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

Monday, 11 February 2013

Simple ways to use iPads in lessons

So a few weeks back I blogged about a lesson we'd done using the iPads, and tried to give the impression it happened every lesson when clearly it doesn't! Fraud that I am, I got away with it, to the tune of nearly a thousand hits apparently. Next step: To set up my own religion.

I got several nice comments, and realised that a few people were interpreting this as a failsafe lesson using iPads, which wasn't quite the way I'd intended it. It worked for those students at that time of day. My point about iPads is really that they enhance learning if used as a tool, and in the same way that there are thousands of ways to skin a cat (or eat a horse apparently!) when it comes to teaching a lesson, so the variety of ways in which an iPad can be used is likewise pretty much infinite. Today, I tried another way...

Stage One:

We started the lesson with a quick Socrative quiz to see if we could establish prior learning about some of the concepts they would be encountering during their unit on representations across different media platforms, which yielded surprisingly little. Spot check number one told me I needed to cover the basic concepts and get some definitions first...

Stage Two:
We then divided the class into random groups of four using a fab little app called RandomMaster: I've pre-entered the students' names in there, and it simply randomizes them as necessary, in front of their eyes on the AppleTV, and there's no arguing, and no bloody lollipop sticks! Into groups they go, which they're more than used to by now, and to each group I assigned Expert status. I assigned each group to research and define two key terms for the rest of the class (though I didn't tell them who would be presenting the definitions), and emailed them a variety of documents which were differentiated to help with their tasks, though they were free to search for additional or corroborative material on the internet. One student I kept out of the fray. She is one of the bright ones in the class with a knack for clear, student-friendly explanations, so I gave her the job of putting together the final document which we would share as a result of the lesson. While the students were researching and formulating their ideas and definitions, she was preparing to put the final document together by interrogating each group's ideas, working out if she could understand them, asking questions if she couldn't understand etc. All in all, it helped her clarify her thinking and theirs, by getting rid of some of the vaguaries that they are prone to settling for in Year 10.

Stage Three:
Another random selection picked out the people to present their definitions to the class, and off they went. Some good, some not so good. Time for another little cool app: Traffic Light! A nifty simple little app that lets students tell me whether they understand or not immediately. If they don't, I want a question out of them. Several questions later we had refined the definition, addressed several misconceptions, and had a class full of greens: Huzzah and hurrah, as the writers of Blackadder would have said. We can move on. Our basic concepts covered, my assisting student finalised her note and tweeted it to the class using Evernote, and they then simply integrated it into one of their own notes for the lesson. Evernote is another of those fabulous apps which has been spread ad infinitum on Twitter, but for those of you unaware of its fabulousness and potential, here are a few of the basics it does superbly:

  1. Cloud-based apps, accessible on any device which connects to the internet
  2. Note-taking can be done through typing or dictation
  3. Pictures from the computer, camera roll or camera itself can be fully integrated, as can audio recordings, word documents, PDFs...
  4. Notes can be shared across a variety of platforms, including Twitter, and then integrated into your own notebooks
  5. Notes can be put into specific notebooks to help organisation, or tagged to appear when searching for a number of different topics
And that list comes nowhere near doing it justice.

Stage Four:
Extended learning work: Each student has to exemplify one of the key concepts we've just defined to show how well they understand it, by finding an example and analysing it. They are helped with cue questions which are differentiated so as to provide writing frames for some, and extension questions for others, and again these are emailed out to the whole class. They choose which resources will help them most effectively. Students undertake the task using whatever apps they feel work best for them, and today they went for a variety, from Evernote to Popplet to Explain Everything, all of which I have blogged about elsewhere, and all of which allowed them to show learning in a way which suited them individually. Did they all make progress? Certainly. Was it an easy lesson to set up? Yes. Once the students are used to the tools, I'm finding this sort of thing gets easier and easier as we go, as does the ability to change course in the middle of the lesson. And at every stage, the variety of AfL tools available help me ensure that nobody is hiding, and that everyone has to understand. A quick Socrative plenary, an Exit Ticket today (single thunk question to test the depth of their understanding, plus a feedback mechanism telling me how well the students feel they managed to understand the material themselves), and I'm ready to diagnose the answers quickly, and plan the next lesson...

For anyone interested, here are a few quick tutorials about some of the software mentioned above. If it's not here, it's so easy my mum could work it out!

Socrative tutorial

Popplet tutorial

Explain Everything - Forgive the video: Boring I know.

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Bring Your Own Device in schools - an implementation strategy Part 1

Forgive me in advance, this might be a long one. Cartoon at the end for your efforts? Deal...

The following describes our arrival at a scheme for deploying SMART Learning across our school, a scheme to use mobile devices as a learning tool. But it might need some context first. Quite a lot of context actually. Bear with me...

