Thursday, August 30, 2012

BYOT DayByDay: Wrap-up: Understanding Digital Natives and Making Inconvenient Choices

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.

[Continued from yesterday, so some of the intro is the same...the article was originally 2300 words. See, I do recognize when i go REALLY LONG]

This will probably be the last regular posting in the DaybyDay series. It has been a good day to end as I have heard from students and teachers about some wonderful things going on in the classroom. We also had a couple of the "bad decision maker" discussions that were referenced yesterday, but even those serve a purpose in the grand scheme of things.

I mentioned yesterday that @40ishoracle and I were reflecting on the reason behind BYOT. In the same way that a general Pro/Con article tends to give legitimacy to arguments by nature of the article's structure rather than its validity, I think it is difficult to measure the success of an endeavor without recalling why it was attempted in the first place.

  • BYOT implementation solves the major issues identified by teachers and students: more access, availability of the tools the student's want to use, faster and more stable connection, off campus access. Hard to believe after talking about this for so long, that it started 3 and a half years ago with teacher and student round-tables about what was working and what wasn't.
  • Preparation for the digital world: Technology has been consumerized. IT is no longer the sole decision of the techno-trolls in the caves (and we trolls actually kind of like it that way -- project!). Students have to be able to ASSESS their needs and EVALUATE the options they have in order to effectively USE them and solve the problem of the day.
  • As we entered our pilot year and began working with teachers and students in a live environment, we realized that the BYOT world allowed teachers to focus more on their areas of subject expertise while students were empowered, and in some cases challenged, to meet expectations with their own technology.
  • Through tech petting zoos, introductions at open houses, and lots and lots of conversations with students we identified a ton of issues to work on as we moved out of the pilot year, including re-writes to the Acceptable Use Policy, upgrades to the network, and new ways of thinking about education in general.
  • The Board of Trustees allowed us to shift our budget to provide significant financial aid in order to make sure that all students got the benefit of choice, not just those blessed with the means. Focusing resources where they are most needed to improve the environment for everyone became our watchwords in the budgeting process.

Changing the Culture, Changing the Classrooms

"It really depends on the class, but there are some classes where two or three students are helping another two or three students. And it grows. Then the entire classroom becomes a group effort. It's wonderful. How do we make this happen all the time?" - Science Teacher

In Social Studies students are using Google Maps to create a my places map of significant points in history. Each student uses each device to make the maps. Some of them love the touch screen. Others are using the mouse and keyboard. Great activity, but not necessarily one that would have warranted bringing out a cart or checking out a lab. But when the devices are at their fingertips...

"I have never allowed students to use computer, dictionaries, etc. I have always wanted them to know the vocabulary by heart. This time, I told them they could use all the sources they had (notes, online, translators). I am curious to see how well-written and thoughtful the responses are...They are still required to "use their own words' so no copying from articles. So far, those who haven't studies are spending more time looking up the words than writing. This should be interesting." - World Language Teacher

The assignment was to create visual representations of a historical concept. One of the students created an animation. It was perfect with stamps and taxes flying around and then a fist crushing out the machine. I have to rethink my frame-of-reference. I thought of visual as static, but with these tools and these students, that is no longer a limitation. So creative. - Social Studies Teacher

Students were working in groups while contributing to a class set of notes that was displayed on the board. Small groups were looking up definitions while in the middle of a discussion that was graded by the teacher walking around the room. One group of students was brainstorming the process of putting media from cameras into a report. -- Administrator Walkthrough

Reading check quizzes through the LMS; Vocabulary words identified in news papers and news casts from around the world, Teach and Learn sessions as students make sure each person in the group can effectively complete the task at hand.

"There is more active learning going on today than one year ago. I don't think it is all BYOT, but it is something. Less lecture, more activity." - Administrator (ok, fine, that was @40ishoracle)

Choosing Culture over Convenience

BYOT Brown Bag lunches have helped identify issues
and share successes. We have snacks!
"Kids have too many things to remember. They complain a lot."

"Can we just make every teacher use EdLine? There are too many options."

We have been talking about this one a lot! Students have a password for EdLine, a password for the wireless, a password for gDocs, Biology textbooks, the iPad app for Biology textbooks, the Naviance account for the college application...You get the picture. If a student's teacher uses Edmodo, or a club uses Skydrive or Dropbox, then there are more accounts and more username/password combinations.

Is this a problem? It certainly can be. But it is also a lot like life.

