First year of BYOD brings challenges, triumphs
Devices often help with student learning, engagement, but can also be distracting, teachers say
May 31, 2017
It’s second block, and in one classroom in Braswell High School, students are learning about the annual incomes of various countries, including Taiwan, Canada and the U.S.
There’s not a textbook in sight, nor any paper or pens for note taking. The teacher has provided a digital copy of the notes, which students have pulled up on their devices. As the lecture continues, students jump into the conversation — the lack of physical note taking freeing them up to share their thoughts on the lesson.
A few classrooms down, another lesson is taking place. Students have been assigned reading, and they have their devices out, too. But instead of using them for notes, they scroll through social media, take selfies or play games. Only about a quarter of the class is participating in the lesson as instructed.
Both classrooms illustrate the triumphs and struggles of the Bring Your Own Device policy during its inaugural year at Braswell. BYOD is an initiative that promotes technology in the classroom by providing students the option to bring personal devices to school such as laptops, smartphones and tablets. The policy seeks to align learning with Denton ISD’s mission statement, which reads that the district is committed to “moving students and staff forward in a 21st-century learning environment.”
Braswell communicated the basics of the policy to parents and students in meetings prior to the beginning of the school year. The school administration relayed Braswell’s desire to establish a classroom environment in which students would continuously interact with the digital tools they need to be successful now and in the future.
And while some have fully embraced the policy, citing a more interactive learning experience, less paper waste, and the promotion of higher-level thinking skills in students, others have expressed concerns about technology malfunctions, unnecessary distractions and the ease with which students can cheat.
“The use of technology within the school environment can result in more efficient, effective, and engaging teaching and learning,” Associate Principal Dr. Laura Ice, who spearheads the school’s technology initiatives, said. “Technology also plays an important role in the workplace. Therefore, it is important that we provide our students with learning opportunities and experiences using technology so they are prepared for the future. However, we are always evaluating our processes and procedures, and of course, we are open to implementing change when needed.”
According to English teacher Oliver Love, having access to resources other than textbooks allows for a stronger, more inclusive lesson.
“When it was paper-based and textbook-based, you just worked out of the textbook — basically the textbook was Gospel,” Love said. “Now that we are using more and more technology in lessons, it allows your lesson plan and the actual lesson that you teach to be much more well-rounded. It requires more work on our part, but it ends up [being] a way better education for the students.”
In addition to the benefits observed by teachers such as Love, many students also find it easier to access assignments and complete them using their devices.
“School work has actually been a lot easier because now I can do it whenever,” junior Michele Mecham said. “Say I’m in the car [going] somewhere, on the way, I can pull out my phone and just work on it there. I prefer digital stuff for the convenience and people just seem to do better.”
But transitioning from paper to digital isn’t always a simple process, according to some teachers. Despite being known as the “tech generation,” many students struggled with mastering the digital skills necessary to succeed in the classroom — at least at first.
In a 2016 case study conducted by professors Scott Spangler, Anthony Rodi and Misty Kiernan, research showed that “digital natives” have “shortcomings with software knowledge and sophistications.” The research further went on to demonstrate that many students have a lack of knowledge or usage of basic productivity software.
“I think one of the biggest surprises this year has been that my students weren’t as digitally capable,” history teacher Justin Garison said. “They apparently hadn’t been challenged as much in the way of digital learning before.”
Garison arrived at Braswell after a stint at the Yellowstone Academy in Houston, where he piloted one-to-one iPads in the classroom, turning an environment that was 100-percent paper-based into one that was half paper-, half technology-based.
“Coming here, I expected [digital learning] would be something that everybody would be comfortable with,” he said. “It’s been challenging, but we’re getting there. The students who have bought into it have seen their grades go up. I think that everybody learns in different ways, and so I think it’s all about students being able to buy into what the approach is, whether that’s paper, digital or a mix of both.”
Though many teachers have seen improvements, some argue that, depending on the subject area, technology may hinder students’ confidence in their learning. According to math teacher Ashley Joanidis, many students like to utilize paper to work out their problems.
“I think that students feel more comfortable writing things out in comparison to doing anything on the computer,” Joanidis said. “Students like to be able to write. They like working it out, and I think if it was up to them, they’d do [math work] on paper.”
Math isn’t the only instance where the use of paper can be helpful to learning. According to a 2016 article from NPR, writing longhand notes helps with retention and involvement. The article cited the distractions involved in classroom technology — “It’s so easy to click over to Facebook in that dull lecture,” it stated — as well as the benefits of notetaking by hand.
The article specifically discussed a study conducted by Princeton University Graduate Student Pam A. Mueller and Cognitive Psychology Professor Daniel Oppenheimer. In this study, Oppenheimer and Mueller asked 50 students to attend a lecture. Half took notes on laptops and half with pen and paper. Both groups were then given a comprehension test and in the end, the students who used paper scored remarkably higher than those who used laptops. Mueller credited this unexpected finding to “the fact that the paper note takers were forced to synthesize rather than merely transcribe, also known as ‘desirable difficulty.’”
With the number of pros and cons involved in the transition to BYOD, many teachers have had varied experiences in the classroom. According to geography teacher Kim Fritch, the switch has been pretty smooth — save for a steep learning curve at the beginning.
“I think for the most part, [students] like that you can be more creative, they have more choice in what they get to do, and so the response has been positive,” Fritch said. “As the teacher, like on my side of it, I remember a year-and-a-half ago sitting in an August staff development where they were talking about Google and Google Drive, and it just made my eye twitch, because I was just like ‘What? I don’t understand this Google.’”
But a few months later, Fritch was leading technology-based professional development sessions and enacting webquests as part of her geography lessons.
“We looked at different McDonald’s menus around the world, and they loved it because they were actually on the web and looking at menus in Asia, Europe and South America and comparing them,” she said. “It was fascinating because I don’t think you could do that without having access to the Internet and technology. There was a lot of positive feedback from the kids.”
Fritch took a survey at the end of the semester to gauge the least and most popular activities in her classroom. The webquest, she said, was by far the most popular. And many students have found that the incorporation of technology in the classroom has made learning more enjoyable and convenient.
“I think that Denton ISD will eventually make it to where all their schools are like Braswell,” junior John Barron said. “I think that BYOD is a good thing, but that it depends on the person. I’m on my phone all the time but I get my work done. It’s just about the responsibility level of each student.”
That also includes ethical responsibilities, as some students have freely admitted to using technology to cheat on classwork and exams. It’s been a challenge, teachers say, to prevent cheating — they know it exists, but, according to Love, they “just haven’t found an effective way to stop it.”
For teachers like world history instructor Sara Teuscher, cheating has become less of an option for her students through her use of Canvas.
“Canvas is really beneficial, because it shuffles all of the answer choices as well as the questions too,” Teuscher said, “I can also time the tests and make it to where my students can’t see the answers after they take the assessment, which cuts down on the ability for people to replicate information.”
Administrators are aware of the successes and struggles of BYOD and are ready to improve and redefine it in the years to come.
“There will definitely be adjustments, but we are still working through the particulars at this point. This year was an opportunity to try things and see what works, and what doesn’t,” Assistant Principal Adrian Eaglin said. “I believe we have enough data, and enough feedback from students, teachers and parents to order our next steps. We are always striving to make our systems and processes more efficient, and more effective.”