(Quite a lot of) Context

As part of our ideas for moving the school I work in beyond its current "Outstanding" I have undertaken a project as part of my ASLDP course. We were asked to identify "gaps" at the start of our course, which we would have to close with a whole-school project. This isn't so much a gap as an area where students cannot always move beyond at present. We have really good, keen students in general, but very often they are not as independent as we want them to be. There is some excellent practice across the whole school, but not consistency. One of the things we are hoping to achieve is a level of student autonomy and independent thinking which will free them up to work at their own pace, to their own potential.

I've talked about the idea of "flipped learning" before, as it caught my eye a year or more ago. While I don't subscribe exclusively to Salman Khan's methods, I think the principle of getting students learning content at home and putting it into action in class is a sound one, as it allows the teacher to look at how well learning is applied, and to address misconceptions more individually, and more quickly, thus keeping students all moving forwards, albeit at a pace which is appropriate to them. I also think the idea of using videos is a good one for many students, but I'd be foolish if I told you it was the only way to do it (and who am I to tell you I'm not a fool, eh?). Some students work much better from reading material, others from videos, with examples and short tests, while others prefer something more auditory like a podcast.

At the same time I have been exploring the fantastic opportunities to work with iPads in my classroom, and I could see immediately the potential they had for integrating with flipped learning and enhancing it further. My early attempts were limited, but at least I could see the potential, so I started using the iPads in class, and invested in them within the department so that each student could have one whenever they were in my class. This has been a huge step forward, as the quasi-ownership of the devices has allowed students to store some work on there, but there are limits to this when other students come in for the next class, and want to use the same apps. Sign the last student out, sign yourself in, yada yada, faff faff faff. Not a good use of "bell work". Ownership is definitely key when it comes to using mobile devices in schools, so it soon became apparent that we would need to get a device into the hands of every student if we were to move this forward. We started talking about iPad roll-outs, leasing schemes, BYOD, and pretty soon were lost in device considerations, and getting into pointless Android vs iPad vs Microsoft Surface (obviously that last is a joke) arguments. At the end of it all, we've had to remind ourselves that the learning is the key goal here, so our iPad or BYOD scheme ideas have now given way to SMART Learning (© Jason our fab techie)...

SMART Learning:

SMART Learning is predicated on the idea that we can use mobile technology in classes in order to achieve the following aims:

  • Increase student motivation and engagement in class, especially boys
  • Stop students relying on teachers as their first recourse
  • Promote student independence and inquiry
  • Allow for personalisation within class, and more individual and effective interventions by teachers
  • Remove the ceiling over highly motivated students' heads
  • Get students ready for the demands of the future workplace
Following on from this, we have discussed ideas for overcoming key obstacles which present themselves to us currently. The key areas, and our solutions for them so far, are as follows...

We live in a relatively affluent catchment area, but the recession is biting everyone, and now isn't the time to ask everyone to pay for new devices, to lease them, or the like. However, the key factor of ownership must still be tackled, so we have opted for a system where we allow students to bring their own devices (BYOD) over a roll-out of one particular type of device. While it is true that in my media class we use iPads only, that is largely because of the productive rather than consumptive nature of what we do with them, and I have to acknowledge that many teachers will not need as much out of the devices being brought into their classes as I will. Students already own their own phones, and bring them in every day anyway (because as we know, and contrary to the evidence of hundreds of years of children getting to and from school without them previously, the poor darlings can't be without their phones in case of an emergency). Why not make use of what they already have? Indeed, many of them also own tablets, or laptops, and feel eminently more comfortable working on those than they do on school PCs. Cost bullet dodged...

Technical Obstacles:
The right infrastructure is key to enabling a solid, reliable use of mobile devices in all lessons. The whole advantage of mobile devices over computers is the fact that I don't have to set half an hour's worth of bell-work just to kill time while the damn things boot up! Why would we then negate that with a network which slows to a crawl when all the students are on it? Besides, if we save money not issuing all students with devices out of our own pockets, then we can afford to invest in the best servers, bandwidth and access points to ensure full coverage anywhere in the school.

Technical obstacle number two is app incompatibility. "Sir, I can't get that app on Android", that sort of thing. When you're used to the iPad, the limitations of other devices can be a pain. But there are two answers to this. The first is to use web-based apps as much as possible: Popplet, Socrative, Prezi, GoogleDocs, Dropbox, Evernote are all excellent web-based solutions which cover all sorts of key workflow areas, from mind-mapping, to document creation to storage and sharing: They have the advantage that once students get home and need to access what they've been working on that day, they don't have to do it on the phone, they can do it from their laptops, computers or whatever.

A more intriguing second argument for a "deal with it" attitude to incompatibility issues was put forward to me a while back when someone suggested to me that different devices forced students to examine the needs of tasks, and to find different solutions for themselves. They then often ended up engaging in meta-cognitive discussions about the relative merits of different apps, and by extension different devices, to assist their learning. The creativity and awareness of their learning needs which this generates are perhaps a price worth paying for the odd compatibility issue.

