FETC 2013 | Q&A

Is BYOT Just a Bridge to 1-to-1?

Mobile device trainer Brent Williams explains why BYOT may be just a band-aid until schools can launch their own 1-to-1 programs.

Brent Williams is the director of the Kennesaw State University iTeach Center, an Atlanta-based group that helps educators become comfortable teaching with tablets and other handheld devices. A speaker, instructor, and consultant, he has more than 30 years of experience in private and public sector technology analysis, management, and training. Here, he talks about training teachers on technology, the pitfalls of Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT), and the immense possibilities of mobile learning.

Christopher Piehler: How does your team approach teacher training?

Brent Williams: Teacher training is an ongoing thing. The teacher first needs introductory training. We introduce them to the device, what it's capable of, how to manage it, what to do if it has problems of different kinds. Then, separately, we get on to the curriculum stuff. These days it's a lot of Common Core. We takes teachers through specific examples of lessons built for iPads and we show them how to break up groups so students can work at their ability level to use the resources that are out there, gather their evidence, write their report, and present it. We take the teacher through the whole thing so they see how it can be done. Once they've done that a couple or three times, they begin to get the hang of it and can go out and find things on their own that tie to what they're teaching. And off they go.

Piehler: When do you do the teacher training?

Williams: We work around the teachers' schedules, during their break time, their preparation time, after school. We typically get teachers for an hour or two at a time. I would love to be able to have them for three or four days all day long, but it doesn't work that way. We typically have 10 to 20 hours of contact with each teacher.          

Piehler: At what grade level do you think mobile devices should be implemented first?

Williams: Most schools want to implement BYOT or iPads at elementary first, but I'm very concerned that we've got high school students who this year or next year are going to graduate not having had these devices in hand.

BYOT is a way that, if we jumped on it and got to those high school students who are in the last year or two of their K-12 experience, we might be able to provide some incentive for them to stay in school, and also help them in their quest to get into college or some kind of higher education--to give them a better life.

Brent Williams is the director of the Kennesaw State University iTeach Center. His session at FETC 2013 is titled Is BYOT a Band-Aid?

In it, he will examine whether BYOT can turn ailing schools and school systems around, and will offer attendees an honest technology assessment and a clear plan of action.





Piehler: What do you see as the biggest mistake schools are making in trying to start BYOT programs?

Williams: BYOT is a great bridge from students having no technology in their hands to at least having some. If school systems understand that the one commonality with BYOT is that every device has a browser so that kids can get to browser-based content, that's fine. The big mistake they make is expecting that teachers will be able to fully integrate BYOT into their regular teaching day, given that the devices are so different and are basically limited to using browser-based content.

Where you get additional gains is when kids have consistent devices in hand--and I'll say iPads, for the moment, because that's certainly what everybody's interested in. Then you have the ability to not only get the browser-based content, but of course all kinds of electronic media that can be consistently provided and used across the class. A teacher really can make base a class on a consistent device. It's a little harder with BYOT, where one kid might have a laptop, one kid might have an iPod touch, another kid might have an Android phone. For the average teacher, it would be much more difficult to deal with and be productive with.

Piehler: You mentioned everybody being interested in iPads. What's your perception of the educational app ecosystem of Apple versus Android?

Williams: Certainly Android is way behind, but now that there are some good tablets out there, I think the app divide will slowly get filled in, and the Android tablets will be viable in the classroom. And they're less expensive, too.

Where Apple has a distinct advantage right now is their closed infrastructure. Some people complain about that, but if you're going to hand a tablet to a kid, it's nice to know that with an Apple tablet they can't go out and download porn, or racist this, or ugly that, because you can't get that in the iTunes store.

Whereas the Android environment is much more open, it's much more like being on Windows XP or Windows 7 in the sense that anybody can develop something for Android--even the bad guys--and it can potentially find its way to students' tablets. So school systems will have to be much more defensive, if you will, with Android devices than they have to be with Apple devices.

Piehler: What plans do districts need to make before launching a BYOT program?

Williams: The first plan is teacher training, teacher training, teacher training. We've seen over and over, for decades, school systems willing to spend all kinds of money for devices and technology, but they are still reluctant to spend the money to train teachers how to effectively use it in the classroom. It's just stunning. It's still a problem today: School systems are not willing to pay for subs or stipends, or to give teachers the time they need to attend training and potentially develop content.

The whole teacher side keeps getting left out, and it needs to be the first thing. When I read articles from various superintendents around the country, they're concerned about putting devices in the hands of kids because they're afraid of bad things happening. And they certainly could if teachers have not been trained how to teach with the devices in the classroom, how to manage the devices in the classroom. If the teacher hasn't been trained, the devices are a distraction for kids rather than a tool that adds to their learning experience.

One of the things I love about BYOT and more consistent tablet programs is that you put a lot of the responsibility for learning in the hands of the kid, and if you have kids who are sufficiently motivated, and they've been inspired to become a lawyer or an engineer, even if they're in a terrible school with terrible teachers, if they've got a device of some kind, they can get on that device and learn what they need to learn to be successful. There's no question that you can do first grade through a Ph.D. on an iPad if you want to do that. It's amazing what they can do if they're motivated and they've been taught how to learn with the device.

About the Author

Christopher Piehler is the former editor-in-chief of THE Journal.