It started out with a standardized writing prompt and was never intended to move outside of the small testing window. However, when students finished writing a persuasive text on whether students should be allowed to have cell phones and MP3 players (a student aptly pointed out that banning MP3 players would still allow him to have an iPod, because they don’t use the MP3 format), they wanted to create their own BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policies.
I began by asking students to create a series of questions. After tweaking the language, the guiding questions became:
- How do we ensure equity? What investments might we need to make in bandwidth or in additional devices?
- What behavioral expectations should we have for students using devices? How do we help students see devices as learning tools rather than toys?
- Who is responsible for broken and stolen property?
- Should the apps and tools used be universal across platforms? Or do we allow students to choose the tools based upon their devices?
- What type of professional development will teachers need for BYOD to be successful? What paradigm shifts would they need to make?
Notice what is not covered in this. Students were not concerned about whether or not students should have to share (they wouldn’t be forced to share pencils or paper and yet they often share those). Nor were they concerned about hurt feelings (many pointed out that there is more jealousy over nice shoes than an iPod). When I asked about digital citizenship and cyberbullying, they were quick to point out that bullying has nothing to do with devices and shouldn’t be included in a BYOD policy.
Next, students worked in small groups and developed their policies on Google Docs. I know. Pretty simple technology. From there, they had to create a two-minute “pitch” to convince the class that their plan would be the most effective. They could create an audio-visual podcast, a video or a series of image-oriented slides with a two-minute talk.
Students presented their ideas to the class, followed by a short question and answer (with sentence stems for support). I wanted to move to a whole-class plan, but we never quite got there.
It turns out that students can be really mature about how they view devices, equity and responsibility. Here were some general trends that I saw:
- Students should sign a release for BYOD that includes what will happen in cases of theft and damaged technology
- Schools should have half-sets or quarter-sets of devices so that they can go one-to-one.
- A few school-wide behavior guidelines make sense: Devices away when the teacher is talking (unless instructed to do so), during individual assignments, students can use devices and have their headphones on
- Students need to use the devices for the purpose of learning and a teacher can require a student to put it away if it becomes a distraction
- Teachers can attend optional training on apps, classroom management and how to integrate the tools into the curriculum. One group had the idea of letting teachers watch a BYOD class in action, or even having a “test class” that tries it out for a quarter before going school-wide.
The results were not perfect. However, I was struck by the fact that students were able to have a dialogue about this subject in a way that is often more mature than what I see with adults who are quick to take a radical stance (ban it altogether or let kids bring it and use it whenever the want). Instead, I saw a view that was reasonable, nuanced and multifaceted.
Maybe it’s time schools take a similar approach.