Monday, March 23, 2015

Considerations for Equity and BYOD

The Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) movement in K-12 schools has skyrocketed over the past five years.  About 71% of school districts have a policy allowing students’ devices to be used in the classroom for learning (Software & Information, 2014).  BYOD is dependent on students using whatever technology is at their fingertips at home, most often a cell phone.  Despite the fact that close to 80% of teenagers own a cell phone, the equity amongst those devices and phone plans varies greatly (Madden et. al., 2013).  While many articles about BYOD focus on educational apps for Smartphones, it is fundamental that teachers take equity into account when planning for BYOD.  Only 37% of teenagers own a Smartphone and less have unlimited data plans (Madden et. al., 2013).  Thus activities that require mobile apps or storing large amounts of data are not accessible for all students.  Instead, selecting activities, which work with any phone and phone plan is a more equitable choice to reach as many students as possible through their own devices.  It is essential teachers know what their students can do on their devices, thus a survey at the beginning of the school year asking about student’s phone plans and services is helpful.  In general all phones can text and make phone calls.  Below are three ways to connect learning with ANY phone through the following strategies text alerts, moblogging, and phone calling.

Text Alerts
Text alerts are when a teacher or school sends a text message to an entire group of students, parents, or both.  Alerts can be one-way (teacher to student), two-way-private (teacher-to-student-to-teacher) or two-way-open (teacher-to-student-to-students/teacher).    Below are pedagogical strategies where text alerts can be used to enhance learning.

·      Managerial:  Teachers send quick announcements such as homework reminders or upcoming class activities.  It is usually one-way from the teacher to the student or teacher to parent.  
·      Project-based:  Teachers use the alert as a way for students to produce or participate in a classroom project.  For example, an English teacher might ask their students to text in their original poem for an assignment along with a visual image of what inspired the poem.  Or a social studies teacher might create a virtual debate where the students can text back and forth in the voice of a historical character. 
·      Small Group:  Teachers can put students into groups based on their reading levels, mathematics levels, or academic interests and then send precise messages to those groups based on their level/interest.  In addition, teachers can open up the groups (two-way texting) so that they can text back and forth with other group members to collaborate, brainstorm, or even create virtual book clubs!
·      Polling:  Teachers can send a multiple choice or free response poll to their students during class.  The students can text an immediate response.  These are helpful as quick exit tickets, share-outs, or basic feedback. 
·      Tutor:  Teachers send one-way alerts to help with FAQs during a class activity.   Teachers can also assign an older student to send out tutoring help to younger students.  This can be set up as a texting tutoring line  (two-way-private), where students can text in when they need help and an older student or adult volunteer could text back helpful hints or tips.
·      Text Pals:  Teachers pair students with students in a similar grade/classroom from another school.  By using the two-way-private text alerts the students can begin to learn from each other as pen pals.  The teacher will be on the two-way alert so they can monitor the conversation.
·      Field Trips:  Teachers use alerts to keep students focused on learning.  Teachers send out a two-way alert during the field trip with an activity or poll asking the students to text back their work (such as sending in an interesting fact or image).  
·      Assessments:  Teachers use the two-way-private alerts to send quick surveys, polls or quizzes to better understand how well each student comprehends a topic.  The responses return to the teacher in their private texting file online.  Now the teacher has an archive of the quick assessments that they could use to personalize learning.
·      Personalizing:  Teachers send out private alerts to specific groups/students to help scaffold their learning during a class assignment.  For example they could send a student who has finished a class activity quickly to respond back with a summary of how they were able to solve the mathematics problem so quickly and the reasoning that they may have used.

Online tools for creating text alerts
Remind enables teachers to schedule text messages in advance (this works great for weekly homework or pre-scheduling in-class alerts).  Messages can also be tweeted and attachments sent out with the messages.  Great tool for one-way and two-way private alerts. is the most versatile!  Students can participate via cell phone or web.  Student messages can be moderated before being sent out to the group. allows for polls, quizzes and surveys to be sent out to students.  This is a wonderful tool for text alert projects, field trip activities and text pals!  
Joopz is an easy way to do multiple group messaging.  Teachers toggle between different classes or groups that they have set up for various alerts.  Teachers can schedule messages to be sent and all messages are archived. allows for texting to other countries as part of their alerts.  This is a helpful feature for doing international text pals!
ClassPager will present the alert feedback from students in a graphic format as it comes into the website.  For example if a teacher sent out a text asking students to vote on an issue, then students when students text back, their results will show up in a pie chart. 

