Posts Tagged byot strategies

Sustainable Practices for Digital Age Learning


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

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Issues of Equity in BYOT

When I discuss the implementation of BYOT in classrooms, I am often questioned about the issue of equity. Is it fair that every student doesn’t have the same device? What do you do about the students who don’t have devices? There is no easy answer to the equity question; however, I have made several observations about equity when BYOT is in practice.

  1. We do have school technology resources in my district – four desktop computers in every classroom and access to laptop computers. The students without their own devices now have even greater access to school-owned technology since students are bringing their own technology devices to school because of our BYOT initiative.  When I walked through classrooms before the implementation of BYOT, the desktop computers were often unused because the teachers directed so much of the one-size-fits-all instruction.  Now, teachers are differentiating instruction, partly because of the different devices.
  2. I can’t predetermine which students will have their own technology tools. Many parents find a way to provide for their children.  If teachers have high expectations for how technology will be used in their classrooms and empower students to use their technology tools as needed, students begin bringing their devices more consistently.  It isn’t equitable to assume that students won’t have devices or to keep students who do have devices from using them.
  3. Another issue related to equity is that some teachers want to qualify the types of devices that the students should bring to school – thereby determining that some devices are “better” or “more effective” than others. I think that the students should bring whatever devices they have and then we will figure out together how to use them for instruction. Having the variety of devices can lead to greater opportunities for differentiation and collaboration as students work together to solve problems and develop new solutions.

Strategies for Achieving Equity

  1. Survey the parents and students to determine what types of technology resources they have available and reassure parents that every child will still have access to the school’s resources.  Parents are also more likely to send devices to school when they understand the transformational goals of BYOT.
  2. Design open-ended lessons that encourage collaboration and open access to school technology resources.  Our main goal of BYOT is to help students to become more productive in school rather than just being consumers of information.  When students are encouraged to utilize their own devices and school technology, they often congregate in “BYOT Huddles” because they are eager to share what they are learning and creating with others.
  3. Re-purpose older technology devices for new uses. We have younger students that receive hand-me-down devices from older brothers and sisters, as they upgrade to new technology.  Some students also bring slightly cracked iPhones to school that no longer have a data plan, but they work great as iPod Touches on our wifi network.
  4. Work with the  community to brainstorm ways to achieve greater equity.  It may be that a business partner can offer access to resources.  One great side effect of our BYOT initiative is the dialogue that has occurred among schools and community members and has caused us to develop a BYOT Equity Task Force to tackle the issue of equity in our district.
  5. Begin your BYOT initiative! How can you even determine what the needs truly are until you begin?  One of the early “A-HA” moments of our BYOT Equity Task Force was when we realized that most of our secondary students do have devices in their pockets, but the real access issue was the device they go home to at the end of the day.  Some students may still only have that device in their pockets, but they don’t have a home computer with broadband access for more complicated assignments.  Now that we have identified that issue, we are developing some plans for addressing it.

Don’t let the issue of equity stop you from implementing BYOT in your districts.  It is usually an excuse to keep from embracing new teaching strategies and transforming instruction.

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Day 4 of BYOT

This is Day 4 of a series of posts this week to provide strategies for the first week of school in a Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) classroom.  These ideas are my suggestions for developing a learning community during the first five days of school.  Hopefully, this sense of community will lead to an effective BYOT implementation for the rest of the year as students learn and practice the digital age skills of communication, collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking.  Please modify these activities to better suit the needs, interests, and abilities of your students.

Scenario: Throughout this week students have been empowered to utilize their own technology tools for a variety of instructional uses.  A synergy is developing between their online collaborative activities and their face-to-face classwork.  As they work together more online, the more they collaborate and communicate in the face-to-face classroom.  One fear of many teachers is that they feel as if they are losing control of their classes when students experience the agency to use their devices as needed and begin to share their ideas with each other so readily.  However, this shift represents the students taking ownership of their learning experiences, and it should be encouraged.

Activity – Nurture Communication

There are many ways that the digital age skill of communication can be facilitated in the BYOT classroom.  This week, it has been practiced through the use of Wikispaces, Edmodo, and Socrative, yet another way to promote further communication is through blogging.  A blog provides students with the opportunity to reflect on their learning, share ideas and responses with others, and highlight their academic successes.  Blogging enables students to develop their own personal portfolios as they post and document the artifacts of their learning – their writing and projects.  Although there are many types of blogging tools, my district has subscribed to Edublogs for all of its students and teachers.


