There has been a lot of interest lately around the concept of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device). The School system I work with is considering implementing this next year and there is currently a lot of discussion going on surrounding it. In typical fashion, many are opposed to this, believe it is going to lead to the sky falling, giant ants attacking and general chaos left right and center. I actually believe that BYOD presents many great opportunities.
There are many technical details to work out with a BYOD implementation and these are obviously important aspects to consider but in the following discussion I would instead like to talk about how it will impact on the most important thing, students education.
BYOD represents quite a change in how we need to approach things. It will take a bit of time to adjust and there will be a few hurdles to overcome but it really won't be too bad. Many naysayers will try and blow these minor hurdles out of proportion as some soft of evidence that the system is a failure and should be scrapped. Don't fall for this.
Teaching Skills not Products
Teachers will have to come to grips with the idea that students could have not only different software installed on their devices but also different versions. This will force teachers to teach skills and not products (something which unfortunately is quite prevalent in todays education system and which is very bad).
Let's take a basic office suite for instance. If I am teaching students how to create a document I now have to expect that students could be using MS Word, iWork Pages, Google Docs, OpenOffice Writer or possibly others. They all look slightly different but effective usage is the same no matter which product they are using. Headings, paragraphs, etc should all be styled using styles and not manual formatting, layouts and indenting should be done with tabs, etc. As long as you are teaching these basic theories then no matter which software the student picks up, they should be able to use it well.
Problem Solving, Common Sense and Management
These are basic life skills that are not developed or encouraged any where near enough in school in my opinion. BYOD presents students with a need to to all of this. Students will need to learn how to look after their device, how to keep it clean, the data on it organised and up to date and so on. They will have to do research and find software to help them achieve tasks (Thanks to OSS there are many good quality free products out there so equality issues are avoided). They will be responsible for working out how the software works. And all of this will develop problem solving, common sense thinking and management skills. Teachers need to see this, not as obstacles in the way of teaching but as opportunities to improve and develop important life skills.
Leads to Better Teaching
Some teachers have commented saying that they won't be able to develop classwork without knowing what software the students have. That may be true if you are currently deveoping your classes as a path for students to be guided down (Hoping they look around and see the wonderful garden around them). The problem with this scenario is that the better students will see what you are showing them, what it means and how to apply it. Many students however will only learn to follow instructions and walk blindly down a fixed path. Now we need a different approach. Instead we need to develop classes that give students the garden then let them loose to explore it.
We need to give students more open ended challenges and have faith in their ability. What they create at the end may not be as polished as if we had guided them more strictly but what they will have learnt about how to create will be worth much more.
Some people have voiced concerns about equality. They fear that students from wealthier families will be able to purchase better hardware and software and this will give them an advantage. I believe this to be absolute rubbish. Sure the better hardware and software may look nicer but in terms of what it can produce and how much skill is required to operate it effectively there is no difference. Nowadays, thanks to OSS, there is a quite reasonable free alternative for nearly every software type out there. Basic hardware also gives you more than adequate processing power for the majority of tasks that students may need to perform.
I would also argue that the more expensive options also seek to hide a lot of complexity from the user and in doing so the students ability to be exposed to the processes and learn what is going on is actually hindered.
Let's also add to this argument by taking a look at the history of a few successful tech companies.
When the Google guys started out they had access to very few resources. Their first servers were actually old desktops they managed to scrounge that had been thrown out. And yet look where they are today. In fact, not having access to powerful server technology at the beginning led them to develop the distributed processing techniques that allowed them to scale much more successfully than most of their competitors.
The Apple guys started their business working out of a garage. Some would argue that these humble beginnings partle gave them the understanding of how much the interface impacted the users perception of things. Apples ability to create elegant and intuitive interfaces is a large part of their recent success.
So I believe that the move to a BYOD model in schools will actually lead to many benefits for students, as long as it is embraced and managed in the right way. Make sure you share these ideas around and get as many teachers on board as possible. Feel free to discuss your thoughts on the topic below too.
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