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Mobile Learning | Viewpoint

BYOD Teachers Talk Classroom Use

Ed. note: Holy Trinity Episcopal Academy, a PreK-12 school in Melbourne, FL recently expanded its relatively new BYOD pilot to grades 6 to 12. Director of Information Technology Susan Bearden recently sat down with some of the teachers to learn how students are using personal computing devices in their classrooms. Their answers were as varied as the subjects they teach, but they were all enthusiastic about the ways in which BYOD can enhance student learning.

Holy Trinity high school math teacher Matthew Dopira makes use of student owned devices by utilizing polleverywhere.com, a website which allows students to respond to polls via text message or a web browser. "As a math teacher, I've found polleverywhere.com to be an effective way to enhance instruction," Dopira said. "My classroom has a teacher computer with a ceiling-mounted projector, so it is fast and easy to write a question and post it on the wall for all to see. I typically use the website for warm-up or closure activities, but have also used it to collect data for probability or statistic lessons. 

"I've found many advantages to using polleverywhere.com. Obviously, students enjoy being able to use a cell phone in class. But more importantly, I continue to use the website because many students also appreciate the anonymity of their responses. That is, I know that in a math class many students sit in fear of feeling embarrassed should they be called upon individually and give the wrong answer. But when I post a question through the website, I not only get a higher volume of responses, but they are typically more honest and thoughtful. In turn this allows me to better gauge the classroom as a whole for understanding."

Down the hall, high school art teacher Cathy Rodby allows students to look up information or visuals on their personal devices. "Instead of going to the computer lab to research decorative techniques for ceramics, students can look up information on their iPads or phones," she explained. She also has students using visuals as a model for creating artwork pull up images on their personal device for reference instead of printing them out. "Color printing is expensive," she said. "I often print out images for students to use on my black and white printer, but it is not the same as printing them in color."

High school English teacher Valerie Williams says she has been amazed by the creative ways in which her students use their personal mobile devices to enhance their learning. After one of her students asked if he could use his phone to take a picture of an assignment on the board instead of writing it down, she began to incorporate phones into her class routine. Rather than distributing vocabulary lists to her students or having them copy them down from a whiteboard, she tells her students to take out their phones and take a picture of their assignments, saving both copy paper and instructional time.

In fact, when the class draws comprehension webs on the whiteboard to analyze complicated storylines and thematic elements, she specifically tells them not to take notes. Instead, she gives them an opportunity to take a picture of the board at the end of class.

"If kids are taking notes they inevitably miss some of the information, because they are focusing on writing things down instead of paying attention to what is being said," she said. "If they are not worried about writing things down, they look at the board and participate more in the conversation, knowing that they will have a picture of the board to use for later reference." 

In the junior high building, students in seventh grade Reading and Study Skills teacher Kathy Peters' class frequently use mobile devices to take notes and keep track of assignments. Tablets like the iPad and Kindle fire, she said, are growing increasingly popular. Although, as a rule, seventh through ninth graders are currently limited to tablets and laptops as part of the pilot, she will allow them to come by at the end of the day to take a picture of an assignment on a whiteboard or text themselves a homework reminder from their cell phone.

Peters also cited e-books and the ability to make annotations and quickly look up word definitions as being a huge benefit for students using mobile devices. With a chuckle, she shared the story of a student who was reading a paperback book and found himself tapping the page to see what a word meant.

Allowing mobile device use within clear parameters makes it less likely that students will use them inappropriately, Peters said. "Knowing that I will let them turn on their phone to take a picture of something decreases the risk that they are going to be sneaky about cell phone use. They know that I will allow it when it is necessary." 

About the Author

Susan Bearden is the Director of Information Technology at Holy Trinity Episcopal Academy in Melbourne, FL, and is the co-moderator of #edtechchat and #digcit chat. Follow her on Twitter at @s_bearden.

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