BYOD in moderation

Below are two TEDTalks that made me think about our students and BYOD.

Joshua Foer: Feats of memory anyone can do

…our lives are the sum of our memories. How much are we willing to lose from our already short lives by losing ourselves in our Blackberries, our iPhones, by not paying attention to the human being across from us who is talking with us, by being so lazy that we’re not willing to process deeply?

Sherry Turkle: Connected, but alone?

When we don’t have the capacity for solitude, we turn to other people in order to feel less anxious or in order to feel alive. When this happens, we’re not able to appreciate who they are. It’s as though we’re using them as spare parts to support our fragile sense of self. We slip into thinking that always being connected is going to make us feel less alone. But we’re at risk, because actually it’s the opposite that’s true. If we’re not able to be alone, we’re going to be more lonely. And if we don’t teach our children to be alone, they’re only going to know how to be lonely.


Learning to learn with (and without) our cellphones

The decision to allow students to bring personal devices into the classroom is being made all across the nation. Many schools are adopting ‘bring your own device’ (BYOD) initiatives to engage our students in the classroom with the same tools they are using outside the classroom.

As a BYOD advocate, I look forward to seeing all the ways personal devices will help us transform teaching and learning.

Yet we must proceed carefully as we open the floodgates for BYOD. We must help our students learn how to work with and without our devices. Many argue we need to work harder on the ladder.

Joe Kraus, currently with Google Ventures, had this to say regarding our relationship with personal devices:

…we’re becoming like the mal-formed weight lifter who trains only their upper body and has tiny little legs. We’re radically over-developing the parts of quick thinking, distractable brain and letting the long-form-thinking, creative, contemplative, solitude-seeking, thought-consolidating pieces of our brain atrophy by not using them. And, to me, that’s both sad and dangerous.

Letting cellphones and iPads into our classroom is not a trade. We’re not exchanging our students’ ability to reflect and think critically for some quick-fix tech gadget that will give them an all-access pass to information. Those gadgets are important. Really important. However, let’s never forget to appreciate and use all the things our brains can do without the aid of of a gadget.

Our students aren’t alone. We adults are experiencing this transition with them. Are you happy with the relationship you have with your phone? Watch Kraus’ entire presentation on our “Culture of Distraction” before you answer.

It’s ‘Game On’ for mobile. Is your school ready?

 Milwaukee Public Schools Mobile Website
Milwaukee Public Schools Mobile Website

This summer we saw live coverage of the Olympics delivered to mobile devices like never before. While the process wasn’t perfect for everyone, we can expect things to be even better for mobile viewers when the winter games start up in Russia.

It’s safe to say that the world of sports has become mobile friendly. ESPN now considers the phone their ‘first screen’ when they design web content. All the professional sports have gone mobile too.

It’s not just sports. People are beginning to expect everything that is online to be available when they’re browsing on a mobile device. President Obama agrees. In a statement back in May, the president ordered U.S. government agencies to create a mobile plan for the delivery of their services that will be implemented in one year.

In his memo, President Obama states:

Americans deserve a government that works for them anytime, anywhere, and on any device.

This is a challenge for our schools too. Recently I was talking to one of the other dads at our neighborhood elementary school. While our kids played in the distance, he said, “I’m always on the road for work. If I can’t read something on this (pointing to his phone) I’m probably never going to see it.” My friend isn’t alone. As more and more parents, teachers, and students are accessing the web via mobile devices, they will expect to find our school services available in a format that is mobile friendly.

Take a look at your classroom web pages, online progress reports, and other web based services. Do they work on a mobile phone? If not, it’s time to look for a replacement tool that does.

Every student’s device coming to a screen near you

One of my favorite scenes from Iron Man 2 is when Tony Stark takes over the screens while he was forced to appear before Congress.

Stark takes over screens with his smart phone

However, it won’t take a superhero-genius-inventor to connect to the classroom screen. Inspired by some of the work over at Exploding Sink, I’ve been experimenting with the possibilities myself. With a little DIY, I’ve setup my iPad to work as a portable camera for the classroom via the Apple TV.

There are many signs that show that this is just the tip of the iceberg. This summer, Apple is releasing a new OS for the Mac computer that will also allow wireless mirroring. Affordable wireless HDMI systems are now starting to appear. CNN has been showing off their new technology that allows you to ‘flick’ content from screen to screen. This is a feature that many manufacturers have started to roll-out in their new flatscreen TVs this year.

What is the take away? Be ready to share your screen because more and more devices, and not just yours, are going to be connecting to it soon.

When using QR codes, make sure your punch line is worth it

What is this?QR codes have been turning up everywhere from the billboard at the bus stop to the back of the ketchup bottle at your favorite restaurant. These blocky little squares are beefed up barcodes that anyone with a smartphone can scan.

We’re starting to see them pop up in classrooms too. We now have QR code scavenger hunts, periodic tables, and worksheets.

