Two years ago, my Principal and I stood on the edge of the 1:1 pond, held hands and jumped in. Having no idea how it would go, we were both driven by the conviction that placing technology in the hands of students to enhance their learning was absolutely the only way forward. We were also about to launch our inaugural Year 11 class and this seemed the obvious place to introduce digital learning to the community of our school in an intentional way. What began as a 1:1 leasing program to a single class has now evolved into what is currently a BYOD program that spans 4 year groups and in 2013 will expand to include every child from Year 3 through to Year 12.
A recent visit by the leadership of another school convinced me that our journey is not one that should be kept to ourselves; that we need to share this experience, our successes and failures and to help others embrace what really is the future of learning. Other schools have blessed us similarly. Hence this post… what might otherwise be called, Lessons From the Coalface: things you could do to manage the successful introduction of BYOD.
1. Ensure you have the infrastructure to support the technology you introduce.
One of the fastest ways to lose impetus as you introduce technology to a school is having the infrastructure let you down. Teachers need to know that everything from the broadband width to the projector bulb is working. If your staff doubt the support of the infrastructure they will abandon the technology. If students do, they will label it a joke.
2. Identify your early adopters and nurture them.
Before you give devices to the students, give them to those on your staff who you know will run with what they are given. Send them to to every professional learning experience that will give them courage. When you have a few people on staff splashing around and experimenting in the technology pond, it piques the interest of others, gives the early adopters confidence and creates interest… you create desire.
3. Inform and involve your parents.
Parents love their children and their innate instinct to protect cannot be underestimated. If they don’t trust you or think you do not know what you are doing, they will resist. Let them know your plan. Tell them why it is important. Listen to and respond to their concerns as soon as you are aware of them. Create a Q & A section on the school website. Hold information evenings where you place devices in their hands and give them time to play with programs and apps. Show them what some students have created… trust me, this will blow their minds.
Invite your parents on Day 1 as you get everybody connected.. We did. Some came.They sat with their children/young adults and watched the process with them… sometimes they played together. This was powerful in creating strong connection and communication between home and school.
4. Build a team of ‘Sherpas’ from your student body… and use them.
We all know know them… those students who make us look good every day… the tech savvy individuals who know everything from how to create an app to changing the printer toner. Assign them to staff members with the brief to make that staff member look good. Reward them with iTunes cards and they will have your staff so connected and ready to go, you won’t need to do a thing.
5. Plan Day 1… and Day -1
Day 1 2012 involved us moving from 16 leased devices to 135 BYOD. Had this not been well planned, it would have been a disaster. Day -1 we had all the relevant staff trained on how to connect PCs and MACs to our network, printers, internet etc. We brought in our Sherpas and assigned them to the staff. We spent an afternoon ensuring that everyone knew what they were doing ‘tomorrow’ and we made sure the IT staff had everyone’s back. No one left until they felt confident.
On Day 1 we divided students depending on devices… MACs in one group, PCs in another. Because the different platforms have different systems for set up, this was necessary. Within 2 hours, every student was connected and we began to breathe easier.
7. Insist on rigourous, engaging learning experiences and teach wisdom
There is, understandably, concern about how well students will use their devices for learning. One of the most frequent questions I am asked is, ‘What consequences are there for students who do the wrong thing, who are on Facebook, gaming in class or looking at bad stuff?’ (By this I assume people mean looking at pornography and, Facebook and gaming not associated with learning).
Clearly you have to have decent filters in place to protect children and you need to have different levels of internet access for different age groups. The best way to protect students in the online world is to teach them wisdom. We also have regular visits from an education spokesman from the Australian Federal Police who teaches students about how to manage online identity and behaviour well. Having said this, the two most effective ways to manage this issue are to insist on rigourous, engaging learning experiences and to give students a voice in what they are learning. Busy, engaged, hard working kids do not do the wrong thing.
8. Rearrange the learning space
Once you are in the 1:1 world the teacher is redundant out the front. Getting your staff to move from the front of the room, however, might well be one of your hardest challenges. We removed the teacher desk, and inspired by an idea from Northern Beaches Christian School, replaced it with a mobile laptop ‘caddy’ that could be moved around the room. Even then, the reluctant few would wheel the caddy to the front and sit behind it. We tried a long U shaped set up (affectionately called ‘The Zoolander’ because of its catwalk look) to create high visibility of screens and enable staff to move easily around the room. We then spent a term playing the game of rearranging the rooms every day, because the kids hated it and constantly moved the desks. In 2013 we will experiment with changing furniture and the way it is arranged so that there will be no real ‘front’ to the room.
9. Support your staff
It is tempting to go out and find every educational app or program and bombard your staff with them at every professional learning opportunity. If you do this you will overwhelm and annoy them. The frustration about ‘another technology session’ will get them offside. Manage professional learning in a way that empowers staff to use an app or program meaningfully in their class the very next day. We asked our staff to come to professional learning time with a lesson in mind. After the expert user (which was either another staff member or a student) introduced them to an app or program, they used it to immediately create the lesson for ‘tomorrow’. The next professional learning time was spent sharing lessons, joys, successes and the flops that we learned from. This was rich learning for everybody.
10. Anticipate problems and have a plan
There are some things you can safely anticipate… students who haven’t charged their devices, servers blowing up, sites you want to use being blocked. Have a plan for how to manage them before they happen and you will keep your blood pressure in a healthy range.
11. Roll with the punches and learn from mistakes
There are some things you can’t and won’t anticipate… and there are mistakes you will make. Learn from these… then anticipate for the future. Manage mistakes well and with integrity. No change this significant to a school will be seamless. Keep talking to families and to your extended school community. Transparency is very important.
12. When you get it up and going, share your journey
We live in an extraordinary educational age and that we get to hear and share wisdom across nations is a gift to all school communities. Once you’ve got your BYOD program humming along, invite people to visit. Share your experience and place courage in the hearts of those innovators from other schools. Visitors are always welcome at our school. We love to help.
Have fun on the journey!