Saturday, 16 February 2013

Bring Your Own Device in schools - an implementation strategy Part 2

I blogged a little while ago about the journey we are taking in our school to implement a SMART Learning strategy, facilitated by a scheme allowing students to bring their own devices to the learning environment. We've been through the exploration phases, the feasibility stage, and the infrastructure set-up stage in that post, so forgive me if I don't go into it again. Read it for yourselves, I can't be bothered to type it all out again, I'm on holiday, and I've given you enough repetition of the same hyperlink in the last sentence that you can't miss it!

Developing an Acceptable Use Policy:

At the time of writing it we were on the verge of conducting a school-wide Safer Internet Day project, most ably led by my co-conspirator @Gripweed1 (definitely worth following). The lesson was conducted by all mentors across all students, and Associate Staff and SLT were attached to classes too, so it was genuinely a school-wide discussion. The theme was the rights and responsibilities of using digital devices and the internet, both inside and out of school, and the ultimate aim was to engage the students in defining what would become our Acceptable Use Policy. The responses we got from students were very high quality, with a great deal more emphasis on the responsibilities they had than the rights, and a lot of intelligent discussion about where one person's rights conflicted with those of others. The results were presented in assemblies to each college by the ICT students leaders, so the students could see what we had done with their input, and we are now hoping to run a more focused Baraza*-style consultation of the students to focus their ideas down into a simple, user-friendly policy which achieves their buy-in.

* Baraza: noun, of African origin: To sit round in a village circle and have a chat about making the village a better place in order to hit FFTD targets, or something like that. I don't know. Head's idea, but works really well

Now, however, we reach the squash stage: There are a number of simultaneous processes we have to carefully carry out at the same time, but without any of them getting too far ahead of the others, lest the whole thing falls apart. The key stake-holders are all involved in these stages, because to put it simply:

  • We can't switch on unrestricted access to wifi until we have students agreeing to how it will be used
  • We can't allow students to use their devices willy-nilly (stop me if I get technical) without showing them how to use them responsibly in an educational context, to assist their learning
  • We can't teach them how powerful these tools are for learning unless we have teachers trained in the use of SMART devices and pedagogy
  • We can't expect the teachers to also be trained up in the potential technical problems associated with different devices, so we have to train up digital leaders to assist in technical matters
  • And we can't do any of this without the rationale for it being clear to the parents themselves, who are otherwise quite within their rights to wonder how their children can learn in a class where they are allowed mobile devices out when these very same devices are exactly what prevents them getting any form of decent conversation out of their offspring once they get home at night!!
You get the idea. Lots of people to get on-board, lots to work out in terms of the order in which to do this. So this is our priority list:

Digital Leadership training:

Before students start using the devices for learning, the teachers need to be ready to use them, and need to be able to overcome a range of technical obstacles in their way. You may be lucky enough to have a great team of techies in your school to be able to help out with this, but frankly, even with the best will in the world, once there are 1500 plus devices around the place, they're in it way beyond their eye-balls. Our strategy is to train a crew of digital leaders across all years whose job it will be to assist in two key ways:
  1. With basic device problems, functionality, logins, printer problems etc
  2. With helping the teachers source ideas for using the new technology in learning
If we can get at least one digital leader in every classroom across each year, the teacher hopefully shouldn't need to worry about stopping the entire lesson because "Sir, my phone's not working!" The teacher will have enough on their plate without having to worry about that, and moreover, the less confident a teacher is, the fewer obstacles it will take before they jack it all in as unworkable, new-fangled etc etc. The role of digital leaders is to shoulder those technical responsibilities, and that will take a lot of training.

Staff Training:

Our next stage in our school is to get a group of digital enthusiasts together to lead the initiative further. We could call these "dangerous teachers". We could equally call them "canon fodder" I guess, but let's stay positive! These need not, and ideally should not, be tech-experts. Restricting this part of the project to the tech-savvy will alienate anyone else too easily, and make it seem like a clique of "boys with toys", at the risk of stereotypical gender generalisation. Better to have a cross-curricular range of gifted enthusiastic amateurs who know the potential, and want to develop it.

