BYOD: How Is The Learning Different?

Connected Learning

BYOD: How Is The Learning Different?

I was asked recently how the learning with ‘Bring Your Own Device’ [BYOD] is ‘different’ and because I was embarking on the long trip home from Queensland to the ACT (1,500km or 935 miles), there was plenty of time to think. It would be easy to give flippant responses or worse, to speak in clichés, when discussing the difference that easy, frequent and equal access to the digital world brings to the classroom. That’s not helpful, so instead you will find here a collection of thoughts that ‘stuck’ between those pleasant half-states of dozing and daydreaming which occur on long car trips. It was challenging to write this, because each section could really be a whole post in itself and I wonder if this will raise more questions than provide answers. I think that’s okay. Perhaps then the conversation will continue.

Devices are just tools and learning is just learning.

We would all agree that where possible, students should have access to those tools which will help them to learn. We regularly advocate for this. Truthfully, a laptop, a smart phone or a tablet device is a tool, just as books and pens (once emerging technologies) are tools. These influence the way we learn and the way we produce evidence of our learning. Apart from stronger engagement, opportunities for connection and collaboration (there are those clichés), devices facilitate learning and the depth to which we learn, more than they make it different. After all, learning is just learning, as skipping is just skipping or reading is just reading… bear with me here.

I would argue there are degrees to which we skip and read, different reasons for doing these things, different people with whom we do or don’t do them on different occasions and sometimes, there are different outcomes – sadly, when some of us skip we end up in a tangle of arms and legs. We also learn differently with different people, in different places and via different means… all the time. We always have. So if good, rich learning is happening prior to the introduction to a BYOD program, what changes afterwards? What is different?

The Role of the Teacher

There has been lots of discussion in recent years about teachers in the digital age becoming ‘facilitators of learning’. I appreciate the view but disagree with it somewhat. Teaching and learning is a sacred exchange based on learning relationships between people. To reduce teachers to facilitators places them on equal standing with devices; it’s a utilitarian view of their personhood. However, in a BYOD environment, the role of the teacher must be different because if it is not, devices simply become very expensive replacements for pen and paper. Why bother?

Teachers at our school are becoming more aware that they are no longer the sole curators of content in their rooms. It has been a long time since some teachers asked students a question which could be answered with a simple Internet search. They are, however, beginning to teach students how to find the information, how to discern its merit and how to respond to it with wisdom and integrity. This has forced us all to think very carefully and to ask really good, complex questions. Loosed from the constraint of being information providores, teachers are able to get on with the business of teaching, guiding, mentoring and learning alongside. It’s a challenging way to teach but it is better.

The Role of the Student

In a BYOD environment the opportunity exists for students to become more than sometimes passive recipients of information which they later reproduce to prove they are chugging nicely along the conveyor belt of the education system. Under the mentoring of a clever teacher, devices enable students to explore content along their lines of interest and to pursue their learning to deeper levels… to let ideas brew and percolate in ways not previously possible. Students are also beginning to see themselves not just as consumers but also as producers of quality content. They participate in online conversations, write blogs, make film, create podcasts and vodcasts and along the way better learn to challenge, debate, think, focus and solve problems.


Where once students published their thinking mostly for teachers, sometimes for themselves and occasionally for their parents, they now have the capacity to publish thought and work product in local, national and global forums. They do this. They love the feedback. They are becoming quite reflective about their own work and see it as valuable beyond a grade or a rank. It is also placing courage in their hearts as they ‘dare to share’. Some students are growing their digital footprints through the creation of personal blogs, web sites and digital work portfolios. They want to be found online because they recognise this is where much if their audience lies. Here the role of families and teachers is crucial in helping them to do this safely and with wisdom.

Location and time

Where and when we learn is different too. This year a young man of 15 Skyped into his Maths lesson because he couldn’t be at school and didn’t want to miss out on the class. His teacher ‘propped him up’ so he could see his peers and participate in whole class discussion. She then moved him so he could join in small group work and sometimes, she turned him towards the board where she walked him through worked examples of what he wanted explained. How clever was that?

My own class often spills out of the room depending on what we are doing. Sometimes they ‘abandon me’ for the digital collection at the National Library or even the Globe Theatre in London… we may be in the same geographical location but they’ve gone on a digital excursion!

I have also been completely surprised at the amount of time students are willing to spend on projects they are truly engaged in beyond the classroom and beyond the school gate. This is not about encroaching on family time nor forcing students to do copious amounts of homework. This is self-directed learning which happens when school is seen as part of life rather than separate to it. Some students work this way because they want to. They find it meaningful and they like it. That is refreshing.

How are we all doing?

It would be disingenuous to suggest that the learning in our College is always stupendous and that everyone is managing this brilliantly every day. We’re on a journey. Sometimes we get the line and length just right and other times… well, these are learning experiences in themselves! It is an incredibly exciting age in which to teach and to learn and I am thankful that my own children have the opportunities currently available to them. I do know that with my students wonder is again alive, conversations are rich, learning is good… and this warms my heart. Are we learning differently? Perhaps. Are we learning ‘better’? For sure.