Friday, November 27, 2015

BYOD^2: Building Your Own Digital BYOD Course

I just jogged past Best Buy, and it was closed! But, I'm sure that in a few hours it will see the hustle and bustle of other retailers. In particular, I suspect that a lot of purchases today will involve mobile technology. For this reason only, I give thanks for Black Friday!

Some of you who follow this blog, I know, have been wondering how easily you can adopt mobile tech classroom approaches that I enjoy, and give thanks for, because of my institution's priorities (institutional buy-in on providing the infrastructure, professional development, and funding for tablet pedagogy). In past, I've suggested that my renewed focus would be on making it more clear how I think similar approaches could be deployed at other institutions. I'll start today with the basic elements of Building Your Own Digital "Bring Your Own Device" (BYOD) course (that's right: BYOD BYOD!)

Difficult decisions

I believe that the most difficult balance for an institution to strike in making academic IT decisions regarding student programs is inclusiveness vs. cost. My school ponied up some serious cash to help students purchase one of three tablets (with three operating system choices) and also allowed students who already owned a tablet to use it, as long as it met specified minimum requirements. We might have received some incentives had we elected to work with a single tablet vendor. Ultimately, it was more inclusive to let students have a hand in deciding what tablet brand they would purchase. The cost? Sustainability. We are faced with a difficult decision now: how/whether to keep subsidizing student tablet purchases? If we have a student population where many students don't own a tablet (much less a laptop, or perhaps even a smartphone), what's the bigger picture about the future of our program?

Have we yet achieved BYOD parity?
To understand whether our students have smartphones, our institutions should certainly ask them! Meanwhile, we can turn to the Pew Research Center "U.S. Smartphone Use in 2015" report (all screen shots below from this report) for three general insights into recent smartphone trends that we need to keep in mind:

1. A majority of adults own smartphones; most are dependent on their smartphone for internet access

2. Faculty should be careful about demands on student data usage if your campus doesn't provide free wi-fi access for data 

3. Although more minorities than whites own smartphones, numbers dip for low-earners and for those in rural areas

Moving forward

If I moved to a new institution and wanted to keep using Tablet Pedagogy, what would I do before classes start?
Step one: before deciding, I would survey my class to find out how many students have regular access to mobile tech (laptops, tablets, smartphones). Do some soul-searching and decide whether you can get non-tech students some loaner devices, or whether you're comfortable forming student groups around the students who do bring mobile tech to class. Check with your institution to see if you have "loaner" devices (our library has a laptop loan program, for example)
Step two: assess institutional infrastructure. If your institution has wireless internet I would inquire with my IT staff about the ability of the network in your classroom to support the simultaneous connection of the number of students you have
Step three: Decide whether you will be form-agnostic (e.g. allow laptops and smartphones also)
My opinion? Go device-agnostic. Those students who are out today picking up new tech on Black Friday? Let them use it in class. This is how we can develop and support BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) digital pedagogy and bring new methods of engaging students, connecting them to course material, to each other, and to society.
Step four: acquiring your own tech. If your classroom doesn't have one, get your campus to invest in at least one portable digital projector (and any necessary cables/adapters to connect to your device). Ideally? A projector for each student group (if you use student groups, want them to present content they create/curate with other groups, and if you have enough projectable surfaces in your classroom). Think also about investing in technology that your students will be bringing. Are you an iOS lover? Pick up an Android tablet, too, so that you can check out the student experience on that OS.
Step five: if the students and the campus are ready for it, then prepare your syllabus - paying particular attention in this case to establishing any minimum system requirements (e.g. screen size, operating system version, amount of memory) and apps that students should have installed before class. My biggest piece of advice here? Make all of these elements "Suggested" (not "Required") materials, unless you know you have strong backing from your administration. Related: decide whether you're going all-in with mobile tech, or if you'll also allow some students to opt out and go old school (hand-raising, paper, poster boards, etc.)
Step six: build in extra time the first several days of class for deliberately practicing workflows and for doing tech support for students.
Step seven: find a friend. Identify a colleague who shares the same willingness to try new things in the classroom (and ideally also who is tech-savvy!) Book some time to practice: one of you plays teacher, the other student. This is critical for seeing both sides of the digital interaction using whatever apps you employ (e.g. Socrative, Google Classroom).
Step eight: make a backup plan for dealing with unanticipated tech issues!

What are your main concerns about going solo with digital pedagogy at your school? Please leave a comment and share your thoughts!