Opinion

A Tyee Series

Idea #6: Tech-Savvy Classrooms to Personalize Learning

Use kids' texting, Youtubing ways to their advantage, in classrooms that embrace new media.

By Nick Smith, 26 Dec 2011, TheTyee.ca

Big ideas for 2012

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One day, fellow teachers will shake their heads at the idea that we once confiscated phones from students, refused to give them the school WIFI password, and required permission to use their own laptops in class.

After all, today's students carry with them some of the most powerful learning tools ever known. Why not teach students how to use them, rather than tell them to put them away, to leave them in their lockers or to turn them off? As teacher William Stites says on his blog, "If we want students to communicate, does it matter what tool they use to get the message out?"

BYOD or "bring your own device" policies, which started a few years back as cost-saving measures in the workplace, are now being considered in school districts worldwide -- including here in B.C. As schools struggle to meet their own technological needs, why ignore this obvious resource? Since young people have taken so readily to mobile technology, it makes sense to teach them how they can use that tool for mobile learning.

Beyond transforming the battle over mobile devices in the classroom into a learning opportunity, BYOD policies could also help realize "personalized instruction," which basically amounts to individual tutoring for each student in a classroom -- a custom-tailored suit rather than a shapeless one-size-fits-all. Lately, B.C. Education Minister George Abbott has taken an interest in personalized learning, creating an "interactive discussion guide" to get public feedback on the move towards incorporating it in B.C schools.

According to Daphne Koller in the New York Times, "Until now, it has been hard to see how to make individualized education affordable. But I argue that technology may provide a path to this goal."

Schools that block that path by adopting conservative, reactionary policies that include punishing students for use of technology, just might find themselves in the dust.

Digital-divide proofing

Schools will thrive under a BYOD policy, but only if the change is implemented as part of a well-crafted strategy.

The devices students use must meet a set of criteria, and they usually must allow students to play multimedia, browse the web, collaborate online, and create artifacts such as documents, sound files and photos. The policy will be aimed at secondary students, but middle schools may have their own policies. Districts will have to create online manuals for acceptable use; teachers, students and administration must all have a voice in their creation. Presently, the largest hurdle in most schools is discussing security issues with the IT department.

Not all teachers are on board. Many see digital devices in the classroom as a distraction. The last thing they want is a group of students texting and playing games while they should be paying attention to the lesson being delivered. Susan Lambert of the BCTF has come down hard on the idea, recently stating, "The 'bring your own device' idea and the credit for external programs are inconsistent with the founding principle of public education, universality of access, and are the next steps in the privatization of public education." Some teachers see this policy as widening the digital divide, or the gap between the haves and have-nots.