How we have decided to implement BYOD at my school.
*Note: this is from the perspective of a Teacher at a government school in South Africa*
We introduced the BYOD policy at my school 5 years ago. While it was a very exciting time for the learners, there were quite a few challenges to work through.
Some of the questions we were pondering was: Should we help provide some form of security? How do we help learners to be good digital citizens? How can we ensure that they are learning on their devices, and not merely checking their Instagram feed / taking a photo using Snapchat. Should we block social media Apps? or can teachers harness the power of them to provide real learning opportunities? What device should we use? Do we use any?
How we started the process:
We decided to phase in the use of devices. So in 2014 the first group of Grade 8 learners were allowed to bring devices. We only allowed it in this grade to also give teachers a chance to learn how to use tablets.
*Note: Back in 2014 tablets were not as widely used as now days. Majority of our staff had never used a tablet before, and Blackberry was just starting to go out of fashion in South Africa since they no longer offered free BIS. We were learning how to purchase data and manage the use of data on our phones. Creating google accounts so we could download apps on our devices. Looking back it is so weird how these things are the norm now. *
Year 1: Any device
For the first group of learners we allowed any device. We quickly learnt that this can bring a whole host of problems, and so stream lined the process over the year. Smart phones had tiny screens, often ran out of space. Difficult to type documents, etc on these devices. A lot of learners smashed the screens on their devices as well.
Year 2: Android Tablets
We moved to only Android tablets. We suggested from what was available at the time, Samsung Tab 3/4 or Samsung Galaxy Note 2013/2014.
Android tablets was problematic probably in two main areas for us in our environment. Firstly, A sizeable amount of parents bought the cheapest tablet on the market, even through spec’s had been provided. The cheap Android tablet has numerous problems, these include: minimal storage space (2GB-including the OS and no option to add an SD card), battery life is at about 2 hours and some of them really struggled to connect to the Wi-Fi. Others gave them their old tablets, and so the devices had really poor battery life and were quite slow., freezing often, etc.
Secondly, given the work requirements of high school learners at a government school in South Africa, they needed keyboards to be able to use them as productivity devices. Tablets are more suitable for primary school activities.
A lot of the work they were required to do was investigations and projects. This required access to word processing software. Also a strong focus was on video editing skills and we needed to consider what our options were there. We had started to look into the power of Google apps for education (now rebranded G Suite for Education) and were convinced that this was going to be the way forward.
What ever devices we recommended in the future, our requirements were: keyboard, ability to use Google Apps, great battery life, storage space (at least to download a fair amount of apps)
For those taking CAT / IT the ability to still use Microsoft Office. To also be able to download Delphi for use by the IT students. Physical and Life Science students used PhET simulations.
We needed to recommend devices that could possibly cope with all these requirements.
Years 3-5: Cloud books / 2-in-1 devices
We introduced the use of either tablets with keyboards (2-in1 devices) or cloud book devices such as the Chromebook (Acer) or Windows (Acer Aspire, Lenovo Thinkpad / IdeaPad, etc). These devices work well in our environment. A few learners have brought MacBooks, iPads (with keyboards) and ever Windows Laptops (they are very heavy). Our learners are able to be productive and use the devices effectively when allowed.
E-Books, LMS and other things
We have tried e-books with two different companies. I would say that I am not a fan of e-books, but the only clear advantage for me would be that it can make the learner’s bag a lot lighter. We moved to using Edmodo at first as our learning management system (LMS) and then as Google introduced Google Classroom we have actually moved over to Classroom. While Edmodo had a few more options as to what it could do for us, we enjoyed the easy of working with everything in Google.
A lot of our learners have landed up dropping devices, smashing screens, etc. and this means that the device could potentially be unsalvageable. We have tried our best to install good skills and tips for device protection.
This includes the use of a tempered glass screen cover, strong and protective laptop bag / tablet cover, etc. Most importantly, don’t store your device in the same back as your school stuff. Have a separate bag and carry carefully around the school. They have access to lockers and can lock devices away when not needed.
I can’t believe that we have been on this road for 5 years already. It has been a worthwhile journey. We are constantly are looking for ways to improve the process, and to help our parents (quite a few of our parents do not have access to a lot of money to through at devices) buy the most affordable device to bring about the best opportunities for their children.
How have you implemented the use of devices at your school. Please comment below.