My high school building is a really old one. The institution itself is hundreds of years old but the building as well passed the three hundred year mark quite some time ago. Its classrooms, furniture and sometimes creaky floor oozes history and heritage. Walking through the hallways and sitting in its amphitheater feels like a field trip to Hogwarts.
Learning there was truly magical, even if the only wizardry we could find within its walls was 21st century technology and the only magicians were the teachers and professors who bewitched students with their knowledge and scientific demonstrations that kept learning interesting and engaging.
At first it may seem odd to find all those technological gizmos jammed between steampunk-like gadgets but strangely it is rather fitting. That’s because they complement each other very well and after all, they serve the same purpose of making the learning process more fun and interesting.
One category of technological tools that can help teachers transform the whole learning experience is that of smart devices. This category is quite big and it constantly grows, but there are devices that are pretty common these days and everybody can have access to them easily — devices like smartphones and tablets.
Being largely available, almost anyone has one and that is the biggest advantage these things have. Schools don’t have to invest significant amounts of their funds in buying smartphones and tablets. Instead, they can develop a BYOD framework and infrastructure that allows students to participate to the class activity with their own beloved gadgets.
5 practical tips for BYOD equity
At first glance implementing a BYOD program seems simple, but before initiating the project there are a number of things to consider. One issue that comes up pretty often is that of BYOD equity. Not all students can bring the same or similar devices to class, that is a fact.
So how can schools ensure all their students can have access to the same quality of education when involved in a BYOD program? Here are five practical tips to make sure the technological differences among students are limited as much as possible:
Know your students
Every teacher and professor should know their students. In many cases it is hard to know each student personally. For instance, at big universities where professors can have hundreds of students, it is quite impossible. In situations where it is hard to know each student personally, teachers should try to know them in general. One important source of information is the data and statistics about students which is gathered throughout the year. These sources can indicate many important things such as the preferred learning style of the students, their competence level and skills in different fields of study.
If instructional designers are pondering the implementation of a BYOD program, they have to take some specific information in consideration. First, they have to know how tech savvy students are. Probably they are pretty good with technology because they were born into this era, but if there are significant discrepancies in students’ familiarity with technology, these should be identified a soon as possible in order to build a program that is appropriate for everyone.
Another area that needs to be investigated is the devices typology that are at the students’ disposal. They can have phones or tablets from older or newer generations and they can also have different operating systems. Also here they should find out if there are students who need financial assistance to get a device that meet the requirements of the BYOD program.
All these pieces of information can be gathered with the help of questionnaires filled in by students and their parents.
After acquiring a general knowledge about the situation, the planning process can begin. It is recommended to start at the most basic level. A prerequisite for a successful BYOD program is connectivity. So designers have to make sure the school has a good internet connection and the wireless system can handle the heavy usage. The key is to take the time and plan the infrastructure so it fits every special need.
For example, thick concrete walls are a true nemesis of wireless connections, so in a school with thick walls the used wireless routers have to be more powerful to ensure a good signal throughout the building.
In this phase teachers also have to decide what kind of apps and software will be used in the class activity. They have to bare in mind the fact that students have different devices that run on different operating systems. There are applications that are available on iOS devices but they don’t have an Android version and vice-versa. Teachers have to choose applications that run on each device regardless of their make and OS.
Supplement school technology
When schools are planning the implementation of a BYOD program, they have to thoroughly evaluate the school’s technology level. Simple problems such as not having enough power sockets can be a real headache if they are overlooked and they can interfere with the learning process. Students can’t miss out on class activities just because they forgot to charge their devices at home, and even if they charged their phones, after extensive use, they can run out of power during the day.
Schools have to consider supplementing the number of power sockets and investing in power distributors or portable power banks, so multiple devices could be charged at the same time.
Schools should also consider keeping a number of extra devices in their inventory which students can borrow if they forget to bring their own.
Use cooperative learning
Thanks to their features, smart devices can bring collaboration on a new level, both during and after classes. They offer not just one-to-one communication possibilities but one-to-many and many-to-many communication as well. This functionality can make group activities more dynamic and it can help students to work more efficiently with common effort on group projects.
These devices also make possible the implementation of some really interactive technologies such as Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality. Using these technologies will make learning and group activities more fun and they can increase student engagement in class activities.
To further enhance the cooperation in group activities teachers can come up with ideas that require students to work with just one device per group. This approach makes it harder for students to wander off into the big world of the internet and use the device for other purposes than learning during classes.
Students aren’t the only group that has to be engaged in the implementation of a BYOD program. Engaging the parents is equally important. After all, they are buying the devices for their children.
Parents also can have certain concerns about the BYOD program. These concerns may include the cost of acquiring good enough devices, the increased screen time their children have to face, and they may doubt the efficiency of this teaching strategy.
Teachers and the schools' administration have to consult with parents so they can put all these concerns to rest as soon as possible.
Implementing a BYOD program can have its challenges that may come from a variety of sources. But with careful planning, attention to details and cooperation with students and their parents, schools can avoid any potential problems related to BYOD equity.
By implementing a BYOD program instructional designers can modernize the learning process and they can transform a potential distraction into a powerful learning instrument that equally engages students in class and group activities.