Thursday, October 6, 2011

Why BYOT (Part II): A Focus on Access

Ok, so the school opens itself up to the possibility of letting any student bring in any device.

  • The training is setup so that students and educators are aware that certain things don’t work on certain devices (psst, looking at you iPad).
  • Teachers are given the freedom to tell students that it is the STUDENT’S responsibility to make sure the equipment is charged and ready.
  • The administrators understand that it is not possible for a teacher to be 100% aware of every online activity that every student is doing inside the classroom.
What is a technology department to do?
In order to answer this, lets first step back and think about what a technology department spends its time doing now. under traditional technology systems, a significant portion of IT expense (in terms of personnel, time, and expense) happens at that stage between user frustration: “This device won’t work” and network issue. Simple put, there is seldom an issue that cannot be isolated to a single device. Yes switches go down and servers stop responding, but most of the time, it is a single user and a single device. Worse, it is often a problem that gets fixed in the back room of a technology office after the student has moved to another class or the teacher is in her next lesson. Result: the frustrated user receives a fixed machine without the satisfaction of being heard or knowing how the problem was resolved. This increases user frustration with technology in general (i hate that it doesn't work) and with the IT Department (They never talk to anyone).
This use of resources is also a pull away from what the IT department will tell you is often the REAL problem: network maintenance and access. In a multimedia world with increased demands on bandwidth: youtube, streaming videos, podcasts (student produced and otherwise), cloud computing, the IT department has to spend more and more time focused on the issue of access: keeping filters up-to-date, evaluating usage levels, re-negotiating bandwidth costs, evaluating processor speeds on firewalls, etc.
The BYOT model (note: this benefit is relatively new as we have begun implementation this year) creates a new model of focus and interaction between Users, IT Personnel, and time allocation:

Benefit 1: User relations.
Under a lab model or even many 1:1 models, when a device stops responding, the user a) fills out a help ticket or b) drops it off at the school repair station (to pick up later or trade-in). When the device belongs to the user, there is (obviously) more ownership. The result, unintended, is that the device is brought down at a time when the user is available to stick around (it helps that Brebeuf Jesuit has a place for this). The technician and the user walk through the problem together. the issue, which is often user or software related, is resolved collaboratively and the adversarial relationship that can exist between tech-geeks and teach-geeks begins to dissolve. Ultimately, users become problem solvers and more comfortable with their own tech.

The Brebeuf Jesuit TRC is the default intake room for students and teachers to get help.
(note comfy chairs and coffeemaker)

Benefit 2: Time Allocation
Even under this high-touch user experience, less bench-time is spent with a pile of non-responsive netbooks that were sub-par and low quality to begin with (that shot was at you low-bid, 1:1 systems). Network administrators shift their concentration to long overdue maintenance and experimentation with websites, tools, bandwidth, etc. The focus is not on end user hardware but making tools that are discovered by teachers work across a variety of devices. This often leads to MORE collaboration as tools are evaluated on tablets and PCs and readers to find the healthy balance between the learning objective, student accessibility, and teacher assessment needs. Again, the IT department sits in on the conversation at a much earlier stage than “it won’t work” and the result is decreased user frustration and increased engagement and involvement (an interested tech is a hard-working, problem solving tech).