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What I Wish I Knew Before Attempting a BYOD Classroom

opinion

BYOD classrooms have been gaining in popularity in recent years, but they are not without their fair share of risks. Before starting one of your own, you need to be ready.

The BYOD Classroom

In the early days of online education, the Internet was used to allow students to complete coursework from a distance. Those who could not access a campus or classroom in person could find readings, turn in assignments, and participate in class discussions - all from the comfort of their own homes.

In recent years, however, there has been a shift in the type of technology used in the classroom. Enter the 'bring your own device (BYOD)' classroom. In this scenario, students use their own devices to supplement instruction.

phone in classroom

While such a classroom poses a number of obvious benefits, it's not something you should immediately jump into. Let's take a look at a few things you need to be aware of before starting your own BYOD classroom.

Not All Devices are Created Equal

Given the proliferation of mobile devices, it's easy to take this technology for granted. Consciously or otherwise, most of us simply assume that everyone else has a smartphone or tablet.

However, not everyone is fortunate enough to own a device, and there's a very real possibility that some of your students don't own one. Some may own old and outdated devices, which can lead to embarrassment or potential bullying from other students.

sad phone kid

In addition, there's also the risk of older devices being incompatible with more modern operating systems. Not only will a student feel ostracized for having an inferior device, but also unable to fully participate if your BYOD class is not prepared to accommodate older technology.

When devising your digital setup, you need to take a couple of factors into account. These include the technological capabilities of your school and your own digital literacy.

Technological Capabilities of the School

Just as your students have to be prepared for a BYOD classroom, you need to determine if your school is equipped to handle the demand that devices will place on its digital infrastructure. For example, does your school have a strong network capable of providing a powerful internet signal, even with multiple devices logged in? Learning management systems (LMSs) have become commonplace; does your school have a functional one? As students will be composing essays on devices that do not have USB drives, do you have a wireless printer that can both handle the workload and sync easily with all types of devices?

wireless printer

Speaking of syncing, you'll need an easy way to link your device with your students' devices. Does your school have a designated application, such as Dropbox or OneDrive, for sharing documents?

Preparation is key. An ill-equipped school can doom your BYOD classroom before it even starts.

Digital Natives & Immigrants

The effect of technology on our world cannot be overstated. The Internet has significantly changed how we communicate with each other and educate students, but not everyone has been able to adjust.

Writer Marc Prensky argues that our society consists of two types of people: digital natives and digital immigrants. Digital natives are people who do not know a world without technology. Younger people who grew up with the Internet and are completely fluent and can easily adapt to technological advancements over time. Digital immigrants, on the other hand, have a harder time keeping up; their age sometimes serves as a barrier in the struggle to understand technology.

Prensky argues that digital immigrants have an 'accent,' an example of which includes calling someone to ensure that they received a recently sent email. Sometimes they'll show a website to a colleague in person, as opposed to simply sending the URL.

phone

Not only are there obvious differences in the habits of digital immigrants and natives, but also a difference in the way their brains process information. Thanks to text messages and social media sites, digital natives are experts at quickly acquiring essential information and bouncing from idea to idea, while immigrants tend to think in a much more linear fashion.

Know Your Language

As a teacher, you need to first consider which category you fall into. Be honest, are you a digital native or an immigrant? If you're an immigrant, you shouldn't feel bad about your lack of technological skills; however, you do need to realize how this may impact your classroom. If your ideological approach to technology differs from that of your students, both teacher and learners may be out of sync with each other.

Assess your own understanding of mobile devices and how it compares to your students' approach. You don't need to adapt their attitudes, but you absolutely need to comprehend them in order to efficiently teach them in a BYOD classroom.

Understand the Benefits

With all the cautionary and foreboding tales of BYOD classrooms gone wrong, it's easy to forget that, when executed properly, they can have enormous benefits for both students and educators.

With a smartphone or tablet, students have access to a digital world that contains practically the entirety of human knowledge. In a matter of seconds, they can research historical dates and review important information, or instantly share their problems and receive feedback from around the globe.

happy students

BYOD Classrooms & Career Prep

BYOD classrooms also provide valuable experience with technology that can serve students well in the future. The age of personal devices is only just beginning, and knowledge of and familiarity with technology is absolutely essential going forward. Digital natives may be renowned for their technological immersion, but most young people only see technology as a tool for entertainment and do not understand how it can be used in a professional setting. Students need to learn how to incorporate technology into their academic and professional lives, and BYOD classrooms are an excellent opportunity to reinforce this concept.

By Bill Sands
January 2017
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