Three Observations from Implementing a Bring-Your-Own-Device Approach in my Classroom

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I must admit – I’m a tech-hoarder. Here’s a picture of all the devices that I have been able to collect or purchase so far to help implement a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) environment with my students. I’ve dabbled over the past little while with browser-based apps like Desmos, Kahoot! and Socrative that work with any type of device (Android, iOS, Chrome, Windows) and definitely see how they augment the learning of complex ideas or allow more effective assessment of student understanding. I wanted to write not about any tools that could be used, but rather three interesting things that I’ve observed first-hand while implementing BYOD.

1. Students look forward to using their devices for learning, unless they’re at low battery

As a whole, students are totally into using their phones and iPods for class activities. However, I’ve had times when one or two students say they don’t want to participate because their phones are at 8% power. Nowadays, if the BYOD portion of a lesson is later in the period, I give students a heads-up and allow them to charge their phones in anticipation. I carry some extra USB plugs, micro-USB cords and the odd Apple 30-pin or Lightning cable in my drawer in case anyone needs them. In the future, I’m hoping to make a DIY charging station, like these beauties, for my classroom (I’ll have to channel my inner Martha Stewart).

2. In an BYOD setting, understand that students will do others things on their devices once in a while, but minimize it whenever possible and don’t be mean about it

With lots of devices comes lots of responsibility. Devices can obviously act as distractions for students, even when they’re in the middle of using it for educational purposes. In my class, I see students on YouTube, texting, or on social media all the time. Rather than making things punitive and nasty, I simply nudge them back on task, or start reading out loud what they’re messaging, which usually gets them to stop quite quickly. It’s near-impossible to monitor the use of thirty devices by thirty students, so vigilance is key, but I also accept that students will from time to time do something else on the devices, and it’s okay, as long as it’s not a huge distraction. Even pencils and paper can be a distraction if people start doodling; that doesn’t mean we don’t allow students to use pencils and paper, right?

3. Equity of access to mobile devices is an issue, but not THAT big an issue

Just because many of my students come from lower-income families doesn’t mean they don’t have mobile devices. From my data collection, roughly 60-80% of students will have a device that they can use. Perhaps it’s part of the teenage culture of conspicuous consumption, or pressure that students exert on their parents/guardians, but the majority of students in any given class will typically own a device. For those that don’t have one, I allow them to borrow for the period the aforementioned top-up devices that I’ve collected over the years. Without top-up devices, students who don’t own devices will definitely feel excluded; therefore, they are a must in any BYOD environment, in my opinion.

As school budgets start to get tight, BYOD will be the only viable strategy to involve technology use in classrooms. The Toronto District School Board is behind other boards like Peel DSB that have official policies and supports around BYOD implementation. Students definitely enjoy using their own devices, but some challenges, like charging and distractions, come with the territory. We shouldn’t let these issues get in the way of integrating technology for the benefit of student learning.

P.S. For more info on BYOD in education, here’s a great site.

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