Some web sites allow students to create a new blog post via texting (moblogging).  Moblogging is an inclusive option for students to publish digital journals.  Moblogging creates opportunities for authentic real time collaboration, below are pedagogical examples of how this can enhance learning.

·      Field Trip:  A student can live blog from their phone about their off-campus experiences, rather than waiting until they get back to the classroom.  Parents and community members can read the blog as students post live updates! 
·      Classroom Reflections: When students are working in groups during class, it is difficult for teachers to know how learning is occurring in each group.  Thus asking students in each group to reflect (via Moblog) on their activities as they are working can be lead to quick feedback from the teacher as well as for students to review their collaboration.
·      eBooks:  There are online resources where students can write and epublish a piece of literary work through their phone. 

Online Tools for Moblogging
Blogger is a popular blogging resource that has a setting allowing students to text directly to the blog via an email address. 
Tumblr allows students to text directly to the blog with a simple email address.  
TextNovel allows students to write an ebook from their phone!  Community members can also download the novels directly to their phones via SMS.

Phone Calling
One feature of every phone is making a phone call.   There are numerous possibilities to connect voice to classroom learning. 

·      Podcasting: Students call in a live podcast on a topic of research.  Podcasting directly to the Internet from a phone is easier than traditional podcasting in that one does not need to upload a file to a host.  It can also be done anyplace!
·      Interviews and Oral Histories:  Students conduct interviews inside and outside of the classroom to capture the experiences of their peers and other community members.  Capturing oral histories directly from a phone is appealing since the interview can be recorded in the actual place of the historical event (they can walk and talk!).
·      Discipline Discourse:  Students call to record their explanation of subject-area concepts or how they arrived at answers in a discipline of study (such as solving a mathematics answer). 
·      Salon/Debate:  In contrast to an in-class debate where some students are nervous to speak in front of their peers, a phone conferencing tool allows for full participation that archives each person’s speaking role in the debate.

Online Tools for Phone Recording
iPadio is broadcasting a recording directly from your phone.  The podcast recordings can be public or private. iPadio has speech to text transcription.
FreeConferencePro is created for large group phone conferencing.  With one phone call you can set up an entire phone conference of up to 200 callers that is archived.
Talkshoe allows students to live broadcast from a phone.  The broadcast can include “guest callers” that call into the broadcast, just like an authentic radio show. 
Evoca allows anyone to call in recordings from a phone.  Evoca has a conference-calling feature that allows many students to call in at one time for a conference.
Hipcast allows anyone to call and record a podcast that posts directly to the Internet.  Recordings are archived and can be turned into a playlist and downloaded mp3 files.


Madden, M., Lenhart, A., Duggan, M. Cortesi, S., and Gasser, U.  (2013).  Teens and Technology 2013.  Pew Internet and American Life Project.  Retrieved:

Software and Information Industry Association (2014).  A Vision for K-20 Education:  Results from the SIIA Vision K-20 Survey.  Retrieved:

Monday, March 2, 2015

5 Common Mistakes Schools and Teachers Make When Implementing BYOD

Anyone who has read this blog over the past decade is aware that I have always been an advocate for "bring your own device"---in particular student cell phones.  However, as more schools have been changing their policies to be inclusive of a BYOD policy, there have been some mistakes made along the way.  I want to share these common errors in hopes that other teachers and schools can learn from the trailblazers.

Not creating a policy first
In the early days of BYOD, many teachers would get excited by the idea and immediately ask their students to take out their cell phones in class for an activity.  While there was initial excitement, this also led to some students abusing the tool and using it in non-educative ways.  It is important that teachers work with their students to develop rules and structures BEFORE asking them to take out their devices to use in the classroom.  Once rules are in place, then the students know the expectations and consequences for misuse, and distractions are less likely to happen.

Requiring that all teachers use the devices
Over the past five years, school districts have written district-wide policies about how BYOD can be used in the classroom.  Some of those schools have chosen to require that teachers use student's devices, despite teachers not being comfortable or not seeing a strong educative purpose.  Teachers should be given a choice, just as they have other choices in other tools used in their lesson planning.  Forcing teachers to do something they are not comfortable with or that they do not think is in the best interest of the children, will not yield positive results.  Teachers may even resent the new policy in the end.

