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January 30, 2013
Tim is the Coordinator of Instructional Technology at Forsyth County Schools, Georgia.
In Forsyth County Schools, a school district north of Atlanta, Georgia, students from all grade levels are actually encouraged to bring their own technology devices to school to use them for new learning opportunities. This practice is called Bring Your Own Technology or BYOT, and teachers are observing that when students use personal technology tools for instruction, they are achieving some positive results.
Learning is so much more than the memorization of facts for answering questions on standardized tests. With BYOT, teachers are consistently implementing the four C’s of digital age learning – communication, collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking. These are the skills that are essential for success in today’s global community. Therefore, a strategy for implementing the 4 C’s within instruction is to promote project-based learning. In fact, the primary focus of the BYOT classroom should be the instruction and not the technology.
The students, of course, are eager to participate in BYOT. Although they know how to use their devices, they don’t necessarily know how to learn with them. In the BYOT classroom, students can discover new ways to use their technology for learning purposes as they interact with their teachers and each other to research information, solve complex problems, create original products, and publish their work to show what they have learned. Teachers offer guidance and support, and students also provide occasional technical troubleshooting help to each other and their teachers.
Schools that encourage BYOT can help students learn how to use technology devices and social media tools safely and responsibly. One step is to acknowledge that students have the freedom to make choices, and then to expect that students will make the right choices to benefit themselves and their instruction. Expecting that students want to make good choices creates a noticeable difference in the culture of a school as opposed to assuming that students want to break rules and use technology inappropriately.
The following attributes are some specific hallmarks of responsible use: trust; high expectations; open access; sense of community; opportunities for practice; and persistence. In BYOT schools, administrators and teachers understand that students may sometimes make mistakes with their technology tools, and they immediately guide students in the appropriate use of technology and reinforce the importance of personal responsibility in digital age learning.
When teachers give students the choice of using school technology or their own technology, they usually choose their own. They have personalized their devices with the apps they like to use and the shortcuts they need to online resources. They are comfortable with their own tools and know how they work. Not only is this a big time-saver, but more importantly, it helps the students to make connections to what they are learning.
The different technology tools available within a BYOT classroom lead teachers to change their instruction from a one-size-fits-all model to a more individualized one. For example, if a teacher asks a question, students are immediately able to search for the necessary information. How students choose to research could depend on their interests and learning styles, but it could also depend on the capabilities of their devices. Throughout the district, there is an increase in class participation as students use mobile devices to answer questions and receive immediate feedback, and teachers are able to identify content that needs to be re-taught or enriched. Parents also comment that students even participate in instructional activities as they are riding in the car or waiting for their piano lessons or athletic practices to begin.
As people share common interests and begin to interact with each other, they can help each other solve problems. Because students are bringing different technology tools to school, cooperation among students has increased. They can make choices about the ways they work together with their technology and negotiate the responsibilities of the various members of their groups. When they are using personal technology, they are empowered to make these decisions for themselves.
The environment needed for successful BYOT is one that encourages effective communication among all of the learners, and the teacher is willing to learn alongside and from the students as necessary. The students in Forsyth County Schools are beginning to expect to contribute to the body of knowledge in the classroom rather than just being consumers of information.
The district provides desktop computers and laptops for students to use at school in case they do not have their own devices. Since every student does not have a device, the district has implemented a BYOT Equity Task Force to explore the issue and develop solutions. The district is working with business partners to sponsor online access at Free Wi-Fi Zones across the county.
Teachers are saying that BYOT is one of the easiest technology initiatives that they have implemented in their classrooms because they don’t have to know how all of the devices work. They just need to know how to nurture an environment in their classrooms that is conducive for students to be creative, solve problems, and work together. Students without devices also have greater access to school resources when students who have technology begin bringing theirs to school, and the district-provided technology tools are being used more than ever.
Learn more about BYOT in Forsyth County Schools at www.forsyth.k12.ga.us/byot.
Dr. Tim Clark is the Coordinator of Instructional Technology for Forsyth County Schools. He is frequently consulted for his efforts to promote Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) to empower students and teachers with their personal technology devices to improve opportunities for learning. He has been featured regarding BYOT in NBC News, EdTech Magazine, eSchool News, Scholastic Administrator, and many other news outlets.
He has presented on BYOT, Virtual Worlds, Digital Age Learning, and Online Safety throughout the US. To support the growing interest in BYOT for instruction, Tim maintains his blog at www.byotnetwork.com. He also co-moderates a weekly Twitter chat on BYOT (#byotchat) and contributes to that website at www.byotchat.com.
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