The Revolution Works Weekends

It’s happening all around us. This digital revolution isn’t taking any time off. I’m getting the chance to witness a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) initiative firsthand, and the results have been as expected . . . GREAT! Getting to this point, though, has left us with a lot of bumps, scrapes and bruises. The digital transformation in education went something like this:

1997: Teachers are comfortable with the status quo.

1998: A computer sans training is delivered to every classroom.

1998 – During Teacher Planning Periods: Teachers nationwide achieve high scores on Windows Solitaire.

1999: Teachers awed by new computer/internet technologies.

1999 – 3rd Period: Teacher makes first winning eBay bid.

1999: Early demands for computer and internet literacy.

1999: Educators begin hearing the term “e-learning.”

1999: Y2K fears give the status quo crowd reason to to be status quo-ier.

2000: Y2K fizzles. Internet and computer technologies expand exponentially.

2000: School leadership sees dangers in new technologies.

2000: Demands for computer literacy increase.

2000: Teachers unsure how to share their eBay and solitaire expertise.

2000: School tech departments nationwide limit access to . . . TECH.

2000: Teachers and leadership hunker down and resist change. Status Quo REIGNS for 10 years.

2001: World moves ahead rapidly into digital future, leaving schools behind.

2001: Small crowd of early classroom adopters plunge forward, bending rules, paying out-of-pocket, creating headaches for leadership and tech departments.

2004: Web2.0 arrives. Online learning for real.  More popular in private sector.

2006: Out of 55 industry sectors, education ranks dead last in internet technologies.

2008: Smart technologies arrive to school in the form of contraband cell phones stored in students’ bags and pockets.

2010: School leadership and classroom teachers play catch up.

2012: Early adopters now reign as pioneering heroes.

The tide has certainly turned as we’ve clearly passed the tipping point. The digital revolution ensconced the digitally insular schools and eventually became the norm. However, there are still some pockets of Old Guard resistance. I used to think this: No one wants to be the last person to adapt to the digital revolution. But that’s not true. There are some purposeful holdouts. Most think they are holding out for philosophical reasons, but many are simply afraid of change, are unwilling to learn, and hope to retire before they have to. I have to say to them, it’s one thing when you’re holed up in your own little 20th-century world, but it’s another thing when you’re holding 21st-century Generation Z kids as hostages.
I recently had this discussion with a steadfast change resistor:

Him:  Education was fine when I was a kid. Our school produced doctors, lawyers, teachers.

Me: When were you a kid? You’ve been 45 years old for the last 25 years.

Him: Are you inferring I can’t change?

Me: Implying. And you’re aware that kids have changed, right?

Him: That doesn’t mean education has to.

Me: And you’re aware that the world has changed, too, right?

Him: Yes, and I’m still preparing students for the world.

Me: Okay, but the world no longer needs people to deliver ice.

The digital revolution has been like the crack of whip, where a wave travels the length of the whip at high speed and ends with a CRACK. The early adopters have ridden that digital wave. The holdouts will feel the stinging CRACK of that whip, and that crack could be them without a job. That’s what’s happened to many of our private sector cohorts who dragged their feet into the 21st Century.
See, we just can’t be disconnect from the real world or the world will disconnect from us.

My wife teaches in a district that just recently gave the green light to the BYOD movement.  There was no big fanfare or announcement, just a simple message to teachers to include the use of devices in their lesson plans.  This worked out great for my spouse. Over the summer, she moved all of her courses online into Edmodo and gamified her curriculum.  She won a grant last year and bought ten laptops for her classroom, but that wasn’t enough for what she really needed. The BYOD initiative has filled that gap as nearly all of her students have phones that reach the internet. Connecting to the school’s wifi has saved the students from using their own data plans.
How’s the impact been?  In her words, “Fantastic!” Students have been engaged with their digital content, working exceptionally well in class, and no tech issues . . . kids tend to not have any with their own phones. The school was in the process of creating guest access on its wifi for BYOD machines, but the students already found backdoor access that was more efficient and that still used their school logins that they used on the school’s computers.
The paper copy issue is a thing of the past, too. Some students still prefer a paper copy for assignments, but the requests are so small that she can use the printer in her room and not the cantankerous printer in the teachers’ workroom.  (No such thing as a “lounge” any longer.)
The smartphones are the hook in this.  Students (and the rest of us) use them for about everything. Communication, creation, exploration, entertainment, appointments, messaging, problem solving . . . it’s all there. It’s also a portal to the world’s knowledge.
Here’s some telling data from St. Hilda’s School in Australia.  The school had been using Blackboard as just an LMS, but when they implemented Blackboard Mobile, the school saw this:

  • 550% increase in page views / day
  • 800% increase in daily traffic with 10th grade students
  • 1 million fewer sheets of paper used in 2011

That’s all impressive, both academically and economically. According to Nielsen, teen media consumption now ranks in this order:  1. mobile, 2. internet, 3. TV.  Not sure that we saw the mobile consumption growth coming until recently.  The paper remedy . . . that’s not just for paper, that’s also for copier maintenance and ink costs (which we’re all aware is apparently made from rare martian unicorn blood). The paper savings alone for a million copies would be about a $120,000.
What’s to learn from this? If you’re an early adopter and you put your class online yourself, you should start looking for compatible mobile solutions. If you’re an early adopter, though, you probably don’t need to hear that. If you were smart or lucky, you put your class on a site that is mobile ready, like Weebly or Edmodo. If you’re school is with a vendor, and the vendor doesn’t have a mobile ready platform, then it’s time to consider a better option.
If you’re a resisting hold out . . . CRACK!

Adam Renfro

Adam was a classroom English teacher for ten years and began teaching online in 1998. He now works for the North Carolina Virtual Public School, the 2nd largest virtual school in the nation. Adam has blogged for Getting Smart since September of 2011.

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