A goal of the BYOT classroom is to develop resilient students who own the learning process, just as they own their personal technology tools. Resiliency is the ability to overcome challenges and bounce back, and it is essential to a person’s long term success and happiness. One way to develop resiliency is to cultivate a learning community or a community of practice that includes the teacher as well as the students.
What Is a Community of Practice?
According to Etienne Wenger, “Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.”
There are three components of a CoP – domain, community, and practice.
- Domain – the shared interest and expertise of the group
- Community – the relationships and norms among the members of the group
- Practice – the interactions of the group while solving problems and developing resources
Communities of Practice with BYOT
In the BYOT classroom, teachers and students work collaboratively to learn new concepts and explore innovative ways to show what they have learned with their own technology tools. The students are already personally attached to their own devices because they use those tools to make sense of their world by connecting to their friends and families; publishing photos and content; playing games; and consuming a variety of information. In this way, a technology device begins to acquire new meaning since it is an extension and a representation of a student’s sense of self. Possibly, that is why students are so angry when they are told to turn off their technology and put it away or when it is taken away from them.
By integrating student-owned technologies within the learning environment, teachers can transform their classrooms into communities of practice. Here are seven strategies for facilitating the components of a community of practice with BYOT to develop more resilient learners.
- Trust – Teachers and students may be unused to a learning environment where they are able to learn alongside each other discovering new ideas. It is impossible for a teacher to be able to see what is on the screen of each student’s device or for a district to block all inappropriate content. Trust has to prevail within the BYOT classroom to encourage the responsible use of technology.
- High Expectations – When no student is undervalued as a member of the learning community, they can find new ways to achieve, succeed, and contribute. By maintaining high expectations for every student, the teacher is able to begin trusting that the students will become engaged in learning and will want to use technology responsibly. Those expectations can nurture the desired behaviors.
- Open Access – Students should be able to use their technology tools, as needed, in order to research new concepts and to participate. There shouldn’t be special technology times; rather, it should be an integral part of digital age learning. Also, when they go home at the end of the day, most students will have unfiltered Internet access. They need to learn what to do when they encounter spam messages or inappropriate content. In public schools, we are legally required to filter the Internet, but over-filtering gives students (and teachers) a false sense of security.
- Sense of Belonging – When they are able to explore their interests and passions without the fear of mistakes and failure, students find new strengths and opportunities to share their expertise with the other members of the learning community. In a community of practice, members begin to be recognized and appreciated for their differences. Because they have different devices, teachers have to encourage students to use them in innovative ways to show what they know.
- Flexibility – The logistics of the school day mean that there are time constraints, but there has to be freedom to pursue the teachable or “learnable” moment. Standards and curriculum can’t be so locked down that there is no room for the community of practice to naturally evolve or to explore new ways to use personal technology tools to create and communicate. Now, projects don’t have to be so planned by the teacher that they leave little room for student creativity.
- Coaching – Just as the coach of a sport recognizes the need for practice for new skills to become habits, the teacher and students can mentor each other on the use of technology, on particular topics, and areas of expertise. There is no way that a teacher can know how each device or application works, so they have to be willing to learn alongside students and model inquiry.
- Persistence – Everyone makes mistakes, yet this realization can be difficult for many of us when it comes to BYOT. A student may access something inappropriate or send an unkind message, but that shouldn’t mean that the technology or the application should be banned. Instead, the members of the learning community should develop new goals for working on the problematic behaviors and realize that they are not technology issues.
The resiliency learned as a child within a nurturing community of practice could have long term implications on their success as adult learners and contributors within future work environments. By learning responsible ways to use personal technology tools in a BYOT learning community, hopefully students will be able to develop good digital footprints that can last a lifetime.
Wenger, Etienne (June, 2006). Communities of Practice: A brief introduction. Retrieved on May 22, 2013, http://www.ewenger.com/theory/.