Archive for category BYOT Vision

Embracing the BYOT Mindset

How it begins…

BYOT_MindsetWhen 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.

  1. Share control of the learning
  2. Ask more questions, than give answers.
  3. Realize that BYOT is about understanding as well as devices
  4. Provide access to rich content and resources
  5. Trust your students as members of a learning community


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Initiating BYOT? Get Advice from a PLN!

2013-08-29 10.04.15After 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.

2013-08-29 12.47.44Having 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.

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Personalizing Learning in High School with BYOT

  A Note from Tim: Forsyth County Schools in Georgia is beginning its sixth year in implementing Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT).  In this post, Instructional Technology Specialist at South Forsyth High School, Carla Youmans, shares her experiences of facilitating BYOT in the SFHS Media and Instructional Technology Center.

Guest Post by Carla Youmans @cwyoumans
Instructional Technology Specialist – South Forsyth High School

SFHS_BYOT4Many school systems and businesses have started to permit students and employees to use their own computer devices within school or at work.  It saves money, allows for a certain level of comfort, and ensures that more individuals have the capabilities of working digitally.  Many people refer to 21st Century Learning in a BYOT/BYOD environment.  Perhaps we should begin saying BYOT/BYOD in a digital, personalized learning environment.   Our educational system, parents, and society expect high rigor for and from all students. Since more students are taking AP or IB courses than ever before, more students must be capable of high performing work. Therefore, in a BYOT/BYOD digital learning environment we must create a space where students learn and develop skills that set them apart from each other (creativity, problem-solving, innovation, etc).

Steps in the Process

SFHS_BYOT1We follow five simple steps in our Media and Instructional Technology Center.  The first step is to read. We want students to read for information — to understand, to question, and to infer.  As they read, the next step is to collect valid, accurate and reliable information.  Many students immediately want to create a new product; however, they have no data or research to support the reasoning for the new product.  So, once they have read and collected information, we want them to critically think — What have I learned?  What more do I want to know?  What can I share? What do others know? How could we together build something greater? This is where the fourth and fifth steps come in:  to collaborate and to create.

When we can help students understand this process and follow it then we believe we have pushed them out of their comfort zone where great things can happen.

Magic Happens

Empowering Students to Drive the Learning

Encouraging teachers to use BYOT/BYOD in our digital learning environment is best achieved through a project-based learning approach.  We teach with a “use what you have to show what you know” mentality that empowers students to drive their assessment by encouraging student choice and student voice in as much of the projects as possible. What does this really mean?  It means: possibly having 30 totally different projects submitted by 30 different students to assess the same exact standard.  WOW!  What a shift from the much discussed “differentiated” classroom to a “personalized” classroom.  Imagine all of the students in your classroom learning the way that is best for them?  AMAZING!SFHS_BYOT3

Transforming the classroom may be scary for some teachers.  First of all, teachers are known for writing great directions that explain “exactly” how they want a project to be completed. When we give students packets of directions to create a project, we take away all of the problem-solving, creativity, and innovative pieces that they may add.  Secondly, high-achieving students who typically receive a 99 on an assignment and ask “why didn’t I get a 100?” may be caught off guard when they “use what they have to show what they know.”  Our current system has molded them to be step-by-step direction followers rather than inquisitive problem solvers and creators.

We never stop learning.  Surprise yourself and your students.  Allow them to create their own assessments and watch your project based BYOT/BYOD turn into a phenomenal student-centered digital learning environment.

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Learning to TRUST with Responsible Use

(Cross-posted at Bold Visions and BYOT Network and cowritten by Jill Hobson, Director of Instructional Technology and Dr. Tim Clark, Coordinator of Instructional Technology – Forsyth County Schools.)

BYOT_babyWhen do you begin teaching responsible use? It should start at birth. Many parents begin creating the child’s digital footprint before the child is even born by posting the ultrasound photo on social media. Ideally when the child enters school you would expect a child to know how to share, take turns, listen to other opinions and know the difference between right and wrong and some understanding of social norms for public and private behavior. In reality we realize that some children come to school unprepared with some of those social skills and so we nurture and model and teach appropriate behavior until these become internalized.

