My job means I get to play around all day with a nice mix of technology and education. It means that I need to know about lots of emerging and developing technologies, theories, ways of teaching and learning, hardware, software…and so on, and it also means that I need to be (seen as) positive and optimistic about all things digital, which I always try to be. And yet, when I stumbled across this post on the JISC RSC Wales blog yesterday, it made me feel as if a great weight had been lifted from my shoulders:
For a number of years now, teaching and learning with mobile devices-now referred to as Bring Your Own Device (BYOD-Because Education Needs Acronyms) has been a constant theme. It has also been something I have willfully ignored, because BYOD has always felt to me like a massive and incredibly knotty topic as well as a way of working that sounds both time consuming and tricky to manage. Past experience has taught me that the IT infrastructure (well, the internet) in most institutions isn’t quite ‘fat’ enough or fast enough to deal with the volume of data pinging back and forth. Teachers have to find a way to get students with a massive range of skills levels to do the same thing on a variety of devices working on a variety of operating systems. And this opens up a veritable shed full of possible problems.
What if, for example, using an all singing and dancing app sounds fine in theory…but it isn’t available on all operating systems (Microsoft, I’m looking at you)?
What if the WiFi signal is weak or keeps dropping out? What if your students are having trouble connecting their device to the Internet? I did a demo for a browser based quiz (using Kahoot) with a group of PGCE sessions recently, thinking that bypassing branded apps and sticking to the one thing all mobile devices have-the internet-would keep things quick and simple. What I thought would take no more than 10 minutes took closer to 30 because, despite the wealth of mobile devices present in the classroom, half the class just couldn’t get their devices to connect to the WiFi. We got there in the end, but were I being observed I would have received a right talking to at the end of the session.
It’s the easiest thing in the world to assume that everyone can use every aspect of their device, from Internet settings to film editing apps, but usually the truth is quite different. Owners with the smartest of gadget will likely admit to only using it for phone calls / text messages / Facebook / taking photos. So assuming that all students can use their gadgets to the full is blinkered, naive, and possibly arrogant. Actually, assuming that all teachers have more than a working knowledge of how all mobile devices work is really asking the impossible. Because surely for an activity to work, this has to be the case doesn’t it?
And what if there are more students than devices? It may be good to have a spare iPad available to give to someone without their own tablet…but if they have no tablet, they probably have even less idea how to use the shiny and slightly scary tablet the lecturer has proudly put in front of you than those mentioned above. And do students want to be picked out by their tutor and peers, for whatever reason, as ‘the one who still hasn’t got a smartphone’?
Equality of access is more than ensuring that everyone has a device in front of them. Students with physical and special learning needs make deployment of the right devices and software vital…and more complicated. There can be accessibility issues beyond connection speed too. ‘Blackboard’ can be accessed through a browser, but is an incredibly frustrating site to use on a device with a screen as large as an iPad, so must be hellish on a BlackBerry. It can also be accessed via an app, but only on an Apple or Android-powered device, so is no good for people using Microsoft devices. And bingo! We have an inequality of service issue.
So I completely and utterly understand why teachers don’t bother. And I know that I should slap on my positive face and try to convince them that this is how (someone) has decided our students will learn BEST from now on, so get on board because you don’t want to get a reputation as an educational dinosaur. And if the shed full of problems wasn’t there, I would.
I don’t want to be seen as a Luddite, and there are some common sense approaches to BYOD mentioned in the following articles, so I’ll finish up by linking to these, thereby leaving on a more positive note.
UFI Charitable Trust: Primer on Bring Your Own Device – 7 reasons to leave them to their own devices (advocates letting students use their own devices in ways that suit them as a means of learning rather than trying to deliver lessons with prescriptive ‘you need a mobile device, this app and a working knowledge of network troubleshooting t0o do this’ content.
Donald Clark: Keep on taking the tablets – 7 reasons why this is lousy advice (there must be something magical about the number 7! Quite liking the author’s conclusion: “I’m not against the use of tablets in schools, I just think that turning it into a ‘movement’ is a mistake and that too many of these projects are poorly planned, badly procured and lack proper evaluation.”)