Sooner or later, all schools intent on become digitised or veritable modern learning institutions are faced with the BIGGEST question of all; what on Earth are going to be our decision(s) on BYOD or no BYOD, compulsory v optional, Apple v Windows v Google?
In reality, some schools actually don't make any decisions, the worst outcome possible often to leading to significant confusion, pedagogical conflict and inequity between students. In all of my global communications regarding the digital upgrades of schools, this is the one decision that must be robustly discussed and done so objectively and from a legitimate evidence base. Compared to the need to upgrade a network or Wi-Fi capability, yes there needs to be strong strategic discussions but these digital improves are rarely passionately contested or confronted.
At Aorere College, to be honest we've gone 50/50 in terms of student digital devices.
In 2015, we revisited our school rules to allow the use of "student-owned digital devices in the classroom for educational purposes only and at the discretion of the teacher concerned." In reality, we had no choice but to formally allow some device use, as students and a large number of teachers were using cellphones, tablets and so on effectively for student academic advancement albeit "under cover."
Once it became apparent very early on that appropriate device use with the now upgraded Wi-Fi network opened a genuine learning window beyond the school gate, the trickle became a flood and digital devices were literally everywhere. Although the huge number of devices was awesome to see and furthermore that they were being used to great educational effect, one problem became distinctly clear. Teachers were increasingly finding it difficult to cater the learning provisions to the various student devices in play. Some apps worked well on a phone for example, while the same device was a nightmare working on a Google Slide.
As a result, midway through 2015, we decided the following:
" In 2016, all Aorere College students are expected to have their own digital device for student learning. Aorere College encourages the purchase of Chromebooks from Harvey Norman".
Having consulted a number of schools before this announcement enabled us to be confident that the above was the best decision for our school at this time. We also knew that in order for students and families to have advance warning of our expectation and our encouragement, we needed plenty of time to get this information out. To avoid considerable financial expense, we chose not to purchase the devices on behalf of the students and then lease-to-buy. Instead we came up with what we saw (and still do) as a pretty impressive educational pricing arrangement with Harvey Norman.
Did it work? In short, thankfully yes, it did! Although we had a lot of communication with our school community, there was no guarantees that any student would bring a device to Aorere College for student learning purposes in 2016. What did surprise me was the large number of Year 9 and 10 students who arrived with rather flash-looking HP Chromebooks, it must be said not in this teacher's colour of choice! To ensure the devices were as secure as possible, free device engraving was and is offered and students are given significant education on how to "lock down" their device of choice in terms of disabling guest user access and effective pin/password protocols. I must confess I was very surprised at the large number of students who arrived with new laptops. To be blunt, we didn't really care about this as long as each device could access GAFE (Google Apps for Education) and had sufficient durability and endurance to last the school day, we were more than happy.
In 2016, there is a vast increase on the amount of devices in play and in learning at Aorere College. BYOD has taken off massively for two major reasons, both of them provided by students (who else, of course?). The first reason we have had massive growth in students bringing their devices is that we provide free, fast and reliable Wi-Fi and unlimited GAFE accounts for all students via their school log-in. Students can access the internet any time out of class and most do, and on a regular basis. The second reason for such a great uptake according to students is that the learning in the typical Aorere College classroom now lends itself to the presence of one or more student devices. Needless-to-say but when most if not all of your students are in possession of a suitable digital device (smartphone, tablet, Chromebook or laptop), as a teacher, you are pretty much left with no choice but to ensure that the content and learning style in play enables greater students agency and collaboration.
In looking back now, this teacher and no doubt the wider school community is relieved that we made BYOD decisions that we believe are highly advantageous to our students today while in our school, and tomorrow when they are the new workforce. The decision or decisions must be made about digital devices and ideally should work back from the students to the teachers to the school and not the other way around. I like the flexibility our current device perspective allows. Many students who do not have the internet at home thus use a laptop, others provide the long-life of a Chromebook while others work magic on a smartphone.
Regardless of the decisions made or not made in terms of BYOD and student digital devices, one thing must be remembered, repeated and refrained. The devices in itself will do little to change student learning and/or student academic successes. A phone or Chromebook is no more or less a learning tool than a portable whiteboard, a pen or a camera. BYOD can and never should be about the devices. It can only ever really be about the learning, the student agency and ultimately the academic and holistic student success in school and indeed beyond.