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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.

BYOD Two Years On: Lessons From the Coalface

Two years ago, my Principal and I stood on the edge of the 1:1 pond, held hands and jumped in. Having no idea how it would go, we were both driven by the conviction that placing technology in the hands of students to enhance their learning was absolutely the only way forward. We were also about to launch our inaugural Year 11 class and this seemed the obvious place to introduce digital learning to the community of our school in an intentional way. What began as a 1:1 leasing program to a single class has now evolved into what is currently a BYOD program that spans 4 year groups and in 2013 will expand to include every child from Year 3 through to Year 12.

A recent visit by the leadership of another school convinced me that our journey is not one that should be kept to ourselves; that we need to share this experience, our successes and failures and to help others embrace what really is the future of learning. Other schools have blessed us similarly. Hence this post… what might otherwise be called, Lessons From the Coalface: things you could do to manage the successful introduction of BYOD.

1. Ensure you have the infrastructure to support the technology you introduce.

One of the fastest ways to lose impetus as you introduce technology to a school is having the infrastructure let you down. Teachers need to know that everything from the broadband width to the projector bulb is working. If your staff doubt the support of the infrastructure they will abandon the technology. If students do, they will label it a joke.

2.  Identify your early adopters and nurture them.

Before you give devices to the students, give them to those on your staff who you know will run with what they are given. Send them to to every professional learning experience that will give them courage. When you have a few people on staff splashing around and experimenting in the technology pond, it piques the interest of others, gives the early adopters confidence and creates interest… you create desire.

3. Inform and involve your parents.

Parents love their children and their innate instinct to protect cannot be underestimated. If they don’t trust you or think you do not know what you are doing, they will resist. Let them know your plan. Tell them why it is important. Listen to and respond to their concerns as soon as you are aware of them. Create a Q & A section on the school website. Hold information evenings where you place devices in their hands and give them time to play with programs and apps. Show them what some students have created… trust me, this will blow their minds.

Invite your parents on Day 1 as you get everybody connected.. We did. Some came.They sat with their children/young adults and watched the process with them… sometimes they played together. This was powerful in creating strong connection and communication between home and school.

4. Build a team of ‘Sherpas’ from your student body… and use them.

We all know know them… those students who make us look good every day… the tech savvy individuals who know everything from how to create an app to changing the printer toner. Assign them to staff members with the brief to make that staff member look good. Reward them with iTunes cards and they will have your staff so connected and ready to go, you won’t need to do a thing.

5. Plan Day 1… and Day -1

Day 1 2012 involved us moving from 16 leased devices to 135 BYOD. Had this not been well planned, it would have been a disaster. Day -1 we had all the relevant staff trained on how to connect PCs and MACs to our network, printers, internet etc. We brought in our Sherpas and assigned them to the staff. We spent an afternoon ensuring that everyone knew what they were doing ‘tomorrow’ and we made sure the IT staff had everyone’s back. No one left until they felt confident.

On Day 1 we divided students depending on devices… MACs in one group, PCs in another. Because the different platforms have different systems for set up, this was necessary. Within 2 hours, every student was connected and we began to breathe easier.

7. Insist on rigourous, engaging learning experiences and teach wisdom

There is, understandably, concern about how well students will use their devices for learning. One of the most frequent questions I am asked is, ‘What consequences are there for students who do the wrong thing, who are on Facebook, gaming in class or looking at bad stuff?’ (By this I assume people mean looking at pornography and, Facebook and gaming not associated with learning).

Clearly you have to have decent filters in place to protect children and you need to have different levels of internet access for different age groups. The best way to protect students in the online world is to teach them wisdom. We also have regular visits from an education spokesman from the Australian Federal Police who teaches students about how to manage online identity and behaviour well. Having said this, the two most effective ways to manage this issue are to insist on rigourous, engaging learning experiences and to give students a voice in what they are learning. Busy, engaged, hard working kids do not do the wrong thing.

8. Rearrange the learning space

Once you are in the 1:1 world the teacher is redundant out the front. Getting your staff to move from the front of the room, however, might well be one of your hardest challenges. We removed the teacher desk, and inspired by an idea from Northern Beaches Christian School, replaced it with a mobile laptop ‘caddy’ that could be moved around the room. Even then, the reluctant few would wheel the caddy to the front and sit behind it. We tried a long U shaped set up (affectionately called ‘The Zoolander’ because of its catwalk look) to create high visibility of screens and enable staff to move easily around the room. We then spent a term playing the game of rearranging the rooms every day, because the kids hated it and constantly moved the desks. In 2013 we will experiment with changing furniture and the way it is arranged so that there will be no real ‘front’ to the room.

9. Support your staff

It is tempting to go out and find every educational app or program and bombard your staff with them at every professional learning opportunity. If you do this you will overwhelm and annoy them. The frustration about ‘another technology session’ will get them offside. Manage professional learning in a way that empowers staff to use an app or program meaningfully in their class the very next day. We asked our staff to come to professional learning time with a lesson in mind. After the expert user (which was either another staff member or a student) introduced them to an app or program, they used it to immediately create the lesson for ‘tomorrow’. The next professional learning time was spent sharing lessons, joys, successes and the flops that we learned from. This was rich learning for everybody.

10. Anticipate problems and have a plan

There are some things you can safely anticipate… students who haven’t charged their devices, servers blowing up, sites you want to use being blocked. Have a plan for how to manage them before they happen and you will keep your blood pressure in a healthy range.

11. Roll with the punches and learn from mistakes

There are some things you can’t and won’t anticipate… and there are mistakes you will make. Learn from these… then anticipate for the future. Manage mistakes well and with integrity. No change this significant to a school will be seamless. Keep talking to families and to your extended school community. Transparency is very important.

