I recently received an email from a young lady who is researching schools that have adopted BYOD for her Level 2 NCEA Accounting. As I answered her questions I was prompted to consider more deeply the process we went through and I thought it might be worthwhile sharing. We are in our second term of compulsory BYOD (I posted some reflections on the first few weeks in this post) and we are still learning. I am sure that our progress will be a constant theme of my blogs this year as we reflect on how we are going. These are just some initial thoughts.
Preparation and Planning: What did we do?
First of all it is worth pointing out that I work in a State Integrated Secondary School and we are relatively well-off in terms of infrastructure. I appreciate that State Schools may not have the same finances at their disposal as we do and it may take longer to put the infrastructure in place. However, I believe that preparing the school community to cope with the changes to the way we teach and learn are similar wherever you are.
Planning a pathway
We restructured our ICT Committee so that there was a balance of technology and pedagogy to ensure that teaching and learning drove the decisions about technology. Discussions were focussed on what we needed in the way of technology to deliver robust teaching programmes and enable our students to own their learning.
We formed a group, affectionately called the “Bling” group (Blended Learning Instructional Group), which consisted of early adopters from different subject areas to look at the bigger picture. We used the eLearning Planning Framework as a starting point and mapped out a pathway for integrating blended learning opportunities within the curriculum plans. We were very clear from the outset that we wanted to use technology to enhance the already very good teaching and learning that was going on in our school, rather than replace it. Blending a range of strategies that work for all our teachers and students is essential.
The BLING team were also responsible for encouraging members of their departments, providing them with moral support and worked on a Professional Development programme.
The key component for all of this was, of course, Professional Development. Our school academic goal three years ago was focused on building personal competency and confidence around using technology on the basis that if teachers are not comfortable using tech themselves they will be reluctant to use it in the classroom. The following year it was consolidating on that and developing skills within the classroom, embedding technology into the curriculum and looking more deeply at learning approaches such as SAMR, Blooms and Solo Taxonomy. Our aim was to build a sense of “it’s ok to have a go and fail” in fact, it’s better to have a go and fail than not have a go at all. Since resiliency, problem-solving and creativity are what we want our students to aspire to then we should model that behaviour and be prepared to stretch our limits too.
We have a strong tech team and we worked closely with them. Once they were clear about what we wanted in terms of learning they set to to make sure we had enough wireless switches and that they were in the best places to ensure wireless coverage was consistent across the school. The materials from which some of the buildings in school are constructed cause issues with wireless reception. Our tech team have found work-arounds for these places but we still have to work within those constraints. We planned well but still have a few “dead spots”. These are being picked up and sorted out on an ongoing basis.
We decided to adopt Google Apps for Education (GAFE) after some teachers trialled using Google Docs with classes and found that it impacted positively on student achievement. This gave us a common platform for curation, dissemination and creation of materials for both staff and students. However, that doesn’t mean that other software, programmes and apps are not used and we encourage a broad spectrum of resources to promote effective learning.
Training & Preparation of staff
Preparation for all staff, both teaching and admin, was undertaken to ensure that staff were as ready as they could be for the transition to BYOD. This happened over a two year period prior to full adoption of BYOD. Building confidence and integrating use of tech in teaching programmes has been successful as a result of the time spent preparing teachers. All staff were involved in GAFE training to familiarise themselves with a new email system, calendars and the collaborative elements of Google Apps. This happened more quickly than we had intended and required a significant mindshift and willingness to be flexible and open to new ways of doing things from all staff. It wasn’t plain sailing but I have been amazed at the resilience of our teachers and support staff and how positively they have approached the change.
Phased roll out of BYOD
In the years prior to BYOD adoption, some teachers encouraged the use of devices and trialled using technology tools for teaching and learning. Then students in Senior classes were invited to bring in their devices, followed by Juniors but they were not compelled to do so. The challenge here was that some students would have devices in a classroom and others wouldn’t, making it difficult for teachers to manage and plan. We soon realised that we would need to make the transition to compulsory BYOD.
Research & choice of devices
We looked carefully at what had worked in other schools and decided to go with an agnostic device BYOD rather than mandate a brand or type of device. The benefits of this are that the learning is the priority not the tool to achieve it, parents don’t have to buy new devices if they already have one from a previous school, they have choice over how much they wish to spend and students use what they are comfortable with and know how to “drive”.
Battery life is a huge consideration and to avoid health and safety issues of cables trailing in classrooms we made the decision to buy charging lockers and installed them throughout the school.
Preparation for students
This has been one area that I feel we have neglected in a way. Although we were aware that not all students are “tech savvy” we did still assume that they would adapt quickly to using devices in the classroom. However, they are not all good at managing their own devices and knowing how to use them for learning. Digital Literacy is something that we are addressing on an ongoing basis in the classroom. The Junior Curriculum provides opportunities in the first term for the different subjects to build capabilities sharing, collaborating and creating documents, presentations and videos. There is time to explore what plagiarism is, how to conduct research, use media and effective referencing. Digital Citizenship is also a key factor for both staff and students and we have put in place strategies for dealing with inappropriate use of devices. As with Digital Literacy, Digital Citizenship is being addressed in the classroom in context.
Preparation for Parents
A BYOD booklet explaining our rationale and giving examples of the sort of learning that can happen has been prepared and distributed to all parents. It includes a guide to the sorts of devices that are suitable. We have run Netsafe workshops for parents to raise awareness of Digital Citizenship and we are building a section of our website with useful hints and tips for parents of digital teens. We are still working on other ways of engaging parents in the BYOD process as this is an area that we identified as being relatively weak when we used the eLearning Planning Framework.
The process of going BYOD has not been without its challenges but we think we have been successful so far as a result of the planning and preparation we have undertaken. Change needs to be managed and we need to have everyone on side for that; too fast and you lose some on the way but there has to be drive and you need to build some momentum. I remember hearing a Principal talk about “getting everyone on the bus” so that you have a common approach, and if people aren’t packed and ready then there is no place for them. We all learn at different paces and as long as there is a common will and understanding then we will all get there. So I think you need to be prepared to let people get off at different stops along the way to process what they have learned, have a break and then get back on again when they are ready.
After two years we took the eLPF to our staff and spent an afternoon exploring it. They put us two places higher than we had put ourselves two years ago. From Emerging we were now Engaging in all areas and Extending in many. Not bad, I reckon but there is still a way to go and the technological landscape will continue to change but I think our teachers and our support staff have the positive, flexible mindset to cope with that.