Staff who are developing new pedagogies need time to experiment and explore. That would go for any new idea, whether it be co-construction, SOLO Taxonomy, Flipped learning or whatever. All the more so for SMART Learning. Not only do they need time to get to grips with a device, but they then need time to work out how it fits into their curriculum, what the potential for it is. Mark Anderson (@ICTEvangelist) has written some superb guidance on how to move mobile device use through a variety of stages from the enhancement of teaching to its transformation, and teachers who are taking on this challenge will have to work their way gradually through these stages to get the best out of them.

In a BYOD environment, teachers wil initially be looking at web-based tools which anyone can access no matter what device, and then be looking at more specific apps for certain tasks, some of which may be exclusive to certain platforms. At the moment, there are a great many apps I use on iPads which are simply not available on Android, but others may be, and teachers will go on to explore those, as well as eventually looking at subject-specific apps. All of this takes time and regular training, which is why the teachers shouldn't also have to worry about the technical side of things going wrong, hence the digital leadership programme.

Once the teachers feel comfortable with their devices, and their potential, it can easily be made part of those digital leaders' remits to ask what departments' needs are, and to find possible solutions to present to the teachers, almost reversing the teacher-student relationship.

For me, this is one of the most crucial areas of staff training: To get them to accept that in a fast-moving, hi-tech world, they are no longer the "sage on the stage". If teachers have the humility to accept that they may not know something, but that by working with students there will be a way to find out, they will establish strong collaborative relationships which could mark a fundamental shift in the way students see the relationship too. When students and teachers are brought down to the same sort of level, the focus on learning and progress becomes much sharper, with both parties constantly interrogating the path they're taking, and the tools they're using.

We also need to get away from the idea of "safe teaching". All teaching should be inherently dangerous, and perhaps uncertain, but if the final destination is something which is agreed from the start, collaboration will get us there in the end. Hopefully this will pave the way for a far more risk-taking culture, and it requires a brave leap of faith from leadership teams to allow their staff to try to fly, and watch them occasionally fall. But in the words of one of my favourite philosophers...
"Why do we fall? To pick ourselves up." Might be a prize for guessing the philosopher. Leave your guesses in the comments section...

Class Trials:

So after the digital leaders are trained, the next stage is class trials led by those "dangerous teachers". This would involve allowing teachers to experiment, try different ideas with different classes, getting digital leaders alongside them each step of the way, meeting regularly to discuss new needs until the staff are completely comfortable, at which point the digital leader roles can be extended even further to include pedagogical questions, such as "what works best if we are trying to...?". You can see we're not talking about an overnight process here. In my opinion, if you don't give SMART learning the time to bed in, and support it with a long-term development strategy, it will not become an effective tool in the learning toolbox.

Once those classes, teachers and digital leaders feel comfortable in their roles, and have ironed out a lot of the worst potential pitfalls, then you can start bringing the rest of the staff onboard, training them in exactly the same way.

Eventually you want to get to a stage when the technology is a non-issue. It's invisible. Its use is seamlessly integrated into classrooms in a way which enhances learning, but doesn't get in the way of learning. The same is true of behaviour problems which devices may seem to be causing. Students need to be trained into a routine of how to use mobile technology effectively to assist their learning, but if they do misuse it (for Facebook, games, texts etc), then what you have is a behaviour issue, which should be challenged as such. Part of our job as teachers is to show students that there is another way to use this type of technology, beyond the recreational. And as one BYOD enthusiast told me once, students disengaging with lessons on their mobile phone are often much easier to spot than those who are quietly simply staring out of the window. Either way, they need to be engaged in the learning process, and that's our job.

Next instalment: Parental engagement. How to sell your idea for SMART learning to get parental support for it. They're the ones paying for the devices, after all...

For anyone interested, this is an outline of our strategy and rationale at Finham Park:

Finham Park School SMART Learning implementation strategy