Category Archives: Inquiry

BYOD – A Blessing or a Curse?

English: A Nintendo DS Lite, shown with stylus.

I have been hearing more and more about BYOD or “bring your own device” on Twitter and in the blogs and educational news sources I read. It seems to be a growing trend in the business world too. Yet, the controversy around this idea seems almost as large as the hype. BYO is not a novel concept for restaurants or even schools when it comes to basic supplies (everyone can remember being asked to bring that box of crayons or later your composition notebook) but apparently devices are a different story.

What really made me stop to think more deeply about this topic was reading a recent post by first grade teacher @kathycassidy on using Nintendo DS as an assessment tool during a BYOD day she held. Maybe it’s because I’m not into gaming much but when I had previously though of BYOD, I always envisioned tablets, smartphones, and laptops. The idea of using gaming systems seemed at once novel and practical, especially after I read her post. She was able to use a device that many of her students have and a device that she already has six classroom-owned units of available to share with students who did not have a device. Students used the Nintendo DS to practice writing and using the long a sound (ai), which allowed their teacher to immediately view their submissions via the devices, allowing for faster assessment of their skills. @kathycassidy also discussed how students were able to self-assess and help one another by being able to see each other’s work on screen, making suggestions for improvement to their peers.

To me, this is an example of why BYOD can be so powerful and worthwhile for teachers to explore with their students. After viewing the #edchat archive for this week’s discussion of “Do the positives outweigh the negatives of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device)?” I was reminded of the controversy around implementing this practice. There are a number of concerns about educational equity and students’ access to technology and their ability to bring a device to school. Some have argued that for these reasons, BYOD “enshrines inequity,” puts limitations on how we define student learning, and promotes an acceptance of limited funding for school technology. As @stumpteacher commented in #edchat, “BYOD sounds great, but with poverty such a powerful variable, we can’t ignore access/equality.” Additional concerns include schools and districts that forbid the use of student devices in school and a lack of professional development for teachers who are unsure how to adapt their lesson plans to include these new devices.

Yet, even with all of these concerns, I am in the camp that the positives do outweigh the negatives for a number of exciting reasons. First, as this first grade classroom found, devices allow for a new immediacy and individuality because every student who is using a device has the power to contribute their ideas and receive teacher support or feedback in a more immediate way. This classroom in New Jersey found similar results when students were allowed to use their cell phones in a math class. Another benefit to BYOD and allowing students to use their own devices seems to be increased engagement and participation. At the first grade level, this was exemplified through their increased oral language use, and for older grades, through their note-taking and responses in class discussion.

I also see value in the opportunity for students to bring devices that they already know how to operate, might easily be more advanced or updated than school technology, and can be a launchpad for students to share their knowledge and expertise with teachers. I feel that we should be conceiving of student devices more like the box of tissues students are asked to bring to class throughout the year. Those tissues become part of the class community and they are shared among various students. If a few students in the classroom have devices that they would like to contribute to the class community when they walk in the door (of course taking them with them when they leave) why should we forbid that? As @jonbergmann said during the #edchat, “The key is to not have all kids doing the same thing at the same time. Rethink Ed.” BYOD can be a unique opportunity for an influx of new technology resources that allow teachers to rethink their pedagogical practices and allow for students’ individuality and a diversity of classrooms activities.

Of course, I agree that BYOD needs to be thoughtfully implemented. A number of great resources for creating a BYOD Policy and User Agreement for your classroom or school were shared during #edchat, along with valuable lessons and questions to consider before you jump onto the BYOD bandwagon. It should be a decision that is well-planned and includes opportunities for ongoing check-ins and adjustments, as well as student and teacher learning about the reasons for and possibilities of BYOD. All of the concerns I mentioned above should be thoroughly discussed and the students, teachers, parents, and administrators involved should make sure it is a feasible, fair decision for their class or school community.

At the end of the day though, it seems to come back to one key idea. As one journalist said recently, BYOD is “a chance to connect our children to the world that has moved most assuredly into the digital age.” Instead of holding students back and making our own judgements about how responsible students can be with bringing their own devices to class, using them for educational purposes, and sharing them with device-less peers, let’s educate them about ways they could do all of these things. Let’s let students demonstrate to us how valuable these devices can be in the classroom.

What are your thoughts? Do the positives outweigh the negatives of BYOD?


Inquiring into Play – Part II

As I mentioned in my last post, I decided to use a recent Washington Post article by Alfie Kohn discussing his thoughts on How children’s ‘play’ is being sneakily redefined to inquire within and “aloud” about some of my thoughts on play. Below are my reflections on his last two propositions (listed in bold).

4. The point of play is that it has no point.

This fourth idea is one I feel like simultaneously celebrating and questioning. It seems hard to dispute the value of defining play as a “process, not product” and allowing it to have no other goal than play itself yet play can produce amazing “products” (e.g., cognitive learning, social development), right? But maybe I’m conflicted about this for reasons similar to Kohn and the desire to promote increased play by hailing its positive benefits. Maybe I too am sneakily trying to redefine play as something like “self-initiated cognitive activity” in order to help it survive in our schools and educational contexts. Maybe redefining play to try and promote it is the wrong approach and for all of my good intentions in promoting play, I too am pushing for its relabeling instead of fighting for the intrinsic value of play, regardless of its related benefits in learning and development for people of all ages.

5. Play isn’t the only alternative to “work.” 

I was intrigued by the assertion that in addition to work and play, there is learning (“whose primary purpose is neither play-like enjoyment nor work-like competition of products”). It reminded me of another play article I read recently by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) about “Debunking the Play vs. Learning Dichotomy.” In the article, Dr. Snow argues that “maintaining the dichotomy between play and instruction is a distraction” and that we need to examine play and learning together and explore (play?) with finding a balance between them in the classroom. I don’t believe Kohn is arguing for an either/or mentality but he does seem to be suggesting that there can be a clear distinction between play and learning. I wonder how separate the concepts can and should be? If we use the perspective discussed in the NAEYC article above and define play as an activity leading to and producing benefits like increased creativity and problem solving skills, does it still fit Kohn’s requirement for “pure play”?

All of these thoughts also reminded me of a recent article in Psychology Today about “the roles of play and curiosity as foundations for learning” and the question of “evolutionary mismatch.” Has all of the controversy over play arisen because of how much our schools have changed and the mismatch between our inherent desire to be self-directed, curious, and playful running up against standardized curricula and pressure to direct students’ learning?

As is often the case, my inquiry has lead to further questions and areas for now deeper inquiry but I hope others will add their thoughts and we can explore these ideas together. “Play is hard to maintain as you get older. You get less playful. You shouldn’t, of course” (R. Feynman – Physicist). Play might be hard to maintain but I think fighting to maintain it in our lives and in our children’s lives is important and if we use children as our inspiration I think we can all find ways to bring more play into our daily lives. 🙂