Sunday, 5 May 2013

BYOD Implementation In Schools - Part 3: Staff training

I've been teaching for many years now, and I've seen many an initiative come and go. My present school is one of the few I've ever taught in where initiatives are very much superseded by foci. This may sound like no difference at all, but for me the difference has been in the time taken to research, test, trial and embed practice over the long term. Three years our school spent on an AFL "initiative": I'd argue that after three years, that's not an initiative any more: That's a focus. And a pretty serious one at that. And it has brought the vast majority of our staff on in leaps and bounds.

One of the reasons a focus works better than an initiative is that a focus necessitates full staff commitment, and therefore training. Staff training has been one of the key strands to our BYOD trials at Finham Park, and we are now into our second term. We began by converting one of our school's dozen or so TALK Groups (Teaching and Learning Communities, groups which all staff are part of, including learning supervisors and student teachers) into a group solely devoted to looking at the use of mobile technology to enhance teaching and learning. We co-opted a number of staff covering all faculties, and importantly, covered different levels of technological skill. We didn't want the trial group to be a geek-fest, because any good ideas we came up with could immediately be rejected by other staff on roll-out as just being for the technologically competent or gifted. We had to make sure that this was transparently seen as a focus which could benefit all teachers no matter what level of technological competence they were at.

During our first meeting we shared our strategy for the BYOD programme (published here if anyone's desperately interested), and shared our rationale behind it. We also made our expectations clear to the staff involved in the trial:
  • To develop their interest and skills in SMART learning in their classroom
  • To experiment with different web-based apps to enhance learning experience, variety, assessment and effectiveness
  • To bring back tips, techniques, ideas, apps, problems and obstacles to each TALK group meeting for discussion
  • To develop skills further based on each TALK group session
  • To help roll out their experiences and expertise to other teachers, with the help of Digital Leaders when we are confident the major infrastructure obstacles have been tackled
In return, we asked staff what they felt their biggest training needs might be (on the understanding that as the trial progressed, some of these might well change, at which point we would change our provision in line with those new needs). The key areas we identified between us were:
  • Learning to use devices to enhance AFL in class
  • Managing behaviour in the digital classroom
  • Establishing expectations with students within this new learning environment
  • How to get the students' devices onto the wifi network
I have already written about a variety of ways to use online apps for AFL elsewhere, so forgive me for not repeating myself here. Go and read it if you want: It's got tutorials, witticisms and cartoons and everything. But finish this first. Patience, young Jedi... The more thorny problem, which vexes teachers and SLT alike, is the potential for classroom disruption and disengagement offered by mobile devices. We've been straight down the line about this all the way through the process, and said that if students disengage using a mobile phone, you have a behaviour problem, not a technology problem. I'm sure everyone wanted to ban pencils when they were first introduced too: As anyone who has seen the outstanding French film Nikita will know, you have serious potential for GBH with a pencil, and that trick The Joker did with a pencil, a table and a gangster in The Dark Knight doesn't bear thinking about either. But we don't ban them. So we talked to staff about how to handle students who misuse devices. In large part, it's about the establishment of clear expectations with students from the start: Students must understand that the mobile device is a learning tool, which can be brought out when the teacher deems it appropriate, and not otherwise. With these expectations firmly in place, students understand that doing anything other than learning with the devices is not acceptable. The other key thing is that disengagement is much easier to spot if students are using mobiles. If students are spending an inordinate amount of time staring down at their crotches during lessons, you can bet they're either texting, or doing something even less savoury. Either way, deal with it quickly and firmly.

Finally, we needed to liaise with our Tech Support to work out a way to logistically get every student in the trial put on the wifi. In our case, we weren't prepared to simply open the access to everyone, so the technicians agreed to put each individual device on for us. This liaison with our technicians has been extended by inviting one of them to join our TaLK Group each session, so they have a far better overview about what we're trying to achieve, and can give us good advice on the optimal way to achieve these goals. So far, it has been a fruitful relationship which has allowed us as teachers to appreciate the concerns of the Tech Support department, while also allowing them to see what we are trying to achieve as teachers. I will let you know as things develop, but so far I have to say that this mutual collaboration has proven very useful.

The format of our meetings has followed the format we established for the TaLK Groups when we were trialling AFL techniques: We spend the first ten minutes or so sharing individual experiences, we assist with solutions where problems have arisen, and we generally pat each other on the back encouragingly for how far we've come since last time (think Alcoholics Anonymous meets Star Trek convention). We then go on to look at specific areas where we want to improve our practice: It could be the use of specific AFL techniques, or getting students to organise their work on mobile devices, or investigating a new app: Whatever. We get everyone to pick a partner who is interested in exploring the same area for mutual support, and another partner to go to for advice, and we arrange informal mutual observations, research sharing or discussions to explore whatever it was we wanted to focus on. The meetings are every half-term or so, to give teachers time not only to explore, but also to embed ideas into their practice. And this same cycle of plan-do-review happens during each session, and we help each other move forward with our practice. Simples.

Between the group, our main areas of focus so far have included assessment for learning, obviously, but also how we can use mobile technology to improve student organisation and student independence too, with personalised learning strategies being developed through mobile technology.

By next meeting, we will start assessing the impact of the group’s discussions on our practice so far. I'm looking forward to hearing about the individual ideas, the progress, but also seeing what areas we need to iron out before we can go any further with this scheme: Technical issues, infrastructure, teaching and learning problems, all of these are bound to focus our attentions, because unless we can get rid of as many obstacles as possible in our initial group work, we will leave ourselves open to staff who don't want to engage with these ideas simply rejecting them because "the systems aren't in place". And we can't afford that.

We will also be looking during our next session more closely at the SAMR model (with thanks to @ICTevangelist from whom we blatantly nicked this one!). The SAMR framework will allow us to assess how effective mobile technology is in enhancing learning. It is easy to get carried away with the novelty of a new focus in the classroom, especially one as shiny and pretty as mobile technology, but unless we can be sure that these technologies are being used in a way which moves learning and teaching forward, then there isn't really much point in making such a song and dance about them. We're hoping that this model will serve as a benchmark, allowing us to reflect on how far along the path we are actually moving, and how far we are genuinely transforming learning. More on this as we go forward. Now I need to work on our Digital Leaders strategy...

Apposite cartoon...


And choon and video to really cheer you up. Seriously, watch it...