wasting bandwidth since 1999

Is There a Strategy?

In a comment on my post from a couple of weeks ago about the sudden rush of changes happening this year in our overly-large school district, Mark asks some very good questions about the bring your own device part of it.

What I want to know is how all these devices will support learning. Is the theory to let the kids bring in the devices and just stay out of their way while students puts their devices to their own highest personal use? Will teachers have to differentiate their lessons according to technology? All jokes aside, is there a strategy?

A strategy? Sort of. Maybe. The school board and district leadership had at least one specific purpose in mind when they approved the initiative. They are pushing “online textbooks”, which they probably think will save money in the long run, and having more devices on which to read them will make that move functional faster.

From the point of view of some of us, there is another strategy, one that is a little more disruptive, one that goes beyond simply shifting from analog materials to digital ones.

Look around and it seems as if learning is rapidly becoming a very personal experience, driven in no small part by the dramatic increase in powerful personal communications devices and the ability (indeed the expectation) to easily share our knowledge and experiences online in multiple formats. Kids are no exception, although what they’re learning may not always be what we think they should.

At least learning is a personal experience almost everywhere. It certainly isn’t in most schools, institutions where we still put an extraordinary amount of effort into standardizing the process, from the presentation to the materials used to the way learning is assessed. And technology use by students is a glaring example: computers largely inaccessible most of the day and totally out of student control.

Having a relatively large number of students carrying their own personal learning device will inevitably change the way classrooms function. To be sure it will be a gradual change since there are plenty of teachers and administrators who will try to maintain strict control of how students interact, with both the machines and each other.

Mark asks if we are just going to let the kids use their devices and stay out of their way and that’s not at all what I want to see. Teachers still need to manage much of the process of learning in school. Manage but not control, a distinction that may be a difficult transition. Also tough, will be the realization that large parts of the curriculum are irrelevant when you have a room full of devices that can easily retrieve basic facts as well as communicate with anyone to develop the meaning of those facts.

However, in the end, the most important change brought about by students bringing their own devices to school will not be teachers differentiating instruction based on technology. They will differentiate based on the students themselves, who will have more control – and more responsibility – over their own learning.

That’s my strategy. We’ll have to see how it works out.


  1. The Science Goddess

    I think the “BYOD” movement holds some real promise for student learning. What will you do to help teachers with the “manage” part of the equation? I can imagine any number of teachers who are going to be overwhelmed by the possibility. Not an excuse to give up—I just want us to be thoughtful about all parts of the process. How do we help teachers?

  2. Mark

    Good answers. Reasons for optimism. Only one bone to pick: you used students and responsibility in the same sentence :-)

    • Tim

      Mark: In my experience, the vast majority of students will act responsibly if they learn how and are given that expectation. The same is true of adults, although some of them are more irresponsible than students when it comes to working online.

      • Mark S

        agreed. let a guy poke some fun, will ya? :-) On a serious note, I really want this sea change of devices to make a positive difference in schools. And not send teachers running for the exits. Because you know some are going to just freak unnecessarily.

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