I’ve been of two minds about BYOD (bring your own device) in schools. The forward thinking educator in me abhors the idea of requiring students to power down when they arrive at school. As adults we don’t turn off our phones or tablets when we’re at work; we simply learn the etiquette of how to keep them silent and use them to enhance, not hamper what we do. That’s a skill I want the students at my school to learn. Many already seem to have gotten the lesson down.
The liberal minded ex-Bay Area guy I am hears the word “equity” whispered in the wind. What of the kids who don’t have smartphones or tablets? I would have been one of those kids. If we encourage students to use the technology in class that they carry with them every day, will those whose personal technology is a #2 pencil and a spiral notebook feel awkward?
And then this morning I sat in on an English class, drawn to the open classroom door when I heard cheering and laughing. It was 7:35 in the morning and as I entered the room I saw 30 students, some with phones poised in front of them, some with tablets leaning against backpacks, and some with school Chromebooks open on their desks. All eyes were on the screen in front of the room where a Kahoot game on literary terms had them on the edge of their seats (and in some cases out of them).
I sat down, the former English teacher I am amazed by the early morning energy around a topic that I’d never known to inspire much excitement. I stayed for half an hour, watching as the students played the game, unconcerned with who was using what technology, all their focus on the results of the contest. iPhones are no faster than Chromebooks, tablets don’t give students an advantage over those with Droids. And the kids didn’t care what they were holding; they simply wanted to play. And learn.
And as I saw them finish the contest, put away whatever devices they were using, engage in a brief discussion, and then open books from which they began reading a 1950s radio play (then its own amazing technology), I thought that the angst some feel around BYOD dissolves when the focus isn’t on the rectangles of plastic in the kids’ hands, but is placed squarely on the more important aspect of education: learning.
To these students, who shifted seamlessly between 21st century technology and 20th century print (of a mid-century script for a century old communication technology), it was the variety and richness of the learning opportunities that they will remember, not what device they (or the person next to them) held during class.
If we stay focused on teaching and learning, and support all students as they acquire the skills they’ll use as adults (from knowing when to silence their cell phones to when they should understand situational irony in something they read), then we’ll be okay. Maybe even better than okay, we may be able to inspire cheers and laughter as we all learn.