Edublogsoffers free blogging for students, and this use of social networking is an authentic way to teach and practice responsible use.  There is an Edublogs app for iOS devices, or students can use other devices to participate in blogging.  Students are able to begin drafts of their writing within their blogs and when the draft is finished, they can easily publish each post.  This week, the students completed their profiles within the other web tools at home.  After the students have signed up for their blogs, they should complete their profiles and customize their blogs in class.  I advise students to use the same photo or avatar for each of their profiles in order to develop an online presence in the class that represents them and their personal strengths and interests.  Edublogs offers several themes so that students can choose designs that complement their profiles.

The following list explains just a few reasons why I think that it is essential for students (and teachers) to blog:

  • Blogging causes students to make connections to what they are learning as they reflect.
  • Blogging stimulates critical thinking as students take a stand on an issue and explain supportive reasons for that stand.
  • Blogging provides opportunities for on-going debate and discussion as students respond to each other’s posts.
  • Blogging showcases and documents student work and creativity.
  • Blogging helps students discover their strengths and share their expertise with others.

Branding through Blogging

Throughout the year in the BYOT classroom, the students will continue to develop and practice digital age skills, and this authentic work can lead to an appreciation for individual differences and strengths.  This recognition is influenced by several factors.  First, the students already have personal interests, and they have the agency with their devices to further refine and perfect those capabilities.  Second, BYOT can be the great differentiator in the classroom, Students who have mastered particular skills and concepts can move ahead more easily, and students who need additional practice can receive that support with the use of their own technology tools.  Third, when students are empowered to make choices and encouraged to work collaboratively on relevant topics, diverse sets of skills are needed by the learning community for it to be successful.  Finally, since the teacher is unable to know every device or every online tool, they have to learn alongside students, and this transformation helps everyone to assume the role of a learner.

As students discover their talents, they can offer advice and support to other members of the learning community.  They are often branded as the student you can go to when you need an effective speaker, a videographer, an artist, or a technician.  Through blogging, students are able to highlight their individual areas of expertise and this brand becomes further aligned to their personal identities.

When students have finished personalizing their blogs, have them write autobiographical drafts that will be posted in their blogs.  There is usually an “About” or “Bio” tab in the blog’s theme where the students can write this information.  The teacher will need to review with the students the importance of maintaining online privacy, so the students will need to use critical thinking (along with the guidance of their teacher) to determine what types of information is appropriate for publishing on the web.  They should not include actual photos of themselves; provide their last names; or give other identifying information (address, teams, or neighborhood).  This will become their first post, so they need to begin thinking about the possibilities of their brand!

Homework (Post these assignments in Edmodo.)

  1. Publish your first post.  Today you completed an autobiographical post that included some of your strengths and interests.  Share that post with your parents.  What do they think about what you have shared?  What qualities do they think you should include?  Revise your post if necessary and publish it.
  2. Discuss in Edmodo.  What other ways do you think we could learn with blogging this year?  Discuss this question in Edmodo by posting your suggestions as a “Note.”

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Day 2 of BYOT

This is Day 2 of a series of posts this week to provide strategies for the first week of school in a Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) classroom.  I know that the suggested activities are not the only things you are completing each day; these are just my ideas for setting the stage for an effective BYOT implementation.

Scenario: On the second day of BYOT, more students usually remember to bring their technology tools to school, and the teacher will want to provide time for those students to share out about their devices, too.  At this point, I remembered that the teacher should also share out about his/her favorite technology tool! Of course, the students can always add additional information to the class wiki that was designed yesterday to collaborate in describing the ways they can learn with their devices.  The teacher has already discussed the responsible use of technology tools, but it should consistently be modeled, expected, and reinforced.  Students quickly grasp the technical aspects of BYOT, and then they turn to their teacher expecting something more.  They want guidance in how they use their technology for learning in ways that are relevant and authentic.

