Posts Tagged learning communities

Perceptions of BYOT

When you see a student with a personal mobile device in the classroom, what do you think is happening with that device?

BYOT Perceptions

In the above illustration, what is the student doing? Here are some possibilities…

  • conducting research
  • creating a project
  • texting a parent, friend, or teacher
  • watching a video
  • playing a game
  • reading a news article

As educators, we could argue the instructional merits of what is happening with the smartphone that the student is holding. Many of our initial thoughts and concerns are framed by our own perceptions and experiences of how we personally use technology.

I read a heavily circulated article this week that detailed some research from the UK on the banning of students personal technology tools. This research revealed that students perform better on standardized tests when their schools ban the use of personal mobile devices. Apparently, this improved performance was due to the lack of distractions. Obviously, I can’t argue with the research, but I do have several questions and thoughts related to the focus of this study and the topic of banning students’ technology tools.

Q1: Why is there so much importance placed on student performance on standardized tests when we have to learn to thrive in a nonstandardized world?

I understand the importance of accountability, and in education, we keep trying to find just the right assessment that will tell us whether or not teachers are effective and students are mastering the appropriate content and skills. However, in our globally connected work force, many of us are faced with choices on the job that challenge us to be creative, communicate well, and think critically. A standardized test should not be the only form of measurement to assess student learning and skills in the conceptual age when they need to generate new ideas for solving problems.

Most students carry mobile learning tools in their pockets. These are the tools they will carry with them in the real world, and these resources should be maximized for success in that complex world.

Q2: How will students learn how to manage distractions and develop the self-discipline to utilize personal technology responsibly when it is banned from school use?

Of course, students¹ personal technology tools can lead to distractions; likewise, students can be distracted by anything that removes them from the tedium of traditional teacher-directed instruction – even their own thoughts. In order for students to learn how to use their devices responsibly, they need to be nurtured and guided with some strategies for learning with these tools; for focusing during a conversation; and for completing tasks at hand. We have all seen adults who have difficulty using their devices responsibly, but most of us are self-taught in their use. By bringing their technology tools to school and with the support of their teachers, students have a greater potential for developing new responsible habits.

Q3: How do schools think they can successfully ban student devices?

With the influx of mobile technology tools, including those that are meant to be worn, there is really no logistical way to successfully ban student devices from school. Students will have the devices in their pockets, bookbags, and even on their wrists. A more sustainable approach is to focus on the responsible use of technology, and the first step in this process is to develop a learning community that acknowledges and respects student access to their devices. It is also important for educators to be prepared with digital resources and curriculum so that students have something to do with their devices when they bring them to school. Learning how to ask the right questions that inspire student inquiry is essential for mobile learning.

Now, note the thought bubble in the illustration…

What do you suppose that the student is thinking?

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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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All Aboard the BYOT Train

Guest Post by Cassie Shoemaker @CShoeITS3
Instructional Technology Specialist – Chestatee Elementary School

Train3As an Instructional Technology Specialist at a Title 1 elementary school, one of my roles is to coach teachers on how to integrate technology into the curriculum.  In our current digital age, this is not optional.   Classrooms must reform to prepare students to become successful for careers of the future.  We are already 13 years into the 21st Century!

So how do we get all teachers on board?  The first step is to build community within the school and within each classroom.  This is the foundation to getting any program to work – especially something as new as Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT).   Everyone should be comfortable learning as they go, and knowing that mistakes are okay, as long as knowledge is gained from them!

Train1The next step is to focus on instruction – technology should always come later!  Providing professional development on higher order thinking, project and inquiry based learning, differentiated instruction, flexible grouping, driving questions, different levels of technology use, the 4 C’s of digital age learning, etc… is the most important step to ensuring that technology integration is being utilized to enhance instruction and take kids to places they’ve never been before! After educators have solid instructional skills, technology integration will truly be effective.

Providing professional development opportunities for teachers such as using the latest tech tools, doing walk throughs into other classrooms to see BYOT in action, and having people walk through their rooms and provide feedback are essential!  Having administration, other teachers, and instructional technology specialists walk through classrooms and give honest feedback and suggestions has been a huge catalyst for change!  Train2Let teachers know it is okay to learn from the students.  Encourage the students to show what their devices can do, while the teacher focuses on the curriculum.  Teachers who focus on the devices and feel like they must know how to use it before allowing it into the classroom will always be swimming upstream.  Devices and software change constantly.  Teachers must accept that and let that fear go.  Educators will be amazed to see how much easier t eaching becomes when control shifts and students are allowed to have choice to be the experts of their own devices.

