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.

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