Saturday, 30 March 2013

Day 1 BYOT

As I started typing in wifi codes and asking students to download any kind of QR code reader they could find, I couldn't help but sense the "are we really allowed to do this?" feeling emanating from my Gr. 7 students. My BYOT shift (I still call it a 'unit' with my students to give me an exit strategy just in case things go awry) started months earlier when I asked my students whether they had some kind of smart device or not. 90% of the hands went up. Being a heavy device user myself (can anyone say Handspring Visor), I felt I needed to try devices in the classroom again. (See my first BYOT post). I handed out permission forms that asked parents to fill out a "use of personal device at school" eform and tried to build some kind of infrastructure. (See Baby steps to BYOT)

But today was day 1. And I wanted it good. I was so happy that at least I had a QRcode to get to my Today's Meet page. The code was a big hit. It saved me from the "what was that URL again?" barrage. It was very necessary as students continually lost wifi. They just snapped a shot of the code and back they were to Today's Meet.

Part 1: Today's Meet

My PLN (okay, basically a bunch of like-minded gurus on the BYOTchat Thursday nights) recommended Today's Meet as my first activity. It was a back channeling website. I had to ask what back channeling was. For the new to BYOT, my understanding is that back channeling is a discussion board that can be accessed from any device. Each comment is streamed to all logged in. From the Today's Meet Website:

I decided to use Today's Meet as it seemed quick and easy to setup and explain.

It is one thing to facilitate a verbal discussion in the classroom. It is quite another to facilitate a chat on Today's Meet. My brain was working overtime as I tried to engage students in appropriate questions and get them beyond their inherent cyber small talk. But Today's Meet revealed what my students do out of sheer impulse. They chat. It seems smaller than small talk and shallower than surface chat. But after all the 'Yo's', 'Hey's', 'Sup's' and 'Mwahahaah's" my students were able to answer questions like:

- What on your device are you an expert at that can help with school?

- In what ways can you imagine using your device to help your learning?

There was even one or two students that took it to the next level asking other students about their app use. I'd love to see more of that in the future. Today's Meet with students requires much more teacher activity that a normal twitter chat. The more the teacher responds, the more useful engagement by the students seems to happen. But it's like responding to 30 journals in real time as the students are writing them. It can make your head spin.

Part 2: Brainstorming

What is a teacher without a project. From Today's Meet, we moved onto working on a project I wanted the students to complete using their devices. This is something they will be working on over the next few weeks.

And who doesn't start a project with some kind of brainstorming or mindmapping? So part 2 was "Now, let's use our devices to get some ideas recorded." And what does a BYOT teacher do when he has several platforms going at once? What the typical teacher would do when a student asks a question that the teacher has no answer to: "go figure it out". My task for them: find an app that can assist you in brainstorming, begin to capture some ideas you have for your project, snap a picture of it and send it to me.

Find app, use app, capture learning, show me.

This is a BYOT mantra in the making.

And I am happy to report that out of my 27 students, I got 4 simple mind maps before the period was done. Better than nothing.

Now before you take exception to my cavalier "you figure it out" style, I did make some honest suggestions as to what app might work. I showed the class a free app I discovered in the Apple App store called Inkflow. It looked like it could do the job. Several of my students gave it a go with some success. The students with IPads had Inspiration that they could use. I even had a student email me a tumbler file. I still haven't been able to open that up on my iphone. (I guess I could try opening it up on my computer :))

So that was my Day 1 with idevices being front and centre. I would recommend doing the same for those starting out. And now Spring Break is coming to a close and I have to gear back up for school and my BYOT "unit". Any thoughts for my Day 2 would be appreciated!

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Baby Steps to BYOT

So you are letting your students use their devices in class. You are moving beyond relegating the smartphone to act simply as a calculator or a timer and letting students really BYO Technology.  It is a big paradigm shift.  One that could change the look, feel, and sense of control of your class.  Before you take the plunge (or as you are taking the plunge), I hope you reflect on the possibilities and pitfalls that may come your way. Here are a few thoughts to ponder as you breach this brave new world.

