Michael Walker, secondary technology integration specialist, Edina (Minn.) Public Schools

Mar 12 2012

6 Steps for Increasing Student Access with BYOD

A Minnesota K–12 technology integration specialist shares how his district turned a lackluster one-to-one initiative into a successful bring-your-own program.

More than 900 middle and high school students in Edina, Minn., bring their own personal devices to school. Although that represents just 20 percent of the student population, it’s the equivalent of more than 30 labs coming to school each day. These are “labs” that Edina Public Schools didn’t have to purchase or support, but that students can use for learning.

The district’s successful “bring your own device” initiative, dubbed “Go Wireless,” began with a less-than-successful effort to launch a one-to-one computing program. (Read “How Edina Public Schools Moved from One-to-One to BYOD.”)

Students, parents and teachers all have responded positively to the district’s adoption of the BYOD model:

  • Among participating students, 91 percent reported that having access to their own devices improved their learning.
  • The majority of parents say their children are more organized and complete more assignments than they did before the program.
  • Fully 97 percent of staff members say the combination of BYOD and a more robust notebook cart program has enhanced instruction.

The district’s IT team and other staff members learned plenty of lessons along the way. Here are six practices that proved critical in moving from one-to-one to BYOD.

One: Define the Goals

Why do you want to have a BYOD program? If your answer is because everyone else has one, then stop right there. By aligning the district’s initiative with its mission and vision, Edina was able to get buy-in from staff, administrators and the community.

Two: Prepare the Infrastructure

The infrastructure for wireless coverage and density needs to be in place and tested before a district begins BYOD.

As the program expands, access to both power and informal learning spaces becomes important for students. Students in the Edina program are expected to come to school with their devices fully charged but can plug in, if needed, at their teacher’s discretion.

Access to cloud applications also is helpful. Edina uses Moodle for learning management and Google Apps for Education for productivity. Students’ ability to access these tools on multiple device platforms has lessened the need to specify the devices that students may bring to school.

Finally, it’s important to identify the content that students need to access on the network. At Edina, guests on the open wireless network are the most filtered; students can authenticate via the filter to access any approved site on the internal network.

Three: Be Policy-Savvy

When looking at policies, it’s important to think about technical guidance, as well as rules and regulations. What do students need to be able to do? Will the district allow printing or access to district servers?

As the team reviews its acceptable-use policy and student handbook, are there existing components that forbid the use of personal devices or statements requiring modification so that students can use devices for learning? In Edina, the IT team developed a “Web 2.0 Code of Ethics” as an appendix to the district’s AUP. It spelled out expectations for students.

Four: Communicate — A Lot

Before students can bring their devices to either of the district’s two middle schools, they must attend a meeting with their parents.

At the meeting, the tech team shares the history of the program, defines expectations and liabilities, shows students what they can do with the device, assists students in connecting to the wireless network and answers any questions they have. Parents leave the meeting with their concerns addressed, and everyone is on the same page. After turning in their permission forms, students receive a sticker for their devices that indicates they are “wireless-certified.”

Five: Don’t Forget About Staff Development

When preparing staff for successful implementation, make sure to outline three areas: classroom management, curriculum integration ideas and differentiated products.

Teachers need to remember that they are the leaders in the classroom. If they have an important point to make, the student’s notebook lids should go to 45 degrees or be closed completely.

Students are responsible for troubleshooting their devices. It’s also wise to establish a rule Edina has for lab users: “Ask 3 Before Me.” Often students can easily assist their classmates with problems.

Teachers should remember that there is often an analog equivalent to a student’s use of a device in the classroom. The same students who daydream out the window, doodle or write notes in the analog world will likely find ways to distract themselves in the digital world. Encourage teachers to move around the room as they help students so they can limit such distractions.

Getting students involved in the lesson also can have great benefits. Some can be “Google jockeys,” fact-checking and defining terms. Others can collaborate on notes, moderate back channels or serve as collaboration coordinators who connect with experts or other students studying the same topic.

When assigning projects, differentiation of products can go a long way toward successful integration of BYOD. Rather than specifying the exact product, look for cloud-based tools that can meet similar needs or tools that work with multiple platforms. Many Web 2.0 tools have applications that work on mobile devices as effectively as on the web. We refer to these as “device agnostic.”

Six: Address Equity

Besides implementing the BYOD program, Edina also extended its media center hours to accommodate students without access, and it bought netbook carts to provide devices for students to check out.

When assigning projects, the staff never assumes that students will have devices, so they typically reserve a lab or cart. But as the district’s number of BYOD users grows, teachers now have the ability to share a cart with others, increasing access for all.

Further, Edina is working with vendors to assist families in purchasing devices and gaining access to low-cost Internet services at home. Several Internet service providers offer programs for students receiving free or reduced-price lunches.

<p>Chris Bohnhoff</p>

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