QR codes are great for passing long URLs to your students’ devices. I think they work best when you want to conceal information for a period of time while the students try to solve a problem you have given them. For example, let students scan the QR code for a hint on a difficult problem or create a guess and check bulletin board to review a recent lesson.

Scan and find your science teacher
Scan and find your science teacher

However, are they always worth the time? QR codes are not as quick as they’re name (quick response) makes them sound. They are not worth the time for short messages that your students could probably type in faster than scanning. They are especially slow if your students do not already have the app required to read the codes installed on their device. You risk losing your lesson tinkering with technology for technology sake.

McKee Floyd, director of brand development for Sweetgreen, said it best when he spoke with NPR:

The issue I have with QR codes is that marketing is a little bit like telling a joke, and the longer the joke, the better the punch line has to be — and [using] QR code is a really long joke

I think the same is true in the classroom. If you’re going to use QR codes with students, make sure your punch line is worth it.

Are you texting enough in school?

According to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in the spring:

Young adults are the most avid texters by a wide margin. Cell owners between the ages of 18 and 24 exchange an average of 109.5 messages on a normal day—that works out to more than 3,200 texts per month—and the typical or median cell owner in this age group sends or receives 50 messages per day (or 1500 messages per month).

Here’s how the rest of the nation breaks down.

Who Texts
Wow! According to this table, I’m over 65!

Read the whole report.

This reminds me of a Dilbert I saw recently.

I’m with Dilbert, but our students are not.

Here are two ways to use text messaging with students:

  1. post announcements to Twitter and have students follow via text message
  2. use Google Voice to have students text their questions to your email

Still catching students with cellphones in class

It has been about a month since we changed our electronic devices policy at our school but I’m still catching student using their phones in class.

However, I approve of most of the use (as shown below).

Yet, a few students have tried to sneak texting sessions at the wrong time. At first I was disappointed. I thought, “We had an agreement.”

However, I quickly remembered that my students are still getting use to their new found freedoms.

From now on, I plan to give a “gadgets in school” speech every few weeks. Like most rules, we all need reminders from time to time.

Nobody gave Spock a hard time

Spock was always messing around with his Tricorder when the Enterprise crew explored a new planet but everyone knew that it was a tool that could help the crew learn.

tricorder spock
It would be "illogical" to go without it

Just imagine if Spock’s Vulcan school had restrictions like our cell phone bans when he was growing up.

We’d all be speaking Klingon!

Right and wrong time to use a cellphone in class

Four out of five teachers know what this student is doing.

Photo from Blaise Alleyne -

After working on a presentation for my students about using mobile devices in school, there are a few things I’ve decided to emphasize when I talk to them at the start of new school year.

  1. Teachers can usually tell when students are sneaking looks at their mobile devices.
  2. When they’re using a mobile device, I’m going to expect students to ask themselves, “Is this really the right time?”
  3. If they have to sneak, it is the wrong time to be using a mobile device in class.

So when is it okay to use mobile devices in class? Simple. Anytime teachers think that it can help students learn.

Mobile devices have quickly become part of our daily life. A quick text message can put sites like Google to work for our students without a trip to the computer lab. More and more students will start the new school year with smart phones that run apps that make text messaging look like a stone tablet when we look at how engaging and functional they are. We need to put these devices to good use.

The trade-off for integrating these tools into the classroom is that we’ll have to teach students when it is and is not appropriate to use mobile devices in class.  I think these lessons are worth it. And who knows, maybe our lessons in restraint will stick with students when they’re at movie theaters, restaurants, dinner tables, or even their own graduation ceremony.

It’s time to teach ‘Gadget School’

It’s not just students, we all need a little Gadget School from time-to-time. I’ve attended several staff meetings where more than one cellphone has been a disruption. (The phones with the most obnoxious Sir Mix-a-Lot inspired ringtones are always at the bottom of the owner’s bag.) Everyone looks at the faux pas with unforgiving disgust until it happens to them. 

Every movie, musical and play starts with a reminder for us to turn off gadgets such as cellphones. I think we should do this in our classrooms too. The gadgets our students carry are not going away. Exclaiming that “they shouldn’t even have them in class” isn’t realistic. We must work with these devices. Schools need to stop the bad technology behavior not the technology. 

Enter Gadget School. If we don’t show students proper gadget etiquette, who will? Just imagine restaurants in the future if we don’t teach tomorrow’s diners that it is not okay to jabber away on your cellphone between the salad and the main course. 

Here are a few simply Gadget School posters to get things start.

Please Silence Your Cellphones

Silencing a cellphone seems like common sense. Or is it? Some students put their phone on vibrate but during a quiz this can still be noisy. Talk to your students. Let them know that you’re trying to ban distractions not devices.

Ask permission to record others

Insist that students ask before they take pictures, record audio or grab a video using their gadget. It’s rude to record others without their knowledge. Students need to learn this or our future will be one giant paparazzi world.

That’s it for Gadget School for now but there will be more to come. Please share your suggests for other Gadget School topics in the comments below.