Starting BIG
Of course teachers are innovative and creative, thus when they hear about a new way to use cell phones in learning, they tend to think really big and come up with complicated ideas for how to integrate them.   Yet, as with most technologies, a small pilot is a more manageable way to begin.  Teachers can do small optional projects for homework and then simple activities in the classroom.  Districts can ask a group of teachers to pilot the BYOD policy, rather than all the teachers in the district.

Assuming ALL kids and parents have cell phones
While cell phones are becoming more ubiquitous amongst children and adults, there are still plenty (mostly lower SES) that do not have access or do not have access to higher-end devices such as Smartphones.  Teachers need to be careful about relying too much on just using apps and websites with BYOD.  Inevitably some of their students will only have a feature phone that can text and make a phone call but no Internet.  Teachers need to make sure they have surveyed their students so they know the types of phones, plans and access that their students actually have.  Then design BYOD lessons for ALL students.

Doing something because it is "shiny"
BYOD is very sexy.  When you see a picture of students using their own devices in classrooms, the thought is that they are innovative 21st century learners.  However, just because students are using their devices does not mean that the learning goals are being met in a way that is enhanced.  It may actually be the opposite, students may be distracted by the app they are using on their phones, and not focusing on the content learning.  Teachers need to make sure they are designing BYOD with the end goals in mind, and not designing based on a new fun app or mobile resource they just learned about.

What are some other pitfalls that schools or teachers fall into when implementing BYOD?  I would love to hear from you?

Monday, February 2, 2015

8 Reasons to Choose BYOD over 1:1

Over the past five years we have seen a growth in the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) movement in schools (and business!) with over 71% of school districts allowing students to bring their own devices for learning.    At the same time I am hearing about schools moving away from 1:1 programs, in particular 1:1 iPad programs.  For the purpose of this blog post, I will define 1:1 as schools that purchase the same technology devices for all their students, and allow them to borrow them in some form for the entire school year (eventually handing them back to the school).

I have given this topic much thought and research.  After which I have found that there are some important reasons why schools should consider a BYOD program over a 1:1 where the school purchases the technology for the students.

  • 1:1 programs are difficult to sustain because you must purchase or lease new technology every 3 to 4 years.
  • BYOD allows families to purchase what they can afford and what works for their families rather than being told by a school what to purchase, even if it does not work for their families.  Yet, while the school must have the infrastructure in place (access to strong Wifi..etc), they do not need to replenish new devices every couple of years.  
  • 1:1 programs do not always allow students to bring home their technology tools, thus not having 24/7 access to their learning tool.  This also limits what teachers can assign for homework or extended class assignments.
  • BYOD guarantees that students will have 24/7 access to their learning tools.
  • 1:1 programs only focus on how to use one particular technology, thus students are exposed to less technology platforms (and often apps/resources).
  • In BYOD students in the schools are exposed to a variety of devices and platforms.  For example students can watch teachers model how to do the same activity on an iPad, a Chromebook and an Andriod phone.
Student Responsibility 
  • While 1:1 programs may be a bit easier for the technology coordinator (if schools are lucky enough to have one!) to troubleshoot problems, they also are dependent on the technology department or coordinators to do all the troubleshooting.
  • BYOD programs are more dependent on families and students doing their own troubleshooting, thus allowing them to take ownership and responsibility over their learning devices.
Long Term Access
  • 1:1 programs often take back the technology lent to students after a certain grade or graduation from a level of schooling.  And there is no guarantee they will have a digital tool from the school at their next level.
  • In a BYOD program, once students leave their elementary or middle school, they will continue to have access to their learning tool.
Natural Curiosity
  • In 1:1 programs the technology is selected by the schools, thus the students do not always feel as connected and interested in the selected too (some do, some would have preferred a different tool).
  • In BYOD programs students are inherently engaged and curious with their own devices.  They often had a say in what they wanted to purchase, and use it everyday for entertainment, thus they 
The Research
  • The best research says that the more access to the tool, the better.  BYOD guarantees 24/7 access while 1:1 programs cannot always guarantee this.
The Real World
  • More and more businesses are adopting the BYOD model and moving away from the 1:1 model in their companies.  Thus, as schools often want to connect to the authentic world, what could be more real than exposing students to the same technology structure they will experience in the work force?

