You’re Already BYOT But You Won’t Admit It

Jill Hobson is the edtech director of Forsyth County Schools in suburban Atlanta.  She had the best quote of the day at ERDInnovation.  She told the audience of superintendents, “You’re already BYOT but you won’t admit it.” She was talking about high access environments where students bring their own technology (BYOT) to school.  Her point was that every school is a BYOT school, but only a few acknowledge and leverage the fact.
The superintendents were intrigued by the promise and challenges of BYOT and peppered Jill with questions.  Forsyth has enough laptops on carts, with some available for checkout, that the equity questions haven’t been overwhelming.  Forsyth has pretty good bandwidth in place but they’ve still had to limit radio streaming and movie downloads.  They require student to use the districts filtered web access (but acknowledge that some phones and tabs on data plans may circumvent that rule).  They try to provide a variety of instructional resources for students so that ‘flash won’t play on Apple’ kinds of comments aren’t a show stopper.
She said when you acknowledge BYOT, you can have a ‘screens up’ period of a class where students can use their devices and a ‘screens down’ period—that helps avoid some texting under the desk when you’d rather have students focused on the topic at hand.
Scott Drossos, who is leading 1:1 efforts at Pearson, and I discussed the need to optimize content and services in the cloud for several browsers in support of a BYOT environment.
Hall Davidson, Director Global Learning Initiatives, Discovery Education, kicked off the day with an hour of random cool stuff.  He provided participating superintendents with good traditional edtech advice: model tech use, align with core instruction, provide PD, boost web 2.0 apps for learning, required balanced assessments of student work.
I kicked off the next session describing the benefits of personal digital learning:

Customization: more learning per hour by targeting learning levels and best learning modality
Motivation: boosting time on task by increasing persistence and leveraging interests
Equalization: creating universal access to great teachers and instructional resources for all students

I discussed the difference between edtech (and random coolness) and blended learning—the search for learning and operating productivity.  Blended learning requires not only new learning modalities but new staffing patterns that leverage talent and save money.  I mentioned the Digital Learning Now recommendations including some that superintendents find challenging—fractional funding and choice to the course—but there wasn’t much discussion about that (but there will be as states introduce more statewide providers).
Chip Kimball, Lake Washington School District supintendent, gave a briefing on CoSN’s “21st Century Superintendent” initiative.  He urged leadership, vision, advocacy.  He asked the superintendents, “Are you ready?”
I encouraged the superintendents to start by reading The Rise of Blended Learning and to work with their state colleagues and develop a three year transition plan to personal digital learning and to start with a few blended learning pilots: AP & upper division STEM, grade 6-10 math, and special services like speech therapy.  I encouraged them to leverage the three year transition to online assessment that will occur in most states.
Kathy Hurley, Pearson Foundation, described the exponential growth of mobile learning.  She said Pearson used to be a textbook company, but that it was a “learning platform and services” company today.  She pointed out that more 2-5 year olds are fluent on phone apps than can tie their shoes.  She noted that by 2020 there may be 6 billion mobile phone uses and almost 5 billion people with web access.  Like Chip, she urged participants to review COSN’s Horizon Report
It’s a hoppin’ Saturday night in the Delta Sky Club at Hartsfield.  I’m off to Grand Rapids, the New Jerusalem for us Dutch-Americans, where I hope to get an update on blended learning plans.  I had the good fortune to work with Dr. Bernard Taylor in KC MO and I appreciate his leadership in GR.  He recognizes that phase shift changes–like the adoption of blended learning–take political and financial capital as well as personal leadership from the superintendent.

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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