Innovator | Feature
Making BYOT Work
Tim Clark, the coordinator of instructional technology for Forsyth County Schools (GA), is our Innovator of the month. Here, he explains how his district makes BYOT work for students, teachers, and the community.
Breaking Down Classroom Walls
I was implementing [bring your own technology] back when I was a middle school teacher; I just didn’t know it was called that. In those days there weren’t a lot of devices, but a lot of the kids would bring in their own laptops. After I became an elementary school-based technology specialist within this district in 2007, we were part of a pilot program and I saw that BYOT enabled our students to extend what they were learning beyond the walls of their classroom. Parents were telling me their kids were choosing to learn when they were riding in the backseat of the car or waiting for their piano lessons to start. When you keep the school and personal devices separate, kids teach themselves to use their technology instead of having those lessons nurtured by a teacher, and they see it as something other than a tool you can also learn with. We’re helping to show them new ways to use the technology tools they own. We have our teachers refer to the students’ technology as mobile learning devices, to remind them that, wherever they are, the learning can continue.
BYOT is a way for students to personalize their learning experience. They’re already used to their own device, its applications and its usability. Instead of just consuming content, they’re able to produce content in new ways. We’re trying to put that responsibility on students — so that it’s not just everyone using the same app to create a similar project, but students are given a learning standard or topic and then have to find their own ways. They create something new that shows what they know, then they develop their own way of sharing or presenting that information to others.
Originally, we had a little pushback from parents who needed to see that the students were going to be learning with their technology rather than just playing games in class. Parents are more used to handing their children technology tools to keep them busy in the restaurant. If they haven’t seen children learning with those tools, they don’t know what that would look like. In the BYOT classroom, it’s actually a very dynamic environment with lots of collaboration and interaction. I like to think of it more as a web startup company, with lots of different kinds of devices and lots of different ideas.
Back in Business
The No. 1 question we get from everyone is, “What about kids who don’t have devices?” We do have school technology tools, of course. But it’s not so much the device that kids are bringing to school that’s the equity issue, it’s the access in their home environments. So we’ve come up with free WiFi zones. We identify businesses in the community that have volunteered to welcome students and their parents to come in and use their business WiFi. It’s not just the ones you would normally think of, but even a realtor’s office that has an empty conference room through much of the day, or the dentist’s office, or the gym that has a waiting area. Businesses submit an application to our website, we vet them, and then they receive a sticker that shows they are a free WiFi zone and will welcome students to come in to their space to learn and work together.
Spreading the Word
We have people from across the United States wanting to come in to learn and see how BYOT can be utilized in the classroom. We had so many requests that we consolidated them into four one-day tours at an elementary, middle and high school, and we constantly have to close registration because we have up to 150 people at a time coming through to tour our schools. Because of all of the interest, I also started co-moderating a weekly Twitter chat, called BYOT Chat (#byotchat), and that has really taken off. We have our own teachers participating, and we’ve even had students participating, using Twitter to connect with people around the world on the subject of BYOT. You realize it is a global phenomenon — the understanding that people have their own devices in their pocket and they want to use them for learning.
Dan Gordon is a freelance writer based in Agoura Hills, CA.