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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, Peter DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. Former superintendent Michael Nelson is a frequent contributor. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

In BYOT It’s the Y and O That Matters

By Peter DeWitt — September 22, 2012 4 min read
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“It’s not so much that we’re afraid of change or so in love with the old ways, but it’s that place in between that we fear...It’s like being between trapezes. It’s Linus when his blanket is in the dryer. There’s nothing to hold on to.” Marilyn Ferguson

A few years ago, I stood in front of all of our fourth and fifth grade students in the school cafeteria and told them that I was allowing them to bring handheld games to school for inside recess when the weather does not allow us to go outside (Handheld Games in School). Although we typically get kids outside, sometimes the weather is bad and they need to have an inside recess.

We encourage students to play board games, draw or talk with friends but sometimes they really want to use the devices they so often use at home. I struggled a bit with the decision because I would much prefer students turn off their computers and turn on their own imaginations. However, I also understand that any decision needs balance and through the whole school year we can provide opportunities for students to do both.

The students were surprised that I was allowing handheld games. I made the decision for several reasons, one of which is that I don’t like to ban things that I think have positive potential. I feel that it is our job as educators to teach students how to use something properly rather than ban it because it makes us uncomfortable.

We do that a lot in education. We don’t like something or do not fully understand it so we ban it. However, some very innovative districts are researching ways to allow students to bring in their own devices. They understand that we either get on board with technology because it’s an integral part of our students’ existence or we get left behind, and schools can’t afford to get left behind.

In a report entitled BYOT: How Personal Technology is Transforming the Classroom, Greenwood-Henke says, “The “Y” and “O” are much more important that the “T” in BYOT”. Students are comfortable with their own devices. They have downloaded their own Apps, some of which may be beneficial to other peers and the teacher in the classroom. We should encourage them to self-advocate and allow them to share their expertise with us. Most teachers will say that they learn as much from their students as their students learn from them, and now is the time to allow that to happen.

An Extension of The World Around Them
"[Your personal technology] becomes an extension of the world around you. If you have to use someone else’s, it takes a while to get into it,” said Aaron Sams, science teacher at Woodland Park High School in Colorado. Personal technology is loaded with your calendar, your contacts, your preferred applications, and organized the way that makes sense to you. Students become better organized, more productive, and have the potential to be self-directed learners when they use their personal technology. “It’s a piece of you” (Greenwood-Henke. MDR. 2012).

We spend a lot of time telling students what they need to prepare them for life, which is our job in education. However, we should also allow them to find what they need on their own as well. Self-exploration allows students to find their own paths and they may discover new interests through that exploration.

In addition, we know all too well what it’s like to be given top-down parameters and the constraints we are under do not allow for us to feel creative. We need to take what we are learning in our own profession and apply that learning to our students. They do not need more constraints, they need less. What they need the most is advice and insight into how to best use the tools that they surround themselves with every day.

BYOT is the disruptive innovation needed to move us past banning, past worries about student-owned devices being used to fuel instruction and move us to personalized learning, differentiated instructional strategies, to focusing on the learning and not on the tool. BYOT allows us to raise the level of technology use to the transformational level in which students become information producers, not consumers” (Greenwood-Henke. MDR. 2012).

It’s About AND Not OR
BYOT, like Web 2.0, is about AND not OR. Instead of narrowing choices, both paradigms broaden the options and encourage users to choose the most effective, efficient tool for the task at hand.” (Greenwood-Henke. MDR. 2012).

Where BYOT is concerned students are given the option to not only use a laptop or desktop but use their own device as well. However, given the choice most students would opt for their own device. In arguments of equity, researchers and practioners found that BYOT was beneficial to students who lacked their own device because it opened up the availability of school owned technology. Students who brought their own didn’t need to use what the school was offering.

Overall, BYOT comes down to building an infrastructure in schools that allow students to bring their own technology. When we allow students to BYOT we are engaging them in another way and it may be one of the most important things we can do for them. As adults, we use our own technology to communicate with friends, research information and play games. Students should be allowed the same consideration.

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DeWitt, Peter (2009). Instant Messaging and Picto-Chatting. Allowing Handheld Games in School. School Administrators Association of New York State (SAANYS).

Greenwood- Henke, Karen. (2012). BYOT: How Personal Technology is Transforming the Classroom. MDR EdNET Insight.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.