I observed was that after reading Shakespeare’s Othello, the teacher had the students watch the modern movie adaptation. This would just be an adapting use of the technology; however, the experience became transforming as the students watched the movie and participated in a back channel discussion on their devices. They compared the movie to the original play via Skype. The teacher actively monitored the thread of the discussion on his own laptop and promoted further in-depth dialogue in the online chat by commenting and asking thought-provoking questions based on the students posts. In this instance, the activity could not have been completed without the use of the technology, and the discussion progressed to higher-levels of thinking.
The Next Steps…
When you begin your BYOT initiative, realize that teachers and students will naturally move back and forth among the above uses of their technology tools. If teachers, do not have a goal for BYOT or provide opportunities for students to own the learning, they will sometimes just stop bringing their devices to school. Explore ways to implement BYOT as a regular part of the class day, and be open to transforming learning.
Please share your ideas for additional transforming uses of BYOT…