Teaching in the BYOD (1:1) environment

Teachers increasingly find themselves in schools now where devices (such as iPads, Chromebooks and laptops of various kinds) have penetrated the classroom, either as a school recommendation, school provision of class devices, or as a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) (also called 1:1) policy. Each of these options will scale up the involvement of the teacher. In some schools, for example, where device use is optional, some teachers may opt not to integrate devices and associated digital technologies at all. Where classrooms may have a set of laptops or tablets, there is likely to be greater onus on the teacher to engage with the technology. In a BYOD situation, however, the more likely expectation is that teachers will not only seek to find ways of using technology and digital tools (such as the Internet and various applications), but also will actively re-think their approach to teaching as a result.

I want to follow up my previous posting (‘Technology – like the air we breathe’) with a summation of some comments I made as part of a discussion of findings for a still-unpublished book chapter. These findings are based on in-school qualitative, ethnographic research I conducted in the winter term of 2015. These contextualised findings raise some interesting points that arose for me, as I observed many students and teachers, and through the many conversations with those students, teachers and even some parents.

 Some critical points

  •  Some teachers overestimate the digital capability of their students, and assume that young people necessarily know their way around computing and digital devices. This plays out in the classroom when teachers call on students to help each other to master the required technical or computing skills. Furthermore, some teachers may also assume that students will be ‘naturally intuitive’ in accessing, navigating and working in digital environments. This is a spin-off of the over-emphasis on a ‘digital native/digital immigrant’ distinction. There are various critiques and analyses, such as this one.
  • Some teachers regard technology merely as a tool, rather than as way to revolutionise their pedagogy. The notion of technology as a ‘digital pencil’ persists. In this sense, technology has not been integrated into the fabric of the some teachers’ thinking about their work.
  • While teachers understand the SAMR model, they find it challenging to get beyond substitution. ‘Electronic worksheets’ are a mere substitution of a paper handout. For some teachers, however, there is simply not enough time to develop a redefinition of tasks, not to mention the unwillingness of some to take the risks associated with possible failure, should radically new tasks go awry.

 What kind of response to change should teachers aim for?

Some embrace change, as they see the opportunity to develop their imaginative abilities. Fundamental change may positively influence the way teachers think about their daily work (it may also make them question their life’s work and purpose, however). A critical change to put into action is more individualised teaching and less teacher-talk. Ironically, this kind of shift may cause some students and parents to imagine teachers have relinquished their responsibility to ‘teach’ and just become ‘glorified baby-sitters’.

 Why are teachers willing to change?

 Many (most?) teachers are motivated by their desire to make a difference in the lives of their students, no matter how difficult and challenging change may be. The implementation of BYOD and associated e-Learning strategies add significantly to teachers’ workload, with implications for personal health and well being. New responsibilities include writing, planning and creating new materials, and this may be akin to the first year of teaching. Technology-rich digital environments may provide a sense that teachers must be ‘experts’ who are familiar with the cutting-edge of new technologies and applications.

Technology, especially ICT, the Internet, mobile devices and the various software programs and the many and varied applications, are a boon and a burden. A recent Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) report suggests that these technologies are not yet as widely used and implemented in schools as perhaps they ought to be (given their impact on our daily lives). Yet, the same report finds that their impact on student learning is anything but clear-cut and certain. This finding is grist to the mill of those who question the value of ubiquitous device implementation in schools. What that suggests, I argue, is not to step back from the brink, but to engage more critically with the technologies that are impacting the pedagogical lives of teachers, and the way their students choose now to communicate.







Technology – Like the air we breathe

I notice that an Australian educator was quoted by the Times Educational Supplement as suggesting “technology is invisible now. Just like electricity, it’s there, it’s an enabler, it makes the connections work.” Indeed. I spent some time observing the implementation of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) in a secondary school last year, and one of my observations was that, in some classes, the teachers may well have been saying: “Right, take out your textbooks, and turn to p. 32”. What they were saying (some of them, at any rate) was, “Right, we’re going to take out our devices now, and open up Google Classroom”. Those words, used that way, sound very odd indeed – a little like saying, “Right class, we’re going to breathe now”.

By contrast, in three other school settings, where I was observing teaching practice and gethering qualitative evidence to support my research into flexible learning environments, the use of (digital) technology was integrated more seamlesslessly. Ironically, none of those schools have a BYOD policy, though one was making moves in that direction, while the other two merely supported the notion that each student was entitled to bring an appropriate digital device to complement their learning. (Reflecting on the difference between these schools and the BYOD school, I note that those with flexible learning environments also happen to work in a self-consciously ‘futures’ frame).

Two critical thoughts spring to mind when thinking about my BYOD participants: one relates to the digital natives/digital immigrants bifurcation; the other to the vision of increased cognitive load underpinning some taxonomies.

Elsewhere, I have joined others in challenging the notion of the existence of a ‘natives/immigrant’ bifurcation, for at least these reasons: it yields too easily to an ‘us vs them’ sceneario (ie the geeky teens who know all about that digital stuff vs the old dinosaurs who think faxes are modern and that there is an ‘interweb’). Second, the perpetuation of this myth allows some teachers (and parents) to really act like dinosaurs, and never challenge themselves to learn something new. Third, it presupposes all those born, say since 2000, are just ‘naturals’ with digital technology, and will ‘automatically’ know what to do with technology. Finally, and here is the space teachers should explore more, is the notion that all the members of the ‘Net Generation’ are using their digital technology in cognitively challenging ways. This is plainly not so. Like their elders, many (most?) young people have core functional uses for their devices.

Ruben Puentedura developed the SAMR model, a taxonomy that suggests teachers ought to aim to move from activities that are mere substitutes of pen and paper activities, to higher-order tasks demanding redefinition, in which previously inconceivable tasks are introduced. My own classroom obseravtions in the schools I mention above, suggest that this movement is not quite as simple as may be suggested by the SAMR model. If anything, the movement makes enormous demands on teachers’ time and energy, and that is before you get to thinking about their sense of personal confidence and skill in digital device use. In addition, schools find themselves under various forms of the neoliberal accountability regime, which includes National Standards and NCEA in New Zealand, for example.

There is an important sense in which the the two issues I am critical of, come together in the situation I described at the outset. Teachers who buy into the ‘natives/immigrants’ bifurcation may be reluctant to develop the skill set and confidence required to be effective in their seamless integration of digital technology into their pedagogy (doing and thinking), while simultaneously know just enough to get by, thus merely play the substitution game. Hence the odd comments about taking out devices now. Yet, if they recognised they have the ability to learn, they will find that they still do have something new to impart to their classes (who still do not ‘know everything’ about digital technology) thus allowing their students (and themselves) to engage with digital technologies in exciting, critical, and seamless ways.