Wednesday, August 29, 2012

BYOT DayByDay 15: Anecdotes & an Analysis of Tech Issues

The BYOT Day by Day Series will capture the first few weeks of implementation of the full BYOT program at Brebeuf Jesuit. Brebeuf Jesuit is 1:1 BYOT w/ financial aid support for over 25% of its student population in the form of technology grants. It will try to capture some of the tips, tricks, and pitfalls. It will highlight the successes and a few of the frustrations.

This is the penultimate post in the DaybyDay series. We will of course keep talking about BYOT, but this seems like a good place to close a "start of the year" series as we end the month of August. Also, I am really kind of excited to share some of the things going on in the Digital Citizenship class as well as some cool #flipclass examples going on throughout the school. Finally, with the election heating up, I am sure that some politician will do something that gets me a-ranting, so i need a clean plate.

I thought about doing a Pro-Con article this time, outlining the good and bad of the BYOT experience after three full weeks. But the problem with a pro-con is that it has a strange distortion effect. Each point appears to have equal weight on either side of the ledger -- a minor implementation detail has the same visual impact as a huge philosophical benefit. Thus, the attempt at balance ends up skewing the perception of the reader (I feel like I blogged about this before, but maybe i was just dreamtweeting. The NEA has a good example of what I mean -- Pro = real life examples; Con = hypotheticals that stir up the fear of the masses).

We have more or less covered chronology over the last three weeks (starting way back with "Before the Storm", then continuing in Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4&5); we put the blog in the hands of one of our math teachers for the ironically named "nouns and verbs" post; and last week's space was devoted to the largest problem of implementation thus far (the eText Conundrum part I and II).


I started a list of things that I was pretty sure I had not mentioned in other places or that had been reinforced in the last few days. As the ever-amazing @40ishoracle and I began discussing it, we reflected back to our original goals and the origins of the program. We'll recap that tomorrow in our last post.

Changing Culture, Changing Classrooms

"Our students will be so much better prepared when they go to college. They see on a daily basis that problem solving is not the same thing as button pushing." - English Teacher

"I used to give a sample interest problem. Then we would solve it together. Then I would put another one on the board. Now we still solve one in class. Then I send them out to find a car website...And a bank site's interest calculator. They get to find the car of their dreams and figure out why mom and dad don't buy it for them." - Math Teacher

My Kingdom for a Printer

The dean of students came to the Teacher Resource Room for a visit. "I had an English teacher ask me if we could set up the printer in our office to be a printing station for students." This has been a growing concern, particularly upstairs. The labs upstairs are generally locked when not in use by teachers. Students who used to do work on paper, now have it digitally, so if a teacher wants to collect it the old-fashioned way, it must be printed. All student printers are centralized in the library and connected "Class Lab".

If we find a space (limited) where we could put a printer, then we open up a different set of issues. Technology that is not "owned" by someone quickly deteriorates. When a department is responsible for a lab, it is usually in pretty good condition. When copiers are put in "general use" areas (even for teachers only), they tend to have higher breakdown rates, run out of supplies more often, and need to be replaced more quickly. Haven't got the solution to this one yet, but it is going to have to be discussed.

Personalizing Education and Technical Issues

"Next year can we just require them to have Microsoft Word?"
"That would mean no tablets, no iPads. It's really restrictive"
"I am ok with that."

Macs have trouble with equation editor.
Macs have trouble with PowerPoint.
Macs have trouble with documents

"My son says he is getting a C in his class because he has an iPad"

Network admin is working on three problems at once (we counted)
While on the phone with his might-be-in-labor wife
In a large homogenous system, when something breaks, it tends to break across the board. I still cringe over days when the entire internet is inaccessible or all phones go down. In the 1:1 BYOT world, problems are more often individual ones. True, some of the individual problems repeat a lot: resetting passwords, typing in the right address to get to wireless authentication, saving a Keynote document as a PPT so that it can be opened and graded by the teacher. Occasionally the problem is unique: a bad model of wireless card that has to be replaced or a specialized program file that cannot be uploaded to a homework hand-in.

Our systems and guidelines work 95% of the time and most problems are single-fix and satisfied customers walking out the door. Occasionally, we have students who become "frequent flyers". These students have the same problems again and again (our record is a single student who created 4 accounts to access his biology textbook, had 2 different Turn-it-In accounts, and needed his gDocs account reset 4 times and counting) or find a problem with each new thing they try (these are the ones who walk in either apologetically sorry-to-bother-you-again or arrogantly your-network-is-responsible-for-my-forgotten-password-and-the-national-debt).

Teachers become frustrated when these issues interrupt their classes or derail their plans but have learned to adapt for the most part (it helps that we have chromebooks ready for grab-and-go productivity). Parents have been listening to us and are very responsive to the school's efforts to make students responsible. Most students are also very good at working around issues. Frequent flyers are rare, but in some ways, they are what we have left.

Interlude: Resetting Perspective
I was helping a student with a document upload issue (outdated java controller). When she authenticated to the server, I commented, "I am so happy when it says 'Authentication Succeeded'". She looked at me and said "hundreds of students do that every period. You only hear about the few who have issues." -- Good point. love insightful students.
End Interlude

Thus, three weeks in, we have entered an interesting phase. Most students have made accommodations necessary for their devices (I use an iPad, therefore there are extra steps when uploading documents to webpages; I use a PC, so I need to borrow or bring a different device to take decent photos; etc.). Then there are a few students:
  • The student who leaves the same class four times in a week to "get computer help" but never shows up in the IT department
  • The student who doesn't turn in four assignments because he has an iPad and feels it is mean of the teacher to not allow him to just email the document to her
  • The student who receives a low B on his first exam after being observed gaming in class, during study periods, in the lunchroom, etc.
Each of these issues could easily be mislabeled as "tech" issues but they are actually behavioral issues. Examples of students making less-than-optimal choices. In a traditional school with a traditional technology program, many of these students would be able to slide by finding teachers willing to give them a break because computers are scary...or hard...or unreliable. Some of these students would have bad habits that would manifest in other ways (obsessive doodling/daydreaming) or not manifest at all until they get to college (insert anecdote about tweeting with students for an hour during their econ lectures).

Students, Teachers, Devices, and Education. Oh my, indeed
Because we operate in an environment where technology is not allowed to be the default bad guy, we are able to make these incidents opportunities for discussion: making better classroom choices, accepting the consequences for decisions (including the choice of tool), working with parents to find ways to encourage responsible time-use behaviors. Teachers feel supported by tech, by administration, and by parents to take a "you are responsible for getting the file to me...on a readable format" stance. Parents take comfort in knowing that others are willing to fight the big scary tech battle along side them and that we are individualized enough that truly extreme circumstances can be accommodated. Tech has the trust and support of faculty and students as we make things work. Next week, we add more layers to this communication process as we begin to schedule BYOT Round Tables with students to find out what they need and how we can continue to provide it.

Thus, education is becoming more personalized and the technical problems are beginning to match. But with each problem we face, we are able to identify it as behavioral or technical or (as is often the case) messy. We work with teachers and students to take responsibility where necessary, be flexible when it promotes a greater good, and occasionally hold someone accountable for a bad decision.

Responsibility, Flexibility, Accountability -- Good for Tech and Great for College Prep.