The digital age encourages us to have usernames and password in order to conveniently function. We have accounts for email (home and work), facebook, twitter, dropbox, our bank accounts, taxes, the DMV, our student's lunch account, etc. The digital world is about identity management and that includes password control.  After lots of thought and lots of discussion with students and teachers and administrators, we decided that the advantages of the tools outweighed the potential confusion, with these caveats: 
  • Teachers should post all external site links used to classroom EdLine (our primary LMS which includes parent accounts)
  • Teachers should have clear instructions on what types of systems will be used in the syllabus
  • Teachers should communicate with parents regularly, but especially if classroom assignments will use social media systems (and, in those cases, alternative assignments should be available).
This will be one of the specific questions we ask at the student round-tables (or at least create listen-fors that will capture it). Much like the technical issues discussed yesterday, we are trying to figure out if this is a widespread annoyance that should be addressed, even if it is talking through the expectation in #digcit, or if it is a problem only to a few students that we should work with on a case-by-case basis (or...possibly...if it is an excuse being used to derail some teachers -- oh teenagers. we were your age once).

Civilizing the Natives

What a Digital Native Looks Like
"I had the instructions clearly on the board: Login. Go to this website. Use this account information. Take notes in Google Docs. All of the kids were working, but one kid in the  back was clearly frustrated. I went to ask him if I could help. He had a blank screen. I asked him if his battery had died.
"No, I just don't understand your instructions. How do I log-in when the computer is turned off?" - Guidance Counselor

"Despite the hype that these students are supposed to be brilliant on technology, they really aren't." - Math Teacher

"Technology Generation? Not buying it." - Facebook Friend Teaching Computers to 5th Graders

"When will my student actually use the device? It has been two weeks." - Parent

That last one really stumped us. How could a student not have used his or her device two weeks into school? But, we realized, there is a difference between the command to "pull out your device and complete the following assignment" (which there is actually plenty of) and the opportunity to make it a part of your educational life by taking notes, completing writing prompts, communicating with teachers, or checking assignments -- none of these necessarily requires a computer but kids are using devices to do this every day in and out of classrooms.

The term "Digital Natives" is used to invoke images of toddlers at touchscreens wielding sorcerous-like powers. However, in our experience, it just means that students are not afraid to press buttons -- That's really about it. They will experiment if they have a motivation to do so and are given that freedom. Forming "Digital Citizens", people with knowledge and skills to use information effectively, responsible consumers of data with social media savvy, users of technology to solve problems beyond tilt-jump-slide gestures -- that takes more than a birthdate in the 20-aughts. It takes guides who understand the digital context of our students, exposure to new experiences that utilize information and tools in complex ways, and the time to reflect with others on those experiences.

The problem is two-fold. These experiences, normally problems to be solved or answers to be sought, must take place in real situations. There has to be some level of actual content -- Students can see through a faux assignment in a heartbeat. We used to teach "website analysis" by showing fake websites that had been constructed Onion-style. Too many years went by before we realized that the rolling eyes and disinterested doodling was a message, loud and clear. Additionally, consequences for not accomplishing the tasks have to have some reality as well. If a student does not get the scientific method or cannot control the supporting facts within a tightly structured informative paragraph, we grade accordingly. Students who refuse to make assignments legible i.e., in a readable file format, may have to suffer the bad grade or the call home to discuss with parents. 

Second, and much more a problem of our own making, we have to overcome years of training that has told kids there is only one right answer, one right way of doing a problem, and one right sequence of buttons to push to get the result. Some students have developed a strong aversion to thinking or innovating. "Flowers are red. Green leaves are green." And there is no need to make a PowerPoint any other way than the way they always have been seen (Thanks, Chapin. We miss you).

We have many recent anecdotes of teachers telling kids to put media into a presentation or lab report where the reaction is a blank stare of "How?" We have to train them out of being automatons and into critical consumers and even creators. It is possible, but it takes time, patience, and a little tough love.

But its worth it:

Students, Teachers, Devices, and Education. Oh my, indeed
"They reached into their bags and pulled out all kinds of devices and just started using them. Like they had been doing this for years." - Administrator during Teacher Walk-Through

"I love that they get to do this. This is what the world is like." - Parent

"I love that they can get their books onine when they forget them. I love that they can write papers together. I love that the class is not delayed by 'Oh, I wish I had the lab, today." - World Language teacher

"It's going good. It's just normal now." - Student

{for more start of the year review: We have more or less covered the opening chronologically over the last three weeks (starting way back with "Before the Storm", then continuing in Day 1Day 2Day 3Day 4&5); we put the blog in the hands of one of our math teacher 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).}