Technology Uses

My school district uses Bernajean Porter’s Grappling’s Spectrum of Technology Uses to differentiate among literacy, adapting, and transforming uses of technology.  Literacy uses describe activities that are just about the technology, like learning to connect to the wifi network or sharing out about a favorite app.  Adapting uses involve using tools to do the same types of assignments that students completed without technology like taking notes during a lecture.  Transforming uses occur when students are constructing new learning experiences involving higher-level thinking that could not be completed without technology.  This first week of school contains many literacy and adapting uses as the students learn how to work together in the BYOT classroom, but the ultimate goal is to progress to transforming uses of their devices.  For a more in-depth exploration of this topic, read this post: Levels of Use in BYOT – Transforming Learning Experiences.

Activity – Engage the Students

Follow up yesterday’s activity in developing Our Responsible Use Guidelines within the class wiki by having the students work with partners or small groups to create comics that illustrate those guidelines.  They can use the app Comic Touch Lite on iOS devices, or they can use software on the school’s technology or a similar app on their own Android tools.  With this app, they can take a photo that represents or illustrates each guideline and write accompanying text in bubbles or captions to help tell the story of what is happening.  In the BYOT classroom, always give the students the option to complete the activity in another way or to collaborate with others because of the differences among technology tools.  Two of the major benefits of BYOT are that it encourages differentiation of assignments and collaborative work.

More schools continue to provide all of their students with email accounts, and this is an excellent practice to facilitate BYOT.  Students under 13 can then complete projects and activities using apps on their devices and email their work to their teachers.  The comics in this activity can be saved within the Photos on the iOS device and emailed to the teacher or another student.  The student using the school’s technology (desktop/laptop) can then edit the wiki to insert the corresponding comics next to each guideline.

Social Networking

Greater opportunities exist within the BYOT classroom for students to connect with each other, their teacher, and the content.  One way of reinforcing these connections is through the use of social networking.  Through the collaborative work within the wiki and through discussions regarding responsible use and netiquette, the students have the beginning of an online community.  This sense of community can continue to develop through the use of a social network.  Facebook and Twitter are social networks that teachers can use depending on the age of the students and the expectations of the school community, to make these connections; however, they are not specifically geared to education.  I advise teachers to set up their initial networks within the walled garden of Edmodo.


Edmodo is a free site for students and teachers to participate in secure social networking.  When a teacher signs up for an account, they can then create a group for each of their classes.  A group code is then generated by Edmodo that the teacher can give to the students in that class.  When the students sign up for Edmodo, they create their own usernames and passwords and enter the group codes provided by their teachers to enter their different class groups.  Edmodo also has an app for both iOS and Android mobile devices, so it is a great utility for the BYOT classroom.

In Edmodo, students and teachers can share resources and links, participate in discussions, and manage events on a class calendar.  Parents can also be given partial access to see their child’s activities and encourage a home/school connection.  One concern that I have for Edmodo is that like any educational tool, it could be misused to control a class (through teacher driven assignments and grading) rather than to develop a community of learners.  I began this series with collaboration via a wiki in Wikispaces before proposing Edmodo just for that reason.

These online resources are very helpful in supporting a teacher’s work with Edmodo:

At this point, I think that the teacher should copy yesterday’s wiki page on Our Responsible Use Guidelines (if they are jointly approved by the members of the learning community in the classroom) and post them within Edmodo.  The guidelines could still be modified as needed, but they can serve as a common agreement of responsible behaviors that can be shared with parents and students alike.

Homework (Post these assignments in Edmodo.)

  1. Develop your Edmodo profile.  When you enter a social network, one engaging activity is to develop your profile.  This is how members of that network can identify you.  It personalizes your experience within the social network as you provide general details about yourself including a photo or avatar that represents you.  Remember that you are practicing Responsible Use; that Edmodo is a closed community just for our classroom use; and that you should not include information that is too private.  You can decide what information should be made public to the other members of your class in Edmodo.  Think about what kind of information describes you.  What photo or avatar should you use to represent yourself?  Note: Devices using the Edmodo app do not allow you to edit your profile with the app; although you can see completed profiles.  If you do not have a computer at home to complete this assignment, you will be provided time to complete it at school.  Try to come to school tomorrow with a completed profile in Edmodo.
  2. Download these apps: Download these apps: Edmodo (iOS, Android), Socrative-Student, (iOS, Android).  For more apps, look at this list: Apps for Mobile Devices to download.  If you do not have a device, you can use the school’s technology resources, and many of our activities can also be completed with a variety of technology tools.

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