For example,we live in an era where parents have some model for the “sex talk” because most people participated in such a conversation(s) as a child.  There are multiple books and blogs and other resources to help parents with how to handle this issue.  But who among us as parents has a model for ongoing digital citizenship conversation? Most adults have developed their knowledge of social media through experimentation without guidance, yet we wouldn’t want our kids to learn about sex in that way! So, this is an area where the school has a responsibility to step in and join with families in the work of teaching digital citizenship.

From the beginning of a child’s school career, learning about responsible must be an everyday, ongoing, just in time experience. Where would a school find resources for this kind of instruction? One powerful tool for schools AND parents that we recommend is Common Sense Media.

In addition it seems that when issues occur where a young person makes a mistake, the initial reaction leans towards banning whatever device, app or website was involved as a solution.  While this is a quick way to deal with the immediate issue, it misses the larger need to educate students on how to live in a world of the open Internet.  Students need to learn what it means to responsibly make use of these tools.  And it means that we need to know what to do when we end up in the wrong place, when we mess up, or make a poor choice.  How do young people learn to “course correct” without some guidance from the adults in their lives?

Forsyth County Schools has begun to address the way we deal with issue by moving away from the traditional Acceptable Use Guidelines that include a long list of “thou shalt nots” and has replaced them with the FCS Responsible Use Guidelines.  These guidelines include 5 statements outlining behaviors all members of the FCS community will exhibit regarding digital citizenship. We started to recognize that we had been focusing on the 5% of students who might not follow directions and were making all of the “rules” to deal with their issues.  Our goal in transforming the Acceptable Use Guidelines into Responsible Use Guidelines was to focus on the 95% of students who are going to do the right thing.

The district will begin its sixth year of its Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) initiative in the 2013-2014 school year.  At the onset of implementing BYOT, it seemed necessary to control the devices and applications the students were using in order to ensure safety.  There was some concern about what would happen when students brought their own technology tools to school, and the district leaned heavily on its filtered network as a measure of control.  The big A-HA moment came when students brought devices to school and generally used them responsibly and safely, and the few issues that arose were identified as behavioral concerns to be addressed rather than being technology problems.  The district outgrew its one-size-fits-all Acceptable Use Guidelines and began its quest to develop the new FCS Responsible Use Guidelines.  Some goals of this effort were to have consistent home-school communication and support; to provide some flexibility to local school communities; to teach digital citizenship within the context of students’ personal devices,; and to encompass the growing diversity and different expectations of our learning community.

Here is a poster that we have developed to express the five traits and expectations of the new FCS Responsible Use Guidelines embedded within the overarching concept of TRUST:

We TRUST that the new school year with the new FCS Responsible Use Guidelines will have a renewed focus on digital age learning and citizenship.  To review the FCS Responsible Use Guidelines, please visit

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Cultivating a Learning Community with BYOT

CommunityA 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.

  1. CoP_BYOTTrust – 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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,

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Full Throttle Tech with BYOT from a HS Student’s Perspective

A Note from Tim: Forsyth County Schools in Georgia is in its fifth year of implementing Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT).  The first year was spent on developing the infrastructure, and the last four years have focused on piloting the initiative, developing personal and professional capacity, and eventually spreading the practice of encouraging students to learn with their personal technology tools throughout the district.  Here is what a week of a teacher using BYOT could look like from the perspective of high school student, Asher Thompson.

Guest Post by Asher Thompson @AsherT_gadeca

asher_tAs a high school student, I know that I have the luxury of seeing something that my teachers do not….how the other teachers teach.  As a teacher, you may hear little pieces of what that math teacher down the hall is asking her kids to do and you might overhear how the science teacher next door teamed everybody up for that really tough lab.  As a student, I know exactly what my math teacher is expecting and how your colleague could have teamed us up in a better way during science.  Teachers don’t get to experience the other classes, but that doesn’t mean they can’t learn how other students in their school are benefitting from technology in the classroom.  Dr. Clark has asked me to write this article about ‘Full Throttle Technology’ which something I mentioned while guest-moderating a previous #BYOTChat.  Below you will find what a sample week of what ‘Full-Throttle Tech’ looks like through my eyes.  This is for every teacher, from the ones with the pedal to the metal on technology to those with both feet firmly planted on the brake.


