Thursday, April 28, 2011


Once again – a Response to Lisa Nielsen’s (The Innovative Educator ) great post, The Contraband of Some Schools is The Disruptive Innovation of Others with BYOT (Bring Your Own Tech) turns into a blog post in its own right. You should see what happens when we get together face-to-face! 

According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project’s February 2010 study, Teens and Social Media, 74% of American teens have a high-speed Internet connected computer at home, but 93% of American teens say they go online. That same report states that 41% of teens whose family income is less than 30K, go online using their phones. That number drops to the twenty percent range for higher income brackets. Clearly, students are bridging the connectivity divide with their portable devices (I avoid talking about phones, because MP3 players work too). When districts prevent students from using their devices in school, they are denying their neediest kids a chance to learn how to use their device for productivity. Talk about educational inequity! Kids with computers at home are taught how to use them in school. Kids who connect on phones because they can’t afford computers are not.

I teach in a BYOT (I've been calling it BYOD, but T works just as well) district. It is a powerful time saver. It helps embed 21st century learning, and it spares taxpayer dollars. Our policy helps us work around using district computers that are nearing their lease expiration period (5 years). The library also circulates 7 iPads (to be used in library) and 10 iTouches (overnight checkout), which we procured with award monies.

When a class signs up to use the library for research, it is only allocated 16 computers. Back in the day, we would expect students to pair up. But this means that one student does the bulk of the work, and another has an opportunity to stare off into space - not the most efficient model for productivity. Now, we - and this is going to ruffle feathers - separate the kids when they come in - not by topic, group, or research task, but by device. Kids with Internet connected devices (smart phones, MP3 players, tablets, netbooks and laptops) go to tables, kids without go to computers. Others opt to borrow library iPads, or, if they are all checked out (very common), iTouches.

Does this scream injustice? I don't think so. It teaches students to cope with the realities of the real world: "Not everyone has the same stuff. You make do with what you've got to get the job done as efficiently as possible." Where else in education are we teaching this lesson?

Here is the beauty of the system - Kids collaborate on their devices while working independently. They write and publish in the cloud (Google Apps), they use social media to organize a productivity plan, and delegate group tasks. To communicate, they can talk face-to-face, text, or chat online. To share resources and compile bibliographies, they collaborate in the library management system. They use QuickCite – a camera-based app for sharing book citations. For research, they turn to resources that offer mobile apps, where possible. Not only does this save them time during class, but it also trains them how to continue to collaborate out of class so they don't have to "go over to so and so's house to work on that group project." We all know that in many cases, that translates into "going over to so and so's house to watch the most motivated person in our group do the project while the rest of us hang out.” This kind of collaboration teaches students how to work together in a more authentic way, which takes some of the artifice out of the teacher-constructed “group project.” Group projects are not bad per se, but they don’t teach real-world collaboration if they only involve face-to-face collaboration.

Our BYOD/T approach embeds 21st century skills instruction in completely new ways. I blogged about this in Need a Prom Date? Try the Cloud! With this model, kids are required to assess their workload and time constraints, evaluate the merits of the wide range of tools and resources for the task at hand, factor in learning styles, decide how to proceed, and get it done efficiently. True differentiation occurs when students have ownership of, if not their learning (we’re still working on that one, Lisa! ), at least their learning tools!


  1. Like New Canaan, Napa Valley USD has two open access or BYOD high schools. One, of course, is New Technology and the other is our new high school in American Canyon. The latter school was built with bond money that had passed prior to the recession. When it opened 2010 school year, it was beautiful, green and had very little funding to supply computers or even textbooks (especially those pesky class novels). It made perfect economic sense to follow the New Technology model and actually have the District get out of the hardware business. Students are allowed to bring in their own devices and those who need are able to rent-to-own Dell Mini’s, while free and reduced lunch are eligible through a sliding scale. All this is managed in the library. It has been wildly successful….at this point over 92% of the student body at ACHS has some sort of device.
    This year we began using Kindle apps to download free classics rather than purchase them in print. Students now can read an assigned class novel on their iPad, PC/Mac notebook. Android or iPhone…. We did purchase over 70 copies of Mice and Men in eBook format and placed them on a district accessible Follett eShelf… at this date, 67 of the 70 copies are checked out.
    Now that Amazon is allowing school libraries to download a purchased eBook onto 6 Kindles, the savings will eventually be significant. Using the AP class novel list, we compared the cost of purchasing in print against the cost of loading the Kindle… even with the price of the Kindle factored in; the district saved $4 per student over print. The following years, the saving combined with the shelf life of the print book were considerable.
    The point that I am trying to make is that the open access philosophy combined with eBook and digital textbooks can engender sizeable savings for school districts…. Now the issue will be to convince administrations that educating digital natives using 21 century tools and strategies is cost effective. As I read the EdWeb comments a the words of Art Kelley’s Pogo come to mind… “We have met the enemy and they is us!”

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