As someone who often leads professional learning opportunities, it is always interesting to try to take notice of the little things that are happening in the room, and then some of the comments that are made regarding student learning and learning environments.
Lately I have noticed the variance of devices and tools that are used by adults in the room. Although most people are working on either laptops, tablets, or smaller mobile devices (or often a combination of two to three of those things), you will still see several people using a notebook and pencil/pen. A lot of times, it is not that they aren’t comfortable with using a device, they just prefer a pencil. Sometimes I will talk with them in front of the larger group, and ask them if they think that I have a problem with them using a pencil, while promoting the use of digital tools? They often look stunned that I would ask, but realize that I have no issue with what they decide to use. What I do say though is that I would have an issue with them saying that a student could not use a device that worked for them. It is not only about having access to a tool, but the choice that is allowed in the first place.
Sometimes a student will choose a pencil and sometimes they would prefer a mobile device, but do we allow them the same choice that we would want afforded to us? Yes, some students will totally be off task from what is happening in the classroom, but so are many adults, whether they are “engaged” or not. It is not about making blanket rules, but seeing these opportunities as teachable moments, or understanding that all of our brains need a break.
Taking a kid’s pencil away because they used it in an inappropriate way rarely happens because many teachers see it as an inconvenience to themselves. When will we see taking mobile technology away from our students in the same light?
So even if students have the choice, do they have the option? Schools out there will talk about how they have access to a few desktops in the classroom, or are able to bring in carts, but not necessarily using a BYOD model because they are worried about the inequity that it would bring. What we need to do is aim for equity at the highest level instead of the lowest. If you have several students in your classrooms that do not have access to their own technology on a consistent basis, how do you rethink your budget to provide something the have constant access to? It will not be by replenishing your “computer lab”, but perhaps thinking differently about how that room could be used and how we could ended up getting more devices in the hands of more students.
One of the schools that I worked with in the past year decided to make their old computer lab into a “Starbucks” room that had different levels of seating and was much more of a welcoming learning environment than what the computer lab had been in years prior. Not only did they go with mobile technology that could be at the point of instruction, they also created an environment that teachers in the school wanted to recreate in their own classrooms. If you experience something better, you are more likely to implement something better. This is what that school wanted to create in the “Starbucks” room.
What many schools have now and what many schools want are very different. This is where the “innovator’s mindset” is crucial. Expecting to do everything that you used to do in schools and now adding laptops or tablets is not a viable option. It is not about doing more, but thinking different. What is crucial though is thinking about how we, as adults, would hate not having the choice of what tools we use for learning, and thinking about how we can create those same opportunities for our students. Is it okay in our world now for a student to only realize they love using a tablet for their learning once they leave school? Schools need to not only help students learn, but also help them realize how they learn best. That will make a much larger impact long past their time in our system.