We won’t stop talking. You’ve just finished the last part of your lesson and you can’t believe we can be this chatty this Friday… every Friday…. every single week.  I’m sure you are very nervous about BYOT week next week.  You might be dreading it and worry that we heard, “Next week is a free week.  Bring you phone.”  Stop and regroup and tell us that next week we will need our phones and/or laptops because we are going to ‘try something new’.  You could also let us know that we need our technology next week ‘for an experiment’.  Here’s a great hint…. if you tell us it’s an “experiment” we hear, “This is just a one week thing, so if you abuse the privilege there won’t be any more phones or laptops in my classroom after next week. “  Just wait to see how technology is going to change your opinion next week!


Welcome to the Big League!  You see kids come in and they instantly pull out their phones, but you’re one step ahead of us.  Your computer is already connected to a projector and BAM! up pops the warm-up.  You have a typical PowerPoint slide but this time you easily added a multiple choice Poll Everywhere.  Trust us, you won’t need to say anything.  We will know how to text in an answer (or use a computer if we prefer) so let us utilize it on our own.  Now it’s time to get us involved.  Explain and assure us that everything is anonymous and you will never see who said what.  Go to the next slide and let us use another poll that asks us one thing that we like about the class and one thing that we would change.  If you really want students to enjoy learning, you have to solicit and consider this type of data.  Now it’s time to do your regular lesson, but every few minutes provide another poll to get your students engaged and keep their attention.  How about before each new topic you give a multiple choice question about a major theme in the topic?  For example, if you taught History you could ask, “How do you think Rasputin rose to power? A) Overthrew government, B) Healed a child’s hemophilia, or C) Made friends with Senators”.  Here’s where technology can work for you…. if we get to contribute, we are going to want to see if we were right.  We will be engaged.  You’ve hooked us!  Be sure to give us the answer towards the end of the topic so that we don’t hear the answer and zone out.


Congratulations, you survived your first day.  Let’s check. Are you still breathing? All body parts present? Good!  It’s time to continue with technology in your classroom.  Once again you have a Poll Everywhere warm-up.  Now we’re expecting you to do another PowerPoint with some more polls sprinkled into your lesson again.  Well, you’ve got something new up your sleeve!   Last night you uploaded that vocabulary worksheet onto Quizlet and presto!  You are now sharing an online stack of flash cards with your class!  Have us use our Quizlet app or the website to play some of the games.  When we feel comfortable, we can even take the test.  After we’ve been competing you are going to notice that even that kid that sulks in the corner is wanting to know who just beat his best time in Scatter.  It’s now time to ask the students that get A’s on the to test come up to your desk to show you their score.  Ta-da! You’ve provided an instant homework-weighted grade done in class that had us engrossed while having fun.  Just don’t forget to remind us to keep using the flashcard set to help prepare for the quiz coming up on Friday.


calculusHalf-way there and we haven’t even driven you crazy yet!  Isn’t that incredible? Not really.  We’ve just been engaged learners and engaged kids have far fewer behavior issues.  Now is the time you’ve been waiting for…. time to pull out the big guns. You had us all download Socrative last night because you’ve set everything up for a lesson so even you have your phone out today.  You are using the same lesson plans you would have used even if you hadn’t done this BYOT week so there is no difference in planning time on your end.  The difference is that when you ask a few questions you get EVERY student’s response.  This is a first ever in your class!  That kid who has never raised his hand is actually telling you what he knows.  It’s a miracle!  Now, you’ve had us captivated the whole class, but how is class going to end?  It’s time to send us an Exit Ticket.  Stand by the door with your phone and make sure we’ve completed our Exit Ticket.  Now you are going to know how many of us actually understand what’s going on and what we might need to review for tomorrow.


Whoo hooo, Thursday already!  We are actually excited to come to your class.  Many of us have our laptops in our backpack just like you asked.  You’ve been careful to make sure that kids that don’t have laptops know you checked some out from the media center and surely there will be friendly kids in class that are happy to share with others.  We get started and you send us to Prezi, because now that you’re a cool BYOT teacher you find PowerPoint just so mainstream.  Once again, your projector is connected to your computer and you are logged in to Prezi.  Each group of 4 or 5 students uses a laptop and is assigned one topic on the unit the class is working through this week.  Here’s where things get even more fun…. instead of us each doing it on our own, we all log into a Prezi presentation you created and start working on our pieces.  Each group has different component  of the lesson to complete.   At the end of class you inform us that we just made the study guide for the quiz tomorrow and that you will link each group’s Prezi presentations to your website (which of course you have)!


