Tom Starkey's world of ed tech

21st November 2014 at 00:00

This is how bring-your-own-device (BYOD) usually works in my class: "Shannon, get off Facebook.Mercedes, stop with the Snapchat, no one wants to see that.No, you can't tweet what I just said.Does the person you're messaging on WhatsApp know the answer?"

And so on. BYOD - or, for the cynical among you, "bring your own disruption" - is the idea that students can use their own devices rather than relying on the school to provide tech.

In theory, it's a genius idea with some obvious advantages. It's cheaper, for starters: schools don't have to shell out up front for hardware and service plans. Also, students know how to use their own devices, which can be anything from laptops to smartphones, so instruction time is slashed. As long as you have robust wi-fi in place, it seems like a no-brainer.

But there are a couple of niggles. The distraction issue is one of the biggest. It's not a planning problem; it's a human nature problem. When you and your humble lesson are up against games, social networking and shopping, it's hardly a fair fight.

Some would suggest that if you can't compete with the skiving opportunities offered by the average smartphone then you've got an engagement problem. To them I say: have you seen the games they have on mobiles? They're awesome!

Even so, if the right culture is already in place, BYOD could be a real winner. It's not the phones or tablets or laptops themselves that are the problem - it's the mindset of the school that dictates whether a BYOD scheme will be successful or not. Independent use of tech must be encouraged and normalised as an integral part of the learning process, and you need a half-decent behaviour and monitoring system.

Not every school has that. There's always the worry that senior staff will jump on the bandwagon without realising that it's the culture that's important, not the equipment. You're basically putting shiny little lesson-killers in your pupils' hands, so if you're going to do it, you need to do it properly.

That goes for fair access as well. Not all tech is created equal and steps must be taken to ensure that resources can be accessed by the most basic equipment, otherwise there's a very real danger of ending up with a system of "digital discrimination", where students who can afford better tech have an advantage over those struggling with a old Nokia Satsuma or whatever.

So, BYOD can work under the right circumstances, but it takes real thought and effort. Drop me a line if you've got it sorted - I'd love to see it in action. For now, though, just one last thing. It's the critical point, really, and it's very important.Oh, is that my phone? Sorry, catch you later.

Tom Starkey is a teacher based in Leeds. Email or find him on Twitter at @tstarkey1212


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