1) Know why your doing it
BYOT isn't the answer to behaviour problems or lack of motivation in students. It's not the answer to education, either.  In fact, it raises a lot more questions than it answers.  And because of that, you really need to know why you're allowing idevices become a bigger part of your classroom.

Some of the reasons I think that might hold water are:
- a desire to add another effective tool to your students' toolbox
- a passion to encourage students to become full life learners--having a love of learning invade all parts of their life, including device use
- to effectively utilize a tool that students might bring to school yet be told to leave in their lockers
- to experiment with what might seem as the way of the future 

Either way, BYOT is not all pretty.  You'll be inputting wifi passwords, answering endless questions about apps you've never used, and giving students a little more ability to be out of your control. A realistic view of what is coming your way is paramount.  And if you really believe in what you are doing, you'll be able to work through the difficulties. 

2) Build a PLN
It would be ironic for BYOT to be done in isolation. The most dangerous aspect of the smartphone is its connectability. Facebook status updates, texting, tweeting: these are the power, beauty and the danger of the idevice. And your going to ignore all that and go it alone when it comes to teaching kids how to use them for school? It wouldn't make any sense. 

Before I had my first BYOT session with my classroom, I stumbled on a group that "meets" Thursday nights at 6pm PST.  All you need to join in the conversation is knowing this simple secret handshake: the #byotchat hashtag.  Just introduce yourself to the group on twitter. That is all I did.  Immediately, I was embraced as a newbie and accepted as one of the gang. My question of "what should be my first activity" was answered by a veteran and confirmed by several others who were at the time hundreds of kilometres away.  And their suggestions were awesome. 

I am learning that a Personal Learning Network is very important. Before I began blogging and using twitter, my own network was dependant on who happened to be physically around me.  And life at Middle School is so busy, working on an idea becomes buried in a forest of meetings and marking. But with social media, you can follow, share, ask, and hear from a specific group selected from millions. They might teach in the classroom next door. They might teach in another continent. A world of possibilities is opened up. 

3) Have a sitdown with your admin
BYOT opens doors to all sorts of things. And you may find that you become a pioneer of sorts. As a courtesy, you will want to let admin know what is going on in your classroom. You might also find that you need some support, some help setting up the infrastructure.  That is where admin come in. Likely they will be happy to hear that you are addressing the issue of technology in your class. Some of them might even be relieved that they have something to say when the superintendent asks how they are addressing technology in their school.  And whenever you have a "guest" in the school (some "other" who is connecting with the students through something like Skype chats or back channelling) Admin should know. 

Also, you also might find that you need help clarifying the lines: what students are allowed to do and what they aren't. Policy questions always need admin input. 
4) Get parent buy in
Hey. They're bank rolling this endeavour.  They should also be kept in the know. I send home a parent permission form for my grade 7 class before the devices come in.  It lets the parents know what I am doing, helps me get parents to fill out the "Privately Owned Devices" eform, and clarifies that this endeavour is not to be used for leverage for birthday and Christmas presents.  And although students are bringing devices to school anyway, it clarifies who is responsible for them. And who is 

5) Make a plan for the have-notsAlthough you will get a high percentage of students who have devices already, there will be some who either don't have a phone that is "smart" enough or don't have anything at all. You may have a little leverage to get a few devices that can be available for those who have nothing. Many schools are experimenting with Ipads.  See if you can book a few of those.  And make sure you have an extra for someone who just can't get theirs to work. 

If you can't get some extra devices, make a plan to share. Build into your lessons a pair/share component to keep all engaged. Though devices are very personal, the students are used to staring at someone else's screen in the hallway so this will not be new.  A little thought ahead of time will save some headaches later on. 