Test, Test and Test Again:
A new idea is hard for many people to accept. In the ever-changing world of teaching, it is too easy for teachers to dismiss new ideas as "yet another initiative" in an already over-initiatived system. Any technical difficulties presented by new technologies are the perfect excuse to ignore the idea, so you have to make sure that issues of workflow, technical problems etc are ironed out well before everyone gets into the training phase. We are going to run a variety of class trials by teachers who are more tech savvy, who can try to raise the technical issues which were unforeseen, and get them dealt with promptly. God knows, in the last year, I've come up with a lot of them, and it's important to overcome them, and give the technical teams time to get to grips with these issues. We assume that because they're techies this should all be easy for them, but this technology moves them largely out of their PC and network-based comfort zone, and that can be hard for them. In my case, bringing in iOS devices alongside a PC system has raised some issues (as well as hackles!), but better they're raised now than when every single student and teacher in the school is using them.

The limited class trials I'm running will be accompanied by student voice surveys to measure the initial impact of the technologies on learning. So far, I can tell you that it started as a distraction, and sometimes an obstacle whenever technical issues occurred, but students are now reporting that the technology is almost a non-issue for them, and talking about the learning opportunities they have offered, and the efficiencies they have brought into the classroom: There have been plenty of cheers for the "photograph the notes from the board rather than copy them down approach" for a start. Students have appreciated the ability to dictate notes sometimes, to share their work easily, to show work to the class through the AppleTV, and to collaborate on projects online in real time. More importantly, the students are also the best people to tell me what the problems are: Brutal honesty can be instructive, as long as I've forgotten my ego hat at home.

We are also hoping to put together a "Dangerous Teaching" Group, a cross-curricular forum for teachers who are interested in using mobile technolog to enhance learning and student independence in their areas. I get some great ideas from Twitter which I can share with them, but they will all have ideas of their own, and the power of group collaboration will bring swift advances in our use of the technology to enhance our core activities.

Once we've tested these things in a few lessons, with a few regular classes, and evaluated the impact on learning, the next stage will be a wider trial. It will probably involve opening the wifi network to Sixth Formers, a safer option perhaps than lower down the school at first, and again they will give us plenty of evaluative data.

Student Training:
What training do students need in using mobile devices? They use them every minute of every day they're allowed to, and many more when they probably shouldn't in all likelihood. Well, that doesn't make them good users in an educational sense. Students need to be taught how to use the devices responsibly as educational tools, but also as social tools. If the wifi network is always available, then break time use is likely to be a very different beast compared to classroom use, with cyber-bullying more than a possibility, and we need to teach students about the safe use of these devices, social networking etc. Internet Safety Day next week provides us with our first opportunity to talk to students about these issues, about social networking, about what they think are their rights and their responsibilities. We would hope to expand this so that students can use PHSE sessions to devise a whole-school Acceptable Use Policy, which could then be reviewed annually as the technologies change. Education in digital citizenship is one of the most pressing needs our students have in this decade, and as my good friend @Gripweed1 is fond of telling me, you can't leave these things to the ICT department alone (this may largely be about avoiding doing any more work though!).

(This last phrase is an excellent example of something which, though written online, is nevertheless clearly libellous, and I expect he'll use it to exemplify cyber-bullying to the students on Tuesday, after he's had me arrested!)

And finally, there's the issue of digital leadership. This idea has been written about a great deal on Twitter by folk much more practised at developing it than we are, and we'll be nicking their ideas in due course! You know who you are. Suffice it to say that the students are probably your best advocates for any mobile technology roll-out, and if they can be convinced of the merits of using them for learning, they will probably be more than willing to engage in training in how to use the devices, how to trouble-shoot them, and how to help staff to get the most out of them. Our intention is certainly to get students trained up so that they are as much learning ambassadors as they are technical support, and attaching them to departments will enable departments to get to grips with the potential of mobile learning with digital natives by their sides. We hope the students can trouble-shoot for staff, can find them appropriate websites and apps to teach certain tasks and concepts, and whenever anything tech goes awry in the room, they will be the ones who should come to the rescue. Teachers may take a while to get used to this role-reversal (I know I did!), but for the students, their new role is nothing short of empowering, helping them to become much more equal partners within the school's learning community. Not a bad place to start when you're trying to foster independence, engagement and inquiry...

This is just the first phase of our plan, and any feedback would be really useful. We appreciate there will be issues, but this blog is a bit of thinking out loud, in the hop that many of you may have walked down the same path, and be able to share your experiences with us, and help us avoid too many mistakes.

Next issue: Staff training, parental involvement and buy-in.

Will keep you posted.

Oops, your cartoon.