Technology in the classroom is one of the fastest growing movements that have ever occurred in education.  When it is utilized appropriately, children are truly becoming prepared for the real world, and isn’t that the purpose of school?  The BYOT train is only going to go faster, so it’s time to jump on, or risk being stuck behind while everyone else has reached new places!

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Don’t Be a B.L.O.B. – Support Responsible Use of Technology with BYOT!

What is a BLOB?

Think of the 1958 horror/science-fiction film, The Blob, that portrayed two young teenagers struggling to battle a giant mass of an alien that attempted to swallow up their small town in Pennsylvania.  The movie poster described the Blob as “Indescribable…Indestructible! Nothing Can Stop It!”  Without hesitation, this amoeba-like creature indiscriminately consumed everything in its path until the teenage heroes managed to utilize their available resources to render it useless.

In today’s schools, a BLOB acquires a completely new meaning – a Banner – Locker – Or – Blocker.  BLOBs are the people who keep students from using their personal technology devices to facilitate their learning.  They ban technology devices because they assume that students will use their devices inappropriately, and/or they prefer to maintain the status quo of teacher directed instruction with passive student involvement.  “Lecture all week and test on Friday” is the mantra of many BLOB schools in order to prepare students for the standardized tests toward the end of the year that are supposed to document the how effective the teacher and students were throughout the year.

A BLOB may also be guilty of indiscriminately interpreting the requirements of the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) to over filter websites and social media throughout the school day, even to the detriment of learning opportunities of students.  To qualify for E-Rate funding, schools must show that they are following the requirements of CIPA.  These funds come from the Universal Service fee that you can find on your bills from telecommunications providers (phone, cable, and Internet), and they are used to supplement the telecommunications charges to schools and libraries across the country.  Karen Cator, Director of the Office of Educational Technology at the U.S. Department of Education addressed some of the requirements and misinterpretations of CIPA in this interview by Tina Barseghian on the blog – Dispelling Myths About Blocked Sites.

What Is Responsible Use?

Schools that encourage their students to Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) can work within the framework of responsible use by acknowledging that students have the freedom to make choices, and they expect that students will make the right choices to benefit themselves and their instruction.  Starting with the expectation that students want to make good choices creates a noticeable difference in the culture of learning within a school as opposed to assuming that students want to break rules and use technology inappropriately.  The responsible use of technology tools is empowering to students rather than following an acceptable use policy that dictates how and when technology should be used.  The following attributes are some specific hallmarks of responsible use: trust; high expectations; open access; sense of community; practice; and persistence.  In these schools, administrators and teachers acknowledge that students may sometimes make mistakes with their technology tools, and they immediately guide students in the appropriate use of technology and reinforce the importance of personal responsibility in digital age learning.  They believe that students want to learn and understand that developing authentic connections among students, teachers, and the content are necessary for developing supportive communities of learners.

What Can I Do to Avoid Becoming a BLOB?

Michelle Luhtala (@mluhtala) from New Canaan High School brought to my attention that on October 3, The American Association of School Librarians will mark Banned Websites Awareness Day to raise awareness of how legitimate academic websites and social media tools are being blocked in many schools and libraries.  Some issues addressed by this event are how students do not fully develop their skills as digital citizens to evaluate information from all types of sources, including the Internet, and how teachers are not able to utilize the social media tools for learning that their students find relevant in their everyday lives.  Learn more about Banned Websites Awareness Day and how overly restrictive filtering affects student learning.

Also, become familiar with the requirements of the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) in order to provide students a safe learning environment without becoming a BLOB!


“Banned Websites Awareness Day.” American Library Association. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Sept. 2012. <;.

Barseghian, T. (2011, September 20). Dispelling myths about blocked websites in schools. Retrieved from

Federal Communications Commission. “Children’s Internet Protection Act.” Guide. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Sept. 2012. <;.

Wikipedia. (28/0). Retrieved from

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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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10 Strategies for Designing an Online Learning Community

For many of us, the teachers that we remember as being the most effective were those who had an innate understanding of how to help their students develop a sense of belonging in their classrooms while simultaneously maintaining high expectations for learning. I recently worked with a class of fourth grade students and their teacher for six weeks to design an online learning community that supported their face-to-face instructional activities. Based on our experiences, I compiled this list of ten strategies for developing online learning communities.

