Posts Tagged Professional Learning

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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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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Intro to the First Week of BYOT

I recently wrote a post called the First Five Days of School with BYOT that was inspired by the challenge of Alan November’s  First Five Day’s project to use the first five days of school to set the stage for further success.  That post was focused on the big picture or vision of Bring Your Own Technology to build learning communities and to make learning more relevant by connecting instruction to students’ personal technology devices.

The post was well-received, yet in thinking about teachers dealing with the day-to-day challenges involved in working with students, especially at the beginning of the year, I decided that a more hands-on, practical approach would be appreciated.  However, one post that specified strategies and activities that a teacher could conduct each day for the first week of school could be overwhelming.

Therefore, during this week, I wrote a daily post for each day of implementing BYOT within the classroom for the first week of school.  I tied to provide advice about the types of tools and strategies that I would employ during the week to address the needs of my students as well as develop a learning community in my classroom that could support learning for the rest of the year.

Since there are so many subject areas and grade levels involved in K-12 education, I generally tried to address particular tools and strategies.  I welcome teachers to customize my suggestions to their classroom communities and curricula.  Please share your insights to assist other teachers with the implementation of BYOT by responding to the daily posts.

I hope you find these posts useful to your BYOT implementation.  All of the daily posts and the goals for those days are listed below… 

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