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

How to evaluate apps and websites for meeting your classroom needs

While it can be exciting that there are so many apps and websites for learning content, it can also be daunting and overwhelming to busy teachers.  Fortunately there has been a wave of new websites that help teachers locate apps to meet their curricular needs.  Two of them include CommonSenseMedia has just launched Graphite and EdSurge.  Both of these databases can be searched along the lines of theme, age, standards, and content (amongst other options).  These resources are much better than going to iTunes and typing in a generic topic.  

However, once we are able to narrow down to a few options to use in their classroom, they need to do some evaluating of these sites for themselves.  No site or app is perfect for all classrooms, so we need to make sure the resources they select are personalized well enough to suit their classroom needs.  Thus it is important that we understand how to thoroughly evaluate the effectiveness of an app or resource to meet their classroom needs.   Below are some of the criteria that we should be considering when bringing an app or website into their classroom for learning.

Curriculum Connection
The connection to the classroom learning goals or curriculum is vital.  Just because an app looks fun or is immediately engaging, does not mean that it will meet the needs of the teacher’s classroom learning goals.  
Question to ask:
  • ·      Does the app or website provide opportunities to directly meet your learning goals?  Is it indirect?

ZPD:  Developmentally Appropriate for Age
One of the concerns with using apps and websites is that the resource will be too difficult for some learners while not challenging enough for others.  Some software will allow for adjustment (or at least allow the teacher to opt out of using certain advanced features) so that the software can meet their students at their zone of proximal development (where they learn best---challenged just enough).   Other pieces of software claim they will assess the student’s individually and place the student’s at their appropriate developmental level, when in fact the assessment does not seem to do this very well. 
Questions to ask:
  • ·      Does the software assess the students’ learning and can appropriately place the student into levels that meet their learning needs?
  • ·      Does the software allow the teacher to turn on and off features for the students?
  • ·      Does the software allow students to make different “leveled” choices?

Types of Skills Practiced
We should consider if the software is focusing on “skill and drill” flashcard approaches or if the software is allowing students to be creative and innovative and develop ideas or problem-solve with critical thinking skills.  While the latter is higher on bloom’s taxonomy, there are times where teacher’s may want some reinforcement of learning ideas.  We should know the type of skills they want their student’s to work on going into selecting the software.
Questions to ask:
  • ·      Does the software allow students to Remember and/or Understand information learned?
  • ·      Does the software help students Apply their knowledge?
  • ·      Does the software give students an opportunity to Create, Analyze or Synthesize information?

We should have a sense if they want student’s working together in the resource or if they would prefer individual work.
Questions to ask:
  • ·      Are there opportunities for collaboration? 
  • ·      If collaborative, do the collaborative opportunities allow students to create knowledge together or simply comment on each other’s work? 

While not all apps or software are focused on self-awareness, it is helpful if there are elements where students’ can develop a sense of self-confidence and awareness. 
Questions to ask:
  • ·      Are students given opportunities to develop a strong sense of self? 
  • ·      Are students given opportunities to develop empathy and emotional connections with others that are safe, kind and positive?

Tech Skills
While we may be focused on the learning goals, keep in mind that we should also consider the technology skills needed as well as being learned by using the software. 
Questions to ask:
  • ·      What technology skills  (NETS-S) will the students need to participate in this software? 
  • ·      What technology skills  (NETS-S) will they develop by participating in this software?

Ethical Issues
While many digital resources are targeted at children, not all of them (even ones that say they are for education) consider ethical or safety issues.  We should think about the age of the children and if the software may push the boundaries of what is safe and appropriate. 
Questions to ask:
  • ·      Are there reminders to the students about posting and privacy online when prompted to post something? 
  • ·      Are there opportunities for collaboration that are moderated?
  • ·      Are there safe guards for privacy?
  • ·      Are there invitations for parents to participate?

Since students learn at different paces as well as through different modes of representation (especially if you are teaching with a UDL approach), it is important to look at the different ways that students could use the software to show their work and learn new ideas.
Questions to ask:
  • ·      Does the software allow students to self-pace through “levels” or be challenged in new ways as they progress?  For example, can the student begin with a simple photo