  1. Teach Netiquette at the Onset of the Implementation.  Teachers and students have to negotiate and establish the rules of communication and etiquette that determine how an online learning community will function.  As students become more comfortable communicating online, they are more likely to form a class community.  With clear expectations about appropriate interaction, teachers can assist their students feel an acceptance that can motivate collaboration.
  2. Incorporate Time for Social Discourse and Conversation.  One of our first online activities was to communicate through discussion forums.  We quickly noted that the students had some initial difficulty participating in online discussions about academic content.  However, when students described their Spring Break activities within an online discussion forum, they were able to relate and connect to each other’s posts in the discussion. According to Wenger, McDermott, & Snyder (2002), the sharing of common interests is necessary for operating within a community of practice, and it can lead to collaborative problem-solving and the development of shared understandings.  By incorporating social discussions we were able to establish and nurture communication that led to greater personal understanding, acceptance, and tolerance and eventually supported academic discussions.
  3. Encourage Opportunities for Student Collaboration.  As the students worked with each other to develop original projects and products related to their learning standards, they were able to learn more about the content. From the onset of this design of the online learning community, the students requested opportunities to interact with their peers in collaborative work.   This entailed less risk because they were able to help each other while collectively developing an understanding about a topic.  In turn, these shared learning experiences strengthened the bond among the students within the online learning environment.
  4. Provide the Students with Choices.  The students expressed that they wanted to make choices about the types of activities that they had to complete online.  They also wanted to decide how they should organize their collaborative work on their projects. When we developed activities for the students to complete online, we had to consider that new projects had to be explored, choices had to be incorporated into the design, and the students had to have opportunities for collaboration.  Students were able to use multiple modalities to show what they had learned, and their choices provided additional opportunities for differentiation and success.
  5. Encourage Asynchronous Participation.  A benefit of our online learning community was its asynchronous nature.  The students communicated with each other, worked together on projects, or used links to locate information or complete activities. The asynchronous work had an influence on work within the face-to-face classroom in that the students had large portions of time dedicated to online collaboration.  Whole group lessons became shorter and were usually reserved for providing directions or sharing strategies.  Therefore, the students practiced and developed additional skills in self-directed learning and self-motivation.
  6. Have Teachers Model the Learning.  The role of the teacher began to shift during the design of the online learning community.  She began to assume a more facilitative and less directive role in instruction, as she became a participant in the learning process.  She encouraged student interaction by asking questions and responding to their posts in online discussion. She was a mentor who suggested alternatives and possibilities, and she was an organizer who developed activities that engaged the students.
  7. Practice the Technical Skills.  It was more complicated for the students to complete a new project or product when they had no previous experiences with the skills needed to complete that project. As the online learning community was continually modified and we introduced new opportunities for collaboration, we realized that the students needed practice time in order to utilize the new technology tools effectively.
  8. Utilize Student Experts.  Online learning included some new challenges for the teacher and the students as the focus of instruction began to become more student-centered.  The participants were learning technical skills related to learning online that involved using new tools including features of the learning management system (LMS) as well as personal technology devices that they used to access the online learning community.  We utilized the students and their willingness to help each other as they learned how to work together.  This sharing of expertise helps to shape the online community of practice (Wenger, White & Smith, 2009), and as the members support each other, they develop new social bonds to assist in further collaboration.
  9. Develop Understanding through Discussion Forums.  An important feature of the online learning community that encouraged collaboration and interaction was the purposeful use of discussion. Through online discussion, the students expressed information that they wanted to know more about.  As the students interacted and communicated with each other online, they were able to develop new understandings from these social practices.
  10. Explore Personal Interests.  Throughout the implementation of the online learning community, the teacher and students began exploring and sharing their personal interests.  This communication helped to build the community, as students made meaning from their personal experiences and shared them with others (Wenger et al., 2009).  In addition, the students were enthusiastic about bringing their personal technology tools to school to facilitate their own styles of learning as they accessed the online learning environment.  The students were so knowledgeable about their devices and so willing to share this understanding with others that this small Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) initiative caused the interaction and collaboration among the participants in this community of practice to develop rapidly.

I am astounded by the determination of teachers and students to develop effective learning communities in spite of all of the obstacles that they face each day.  The challenge of maintaining one’s individuality while effectively working as a member of a group is a reality of life and making that connection is a key ingredient of lifelong learning (Thomas & Brown, 2011).  Collaborating and interacting within an online community facilitated support for learning; furthermore, these practices enabled the students to feel satisfaction as they explored their personal passions and interests.


Thomas, D. & Brown, J. (2011). An new culture of learning: Cultivating the imagination for a world of constant change. LaVergne, TN: Createspace.

Wenger, E, McDermott, R. & Snyder, W. (2002) Cultivating communities of practice: A guide to managing knowledge.  Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.

Wenger, E., White, N. & Smith, J. D. (2009) Digital habitats: Stewarding technology for communities. Portland, OR: CPsquare.

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