smartphoneIt’s the day we’ve been dreading…. quiz day. Why does every single teacher plan them on Friday? It’s a known fact that students have reported passing by the teacher workroom and hearing the teachers agree to coordinate all exams for the same day.  We are expecting just a pen and paper test, but you actually don’t want us to fall asleep!  You hand out a rubric and send us to Zoho where we follow your rubric to create one slide with a picture and a paragraph explaining the topic.  The collection of slides the class created generated a complete presentation.  During the last half hour of class each student is given one minute to explain their topic.  Finally, a quiz that actually really gets us ready for the quiz!  The bell rings and instead of the old sighs of relief you used to hear, now you hear a hint of disappointment.  The BYOT you used in class has us all excited to come back after the weekend is over!

The point of this lesson plan was to show that you don’t need to completely recreate your lessons,.  Technology is made to work side by side with traditional teaching.  It is here to enhance the way to teach the standards.  You can use technology to more accurately measure our comprehension of the material, more effectively reinforce the concepts you need to teach, and more powerfully  keep your students engaged.   I want to thank Dr. Clark for giving me the opportunity to explain what “Full-Throttle Tech” looks like through other students and my eyes at my BYOT school.


Ferris Bueller’s Day Off: Boost Rigor with BYOT

Guest Post by Alena Zink @ZinkEd_u
Instructional Technology Specialist
The post is also available on her blog –  iTeach.

One of my responsibilities as the instructional technology specialist this year is to observe classrooms and provide specific feedback on the effectiveness of BYOT and technology integration in classrooms. We have talented professionals in our building, but I still see lessons in which teachers chew down every bit of information and then monitor their students’ digestive process during “busy-work” activities. Then again, there are some lessons that are plainly too difficult for students to explore independently, and as a result they disengage, give up, and never succeed.  Such lessons always remind me of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and make me think how little instruction has changed since 1986!

One may skip this post after seeing the word rigor in it, knowing how overused and often misunderstood this term is today. From parents to administrators, everyone demands that teachers turn their classrooms in rigorous learning environments. What does this mean?  What does rigor look like in a classroom?

R is for relevant and I is for integration. Research from International Center for Leadership in Education shows that higher relevance and integration of subjects leads to deeper understanding of a topic.  Complex problems of the real world can be solved only by developing new knowledge built on analytical explorations of existing evidence. Therefore, we need to stop teaching a higher-level real world application one discipline and one worksheet at a time. Common Core Standards demand higher-order thinking and deeper understanding of objectives and connections between them, too. Winnie the Pooh is a great character, but we need to move away from just describing him to finding connection with today’s world, friendship in our lives, and traits that can be useful in our future. We need to move from “covering” curriculum to “uncovering” its depth, and it cannot be done one subject at a time!  We must revise our teaching and move towards PBL (project-based learning), stacking standards, and making every activity relevant. BYOT is a perfect tool that fits right in PBL environment.

G is for geographical change.  Rigorous, project-based instruction forces geographical changes in a classroom. Get rid of rows of desks facing the white board – they are simply not effective. Instead, think of a mobile set up: easily movable furniture and sitting areas for group work and collaboration. Ideally, put in two active boards for presentations and constant back-channeling. Turn walls and static bulletin boards into dry-erase surfaces on which students can brainstorm ideas, take notes, plan, and work collaboratively. Unleash BYOT – it is a perfect platform for collaboration and communication. Providing endless opportunities to learn about diverse cultures, perspectives, and relevant topics, technology brings down classroom walls and makes the world a smaller place for students to explore. The geography of learning today is limited only by teachers.

O is for ownership.  We should stop planning and micromanaging every step in student learning and set clear expectations for their work instead. Our expectation should be extremely high!  No teacher should ever dumb down the curriculum just because she/he has “one of those classes this year.” We must focus on students’ progress, not their grades! We must become coaches, cheerleaders, and critical friends to our students.  Students must become producers of knowledge and be allowed to choose how to show their learning.  They need opportunities to think critically about evidence they read, hear, or see, participate in collaborative discussions, and express themselves in a variety of ways. BYOT offers unlimited possibilities and infinite tools for teachers and students to communicate, collaborate, think critically, and demonstrate their own learning in creative ways.

