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BYOD: 7 Steps To Success

IT professionals, industry experts, and educators explain how to make BYOD as easy as ABC.

BYOD. The acronym was a nonstarter in many districts until recently. But administrators who once confiscated student devices are now warming to the notion of letting kids use their own cell phones, tablets, and laptops to drive learning objectives.

What has brought about this change? Software tailored to curricular objectives, more robust security and privacy systems, and a closing of the learning curve for teachers. Schools are also realizing that students carry in their pockets computing power that can be used in the classroom, says Ann Lee Flynn, director of education technology for the National School Boards Association.

Is your district considering giving BYOD a chance but unsure how to address security, equity, and appropriate usage? Here is what district IT directors, industry consultants, and teachers suggest to make your transition to BYOD a success.

1| Consider your purpose. Before proceeding, decide what the school hopes to do with devices that students bring in, suggests Mitch Krueger, director of technology with Goddard Public Schools in Kansas.

“There needs to be a lot of preplanning. If you and your teachers can determine what you want to do with the devices, it becomes much easier to provide support,” says Krueger, who oversaw a BYOD rollout in the 5,600-student district in 2012. While BYOD may be a cost-effective way to increase access to technology, the true driver should be the curriculum, and the technology should simply support the learning goals.

“Both the vision and plan should be curricular-based, not looked at as a technology initiative,” says John Connolly, technology director for Consolidated High School District 230 in suburban Chicago. “The device is just a tool; the tool alone doesn’t do anything. It’s all about transformational learning tied to what’s going on in the classroom.”

Connolly also advises technology staff to partner with instructional staff. “It needs to be a two-headed monster,” he says.

2| Get input. Conduct a survey to find out which devices students own, and then decide how the school needs to supplement them. Equity is often a concern, so taking inventory before rolling out a program can allow a district to assess whether to purchase additional devices.

“Districts have to be mindful of what this does for equity and be proactive for students without access to these devices,” says Flynn. “It’s wonderful to tap the resources you have, but it’s not without a subset of issues that need to be addressed.”

Include all stakeholders in the planning: teachers, parents, administrators, and community members. Some schools bring in outside consultants.

“We are in a decade of confusion,” says John Halpin, vice president of strategic programs and services with the Center for Digital Education in Folsom, California. “No one knows the right solution. They are experimenting.”

Halpin predicts that eventually technology will be fully integrated into the classroom, with individualized learning the norm. For many districts, he says, BYOD is a transitional move until there are funds to implement a 1:1 technology program and acquire a device for every student.

3 | Look at policies. Districts need to address security, privacy, and appropriate usage concerns by drafting policies. Procedures for handling lost or damaged devices should be in place, and you’ll want to update your district’s acceptable-use policy so students know what is expected. Making the accepted parameters of use apparent from the beginning will help smooth the transition. Spell out penalties for misuse to make consequences clear.

Since kids are connected outside of school, BYOD offers the opportunity to teach students about digital citizenship. “In an age with access to so much of the world, teachers need to educate students on how to be wise consumers of technology. Bringing their own device is a perfect way to have those conversations,” says Willyn Webb, coauthor with Lisa Nielsen of Teaching Generation Text.

4 | Adapt the infrastructure. BYOD can’t work unless it has infrastructure to support it, including a robust wireless network and servers, says Jeremy Angoff, cofounder of OunceIT, a company that advises schools on technology. “Build for future needs, not for current ones,” he says. Assume at least a 3-to-1 ratio, where each person will have three or more devices.

To narrow the range of issues, make a list of devices that are acceptable for students to bring to school. Different schools have different levels of comfort in granting teachers and students access to material or when devices may be used. Administrators should determine who will be allowed access to what, when, and from where in the building. This will help the technology staff know how to set up the network and filters to be in compliance with the Children’s Internet Protection Act. Also, with the onslaught of different devices in the building, be sure to have enough IT staff to work a help desk and handle problems.

Software can help control who on campus can connect to the network, says Bob Nilsson, director of vertical solutions marketing for Extreme Networks, which helps K–12 schools set up mobile technology networks. “There is not a one-size-fits-all method in schools. Administrators, teachers, students, visitors, and parents should each have different rights and privileges,” he says. Finally, enough bandwidth needs to be available, taking into account usage at certain times of the day and in different parts of the building.

5 | Communicate with parents. “Make sure you have good community buy-in,” says Marty Bray, chief technology and information officer for Forsyth County Schools in Cumming, Georgia. Relay information about the BYOD policy to parents and community members at meetings and through letters and e-mail.

A media steering committee is one avenue to dialogue with parents. The transition works best when teachers are able to make personal connections with parents to explain rules for BYOD rather than have them pushed out from the district, adds Bray.

Often, parental skepticism bogs down the BYOD process. “The holdup to adapting technology is not the kids; it’s the adults who are afraid of something new and different,” says Bray. That’s why communication with parents is so crucial.

6| Train teachers to adapt. The dynamic of a classroom changes when every student has a device. “It’s a paradigm shift,” says Krueger, of Goddard Public Schools. “Teachers are used to standing up and lecturing. This is the opposite. The content hasn’t changed, but how you present it has.”

Teachers need training on how to best leverage a BYOD program with instruction and how to handle new classroom-management issues. And training needs to be relevant, frequent, and collaborative, says District 230’s Connolly. “You can’t just have teachers show up for one or two days and see how it goes. There have to be monthly touch points.”

To encourage teachers to swap technology ideas, Jason Suter, a science teacher at Hanover High School in Pennsylvania, runs “Tech Session Tuesdays.” Suter suggests identifying “fire starters,” or teacher leaders, to test innovative practices. “Let them run with it and brag about what they are doing,” he says.

Having technology in all students’ hands opens up new ways of engaging. When Suter is covering groups in the animal kingdom, he has students turn their devices into response systems. This helps him find out how many students understand the lesson so that he can modify it as needed.

“It’s a way to get real-time feedback from students while they are working,” says Suter, who has been allowing kids to use devices in his classroom for 15 years. “I think it’s necessary. It’s the world we live in.”

Suter feels concerns over classroom management are overstated. “People act like it’s opening a can of worms because students will be texting during class. Tell students to put their cell phones on their desks, facedown, so that they can’t text under their desks or in their hoodies. You’ve solved the problem. It’s simple. We don’t need to make it into a big issue. We do need to provide guidance on how to use it properly.”

7 | Test, pilot, phase in. Start BYOD with teachers and have them model appropriate use for their students. Teachers don’t need to be familiar with every app or be a technology expert to be effective, says author Lisa Nielsen. They will learn eventually and can tap students’ expertise as they use their phones, tablets, and laptops in the classroom.

“Students are your biggest source of tech support,” says Krueger. “They know their own devices and are more than comfortable with them.”

Connolly suggests districts phase in new technology programs with a class or a school before going district-wide. The technology market changes rapidly, so a slow rollout allows some flexibility to test out policies and equipment.

Support from the top needs to be expressed to the schools, says Halpin, of the Center for Digital Education. “It’s about educational leaders leading the way and being consistent,” he says. “It takes an enlightened and committed superintendent.”

Once a BYOD program is in place, administrators should regularly review how it is working. Darlene Rankin is director of instructional technology for the 70,000-student Katy Independent School District in Texas. Four years ago, Katy adopted a BYOD policy; the district has expanded it every year since, adding bandwidth to keep up with the demand. There have been minimal problems with items being stolen, lost, or broken, says Rankin. But as the district becomes more comfortable with BYOD, it is giving students more freedom. “Every year we’ve loosened the reins,” she says.     

 

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