We Need to Talk About BYOD

The BYOD Listening Project asks: In the rush to control students’ devices, have we overlooked the ‘moment of teaching’?

By Sharon Price Campbel

If you’re a teacher in the U.S., you have likely bumped into BYOD (bring your own device). Especially in recent years, school districts are rushing to “leave no device behind” and education technology companies are coming up with myriad new products and services to deliver the promise of BYOD Nirvana. At conferences and in district offices, educators are spearheading many iterations of teaching and learning opportunities.

What can we learn from the previous megatrends in education technology? The first small wave of technology occurred when computers were installed in public school offices. They were not to be touched by the likes of teachers, but by trained office professionals only. It took another decade for computers to become available to educators in the teacher’s lounge. By the turn of the millennium, computer-literate teachers began to ask for, beg for, and write grants for computers in the classroom.

A flood of federal money available for technology purchases created the second wave, the Educational Technology Tsunami. To cash in on the gold rush, business suppliers slapped “education friendly” labels on business equipment. Manufacturers racing to get their share of the federal bucks cut corners on research, design, and quality control to get products into the marketplace. Classrooms became a nightmare of unsupported, unreliable hardware and buggy software. Classroom teachers who had been enthusiastic became concerned about job security. They feared reporting faulty equipment and feared that they had inadequate computer skills. When the federal funding ended, school districts found themselves unable to financially support their technological machines and dreams.

Riding the same surge was the “No Child Left Behind” legislation. Its unattainable expectations, on top of education’s first attempt to merge onto the digital freeway, nearly crashed education.  Systems had been too quickly adopted and inadequately designed, and were incapable of the tasks they were purchased to perform. School districts became the graveyards of metal hulks and husks of educational technology—and federally-driven, data-based, student failure.

Since then, we have learned and improved. Manufactures and legislators are beginning to include educators in the conversation about expectations and realistic outcomes for tomorrow’s teaching tools. Teachers are getting very good at forming their own independent learning communities, and ideas are spreading faster than ever before. It was during this hyper-connected, surging wave of mobile device integration into all aspects of life that we ushered in BYOD.

It will take work. Early concerns about device security/privacy, unrestricted web access, and the potential for distractions in the classroom have driven the marketplace toward an obsession with control. There are now dozens of device management products that offer instructors and districts varying levels of control over student devices; however, these products don’t serve the fundamental purpose of BYOD in education, which is to improve instruction, empower students for self-directed learning, and leverage this generation of students’ technological prowess to turn the current model of instruction on its head.

In the rush to control students’ devices, we have overlooked the “moment of teaching.” Very few teachers are able to accomplish ordinary tasks, such as grabbing a picture from a document camera and getting it to each student device, without having to halt instruction and fiddle with far too many steps to integrate into teaching. So why is instructional software so clunky when we need it the most? The answer is that most companies making this software rarely set foot in an actual classroom. They are so focused on features and functions that they overlook how the product is used in the classroom during instruction. If one of the purposes of device management is to minimize distractions, shouldn’t the product just work and require no active management on the part of the teacher? Yet most device management products require that the teacher be behind his or her computer to share learning resources or to monitor and control student devices.

We can’t rely on product developers to just deliver brilliance. Rarely through history have major innovations been the result of one person or team, instead they have been the result of teams building on the work of or listening to others. The BYOD marketplace should be listening to the visceral and rational experiences of teachers, administrators, and students to make better products.

EXO U is sponsoring the BYOD Listening Project to strike up a dialogue between teachers, students, parents, administrators, and the marketplace, with the goal of pinning down and solving the increasing challenges that teachers and students face when attempting to integrate devices into a daily classroom teaching. I am serving as a moderator for the project, and we’re asking for your perspective on mobile devices in the classroom. What works? What doesn’t? Where are the significant pain points or problems at the interface of mobile devices and learning?

The BYOD Listening Project is asking for your engagement and in return, we will analyze, collate, and report themes and major takeaways. Our aim is to provide highly useful data and models for BYOD implementation that improve that moment of teaching.

Sharon Price Campbel has taught in Napa County Juvenile Offender programs, an alternative high school, and Youth Employment programs. For the last 28 years she has been a middle school teacher. In 2009, she was named a California School Master, the oldest, most prestigious California education award.

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