6) Plan how you connect
On a very pragmatic level, book into your lessons some time to get students on the network. Recently I was on a trip to Disneyland with some teenagers and the constant talk was wifi.  They were desperate for it, checking every place they went to get their wifi fix. In my neck of the woods, most teens don't have a data plan. They'll need a connection to:
- discover new ideas
- share how these ideas jive with themselves. and...
- show their learning so far to you

Learning is all about allowing students to discover, share, and show.  Getting students connected up takes this into the electronic realm.  So make sure you have the network passwords ready and possibly someone to help enter them into your students devices.  But make sure the whole first lesson isn't taken up with getting students on.  What is the fun in that?
So here are six thoughts as you take your baby steps into the BYOT world.  And don't be ashamed that you are going slowly and reflecting all the while.  The baby analogy works very well as babies embrace the new with wonder and appreciation.  They soak up experiences without the baggage of the jaded veteran.  And the learning just naturally comes.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Responding to the "Shift to the Future"

I have a grade 7 class that I am trying to move from a "leave your tech in your locker" class to a BYOT class. I had planned that after Spring Break, my BYOT unit would begin.  (I understand that BYOT is a paradigm shift, not a "unit", but hey...I have to start somewhere). I was perplexed because speeches were over and I had a couple weeks unplanned between units.  But as I am getting closer to the time where students are going to pull the world from their pocket and be free to bring it into my class, I have been thankful for class time to set up the infrastructure.  Last class, I spent looking at the school code of conduct about use of technology and then discussing Brian Kuhn's recent Shift to the Future article on BYOT

For my class discussion, each group looked at a different part of the article, summarized what was said and then told what they learned from it.  As each group made a mini presentation I was struck by how my students "get it" when it comes to talking about their devices and the possibilities and problems inherent in using them in class.

One group mentioned that they felt our wired computers can be slow to access the web in the lab which begged the question: how will the wireless network hold up with 27 more devices connected during class time?  We didn't know. 

Another group agreed that it would be possible for everyone to not have a device and still use them effectively. That won't be an issue for us. 

For my group this year, 23 out of the 27 students have planned on using Apple devices (mostly IPod Touches, some IPhones, and a few IPads). We also have  a couple Samsung devices, 1 laptop coming and 1 Surface. Before I planned to do this unit, I had checked with the students what they already owned and was surprised with the kind of access students had.  It was even more than last year's high percentage of students. 

The discussion also got onto distractions.  I tried to explain to the students my role as facilitator: that I wanted to help them through the distractions, not simply punish them because they got distracted.  They seemed well aware that they could be distracted and they needed help. The biggest distraction mentioned was gaming. The students felt they could easily switch to a game when work needed to be done.  Surprisingly, though, another big idea in our discussion was notifications.  My students felt like these could definitely pull them away from work.  That hadn't really occurred to me but when you think about it, that is what a notification is suppose to do.  "Stop what you are doing and deal with me", says the little "1" beside an app.  That is something that definitely needs more thought.  

Some of the other distractions mentioned were: browsing un-educational YouTube videos, texting friends, and updating Facebook statuses. 

Whenever this topic comes up, it causes me to ask these kinds of questions:

- how much more engaging is a BYOT distraction than a regular class distraction (I would love to see research done on this as I think we assume an answer without really checking into it)

- can I teach my students to manage their distractions as we adults might do: e.g. quickly answering an email or text then getting back to work, jotting down an unrelated idea on a todo list, checking the calendar to see what's coming next. 

- how can I change my practice as a teacher to harness the internal motivation that keeps a kid practicing an "olley" for hours just to get it right or causes someone to lose themselves building structures in Minecraft (or another to spend from 3am to 5am commenting on someone's blog posting :))

This blog post was a great catalyst for BYOT discussions and I felt it was a great way to bring the students into the conversation. 

I agree with Brian that focus group work is crucial. I believe it is happening right now in classes around the world and the big work needs to be in sharing what we are learning. I think it is great that we have twitter and Web 2.0 to make this discussion possible.