R is for reflective learning. Common Core Standards require much more than teaching basic reading and writing skills. Students must become constant, independent, and flexible learners. They need to know how to learn, unlearn, and relearn things. They need to clearly express themselves, learn from each other, listen and evaluate different points of view, and adjust their own thinking based on evidence. Our job is to make students aware of their learning targets and individual gaps and to map out the next step to progress their learning. BYOT brings necessary flexibility and support for collaboration and communication. It changes the spirit and focus of classroom culture and turns it into a student-centered and student-driven environment. BYOT makes it possible to flip instruction and reserve class time for discussions, “uncovering” the curriculum, and students’ reflection on their own learning.

Many teachers still believe that BYOT is a magic wand that will create a rigorous atmosphere in a classroom. It is not true! Rigor is all about quality of instruction and high expectations. BYOT is just a steroid that makes it stronger and everlasting, even when it is Ferris Bueller’s day off.

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The First Five Days of School with BYOT

I recently read an article by Dennis Pierce in eSchool News that discussed Alan November’s “First Five Days” project. November announced this project at his Building Learning Communities conference in Boston in July 2012 with the goal being to make the most out of the beginning of the school year in order to set the stage for nurturing further success.

From my conversations with teachers around the country, many educators are returning to schools with new policies aimed at encouraging students to Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) to facilitate learning experiences. In thinking about the first five days in a BYOT classroom, what kinds of things should happen to successfully begin this transformational implementation?

I brainstormed my own list and tried to organize it chronologically according to each of the five days. However, I again realized that in the BYOT classroom, many things have to happen just in time (or simultaneously), and a sequential list of orderly items was impossible (for me). As Anne Collier explained in her blog at NetFamilyNews.Org, all kinds of learning [happens] all at once with BYOT. Instead, I’ve enumerated a simple list of five strategies for the first five days of BYOT and provided links to additional resources whenever possible.

Construct a learning community. You will need an online space to house your learning community. Wenger, White, and Smith referred to this online space as a digital habitat, and the teacher becomes the steward or facilitator of that habitat. That space could be a blog, website, wiki, LMS, etc, and this is the environment where you and your students can learn more about each other, participate in on-going discussions, and practice digital age skills. As you decide what type of space you should use, think about the needs of your students. This may include the accessibility they have to various types of technologies; their ages, interests and capabilities; and your goals for interaction. For more information, review these strategies for designing an online learning community.

Discuss responsible use. Empower your students to talk about the appropriate ways to use their technology tools at home and school. Students need time to share their devices with each other and to demonstrate how they use them. They can also provide scenarios regarding technology use that illustrate the importance of using them responsibly. When is the right time to utilize technology tools, and when should they be put down in order to be “present in the moment” as suggested by Jen LaMaster in her blog of Ed Tech Reflections? Encourage your students to develop these group norms for behavior in your learning community along with your input, and provide them with multiple opportunities to practice and reflect on responsible use during the first five days of school.

Model your expectations. It isn’t sufficient to just say that you have high expectations for every student. Show the students that you trust them to do the right things with their technology devices. For example, every student can participate in a class wiki to develop guidelines for responsible use so that everyone contributes to the body of knowledge of the learning community. Students are actually smarter in the appropriate use of technology, than most people think (see here). A free class wiki can be organized in Wikispaces to ensure the input of all students.

Practice the 4 C’s of Digital Age Learning – Communication, Collaboration, Creativity, and Critical Thinking. Begin a week long project that supports inquiry and the use of the students’ technology devices. If some students do not bring technology devices, encourage collaboration through sharing and maximize the use of the school’s technology resources. Projects need to engage students in higher level thinking and authentic work. Bernajean Porter explained different uses of technology: Literacy, Adapting, and Transforming in her Grappling’s Technology and Learning Spectrum, and in the first five days, the students will have to participate in some literacy and adapting activities. However, the ultimate goal should be to achieve transforming uses of technology in that students become producers, rather than solely consumers in their learning, and the implementation of BYOT can lead to greater student agency and empowerment within the learning community.

Be patient. Understand that students will occasionally make mistakes with their technology devices, but these mistakes are essential during this learning process. Use these situations to reinforce the appropriate ways to use technology at school as well as to learn new technical skills. Although they may know how to use these for entertainment and communication, they don’t always know how to learn with them as members of a community. If you don’t know how to resolve a situation, be willing to learn alongside and from your student experts. Consistently challenge students to do their best work and look forward to an outstanding school year!

Can you think of some additional strategies for BYOT in the first five days of school?

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