Are the days of banning phones in the classroom a thing of the past? There’s a growing movement toward innovative learning models in K-12, where educators are starting to embrace smartphones and mobile devices, seeing them more than just a distraction in the learning environment. In recent years, researchers found that most American students between the ages of 13 and 17 own smartphones and are using them at school (as high as 71 percent in certain districts). The prevalence of mobile devices is true everywhere, even in schools that ban them entirely. So many teachers have to grapple with the question of how much technology to allow in the classrooms, and more of them are exploring how to embrace its potential.
There are four key tech decisions that schools and districts are having to make when deciding to craft their own bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policy.
Decide on BYOD vs. 1-to-1 Computing
BYOD has ushered in a much-needed cultural shift, where schools are trying to put more devices in the hands of students, because they are seen equally important to learning as their textbooks. There are two basic purchasing models for integrating mobile or tablet learning in the classroom: purchased by the district or by families (in the case of BYOD). For some schools, a BYOD program is necessary to ensure students have access to the tech tools that are part of the course. There are some pros and cons between BYOD and a 1-to-1 program, which you should carefully consider in the beginning. While BYOD may make economical sense for the district, a district-purchased program offers the advantage of a standardized device. Depending on the technology infrastructure you have in place, your IT team would be responsible for keeping track and catering to a variety of devices. On the other hand, BYOD is the most effective for students, because they would already be familiar with the device.
Define Your Technology Goals
This follows closely after the first decision to go with a BYOD policy. What is the objective, and how do you anticipate teachers and students will be using their mobile devices on a daily basis? As we’ve discussed before, it’s important to define your education goals first, and let them lead the technology (not the other way around). Also, think about how the use of smartphones and tablets fit into daily routine. Does it simply replace a traditional hands-on activity? Do tablets serve as a way for them to have their choice of videos and tools for self-directed learning (for instance, in a flipped classroom)?
Know Your Infrastructure
In many scenarios, schools start with a pilot program before implementing a BYOD program across the entire district. However, as you build a solid plan for BYOD that works now and a few years down the road, you may need to invest in wireless network and significant infrastructure changes to support BYOD for the district. For example, Prince William County discovered that after their first year of adoption, the number of active devices grew at a much faster rate than expected. On average, they’d have 45 active devices in use during the school day, and by the second year, the average rose to 534. Another technological investment to consider include secure data storage (moving to cloud services).
Use Technology to Support the Curriculum
Smartphones can be effective when teachers are selective in when/where students can use them. At the LA River School, they have a “no cellphone or ear buds” policy as a general rule, while creating exceptions when they are short on computers or allow students to look up information online during an assignment. While for some schools in Massachusetts, teachers think about smartphones as just another digital tool and seek specific opportunities in the curriculum where they will have the most impact – such as a mobile app for analyzing data for a physics class, engaging in course discussions with their peers, or accessing videos or games designed to enrich learning new material.