12. When you get it up and going, share your journey

We live in an extraordinary educational age and that we get to hear and share wisdom across nations is a gift to all school communities. Once you’ve got your BYOD program humming along, invite people to visit. Share your experience and place courage in the hearts of those innovators from other schools. Visitors are always welcome at our school. We love to help.

Have fun on the journey!

Going Gaga

What follows is a lesson I contributed to the Australian Curriculum Lessons web. I hope it is useful to you. Let me know if you want to know where things go from here.



This is a 1 hour introductory lesson in an 8 week Year 10 unit of work entitled ‘Eve to Lady Gaga: Woman’s Voice in Literature, Film and Song’. It is designed for a mixed ability class of both male and female students in a 1:1 learning environment. Students have wireless access to the internet and to the College intranet where they are able to post blogs and to ‘meet’ virtually outside school hours. They are already familiar with the Web 2.0 tools used in this lesson

Australian Curriculum Links: 

  • ACELA1564 – understand how language use can have inclusive and exclusive social effects, and can empower or disempower people
  • ACELA1565 – understand that people’s evaluations of texts are influenced by their value systems, the context and the purpose and mode of communication
  • ACELT1639 – compare and evaluate a range of representations of individuals and groups in different historical, social and cultural contexts
  • ACELT1640 – reflect on, extend, endorse or refute others’ interpretations of and responses to literature
  • ACELY1813 – use organisation patterns, voice and langugage conventions to present a point of view, speaking clearly, coherently and with effect, using logic, imagery and rhetorical devices to engage audiences
  • ACELY1752 – identifty and analyse implicit or explicit values, beliefs and assumptions in texts and how these are influenced by purposes and likely audiences



Bring up a series of images of recognisable national and international female public figures, asking students to raise their hands when they agree this person is a person of influence. Finish with a picture of Lady Gaga. Refer to the 2010 Times article which lists her as one of the top influential people of 2010.   Facilitate a discussion on why this may have been so and whether this is still the case.


Students will be asked to move into their collaboration groups. (Collaboration groups consist of 5 students each of whom is directly responsible for an element of a task – roles may include collecting and adding images for a presentation, writing the script/voiceover for a presentation, finding and adding the sound/music for a presentation, managing the editing and sequencing of the presentation tool, presenting to the class. Students will work in their area of strength) Their task is to use their devices to discover the controversy surrounding Gaga’s song “Born This Way”.

Using one of the following tools, (iMovie, Final Cut Pro, Voicethread, Educreations, Prezi, Glogster, Animoto, Puppet Pals) they have the remainder of the lesson to develop a 1-2 minute presentation about the controversy

a) speculating how differing responses reveal values systems or worldviews

b) whether these responses might empower or disempower individuals

c) how social, cultural and historical contexts may influence responses to the song and

d) delivering the group interpretation and response to the song


Students are advised they will have 10 minutes at the beginning of the next lesson to organise themselves before presenting. They may have an online meeting in the evening to manage organisation if necessary. They may use the College Intranet or Facebook to collaborate.

Students are also advised that the following viewing is necessary for the lesson after next. Alice Walker Reads Sojourner Truth Helen Reddy sings ‘I am Woman’ Tracy Chapman sings ‘Talkin bout a Revolution’   Julia Gillard’s October 9, 2012 response to the Opposition’s motion to remove Peter Slipper


Individual contributions to class discussion and collaborative tasks.

Group presentation

Resources: Walker Reads Sojourner Truth Helen Reddy sings ‘I am Woman’ Tracy Chapman sings ‘Talkin bout a Revolution’   Julia Gillard’s October 9, 2012 response to the Opposition’s motion to remove Peter Slipper

Get Out Of The Way

I’m learning to get out of the way… and it’s humbling. I recently had one of those moments that occurs in teaching, every now and then, when my mouth is moving and my brain is disconnected. I was teaching a film class and about to launch into an explanation of ‘the rule of thirds’. My mouth began and my brain interrupted, ‘Why are you explaining this when they can find out for themselves?’. So I stopped and said,

‘I want you to find out about the rule of thirds; what it is, who uses it, where they use it, how they use it and why they use it. You can work as an individual, or in groups. I don’t mind. I just want you to present what you find in an unexpected way. See you tomorrow.’

There was silence, blank faces and eventually, “What?”

I repeated myself.

“What do you mean by unexpected?”

By this stage I was leaving the room. It was 4.30pm

The next morning I arrived at school at around 7.00am… and this is what I found on the external wall. 6 students had either stayed at school late or had arrived very early.

This was unexpected!

Inside the building, furniture was rearranged and climbing the stairs to the balcony I was able to experience the cleverness of another group of students. This is what I saw.

This was also unexpected.

Later a young man who is a particularly gifted guitar player and 3 of his friends sang me a song they had composed about ‘the rule of thirds’.

This was completely unexpected.

I know if I had used the phrase “Your homework is…”, none of this learning would have happened and certainly no-one would have spent a significant amount of time on it. What could have been a dry 5 minute info delivery at the end of a lesson turned out to be something much richer that involved creativity, ingenuity, collaboration and fun. What if I had not got out of the way?

There is no summative task I have written to measure and compare student understanding of this concept. There is no rubric to identify their critical thinking skills and capacity to synthesise information. These students have gone on to produce narrative and documentary films which are beautifully composed and cleverly constructed. They have worked in teams to present their ideas in innovative ways… they have created works beyond what I had hoped and this has been a thrill.

My lesson? Get out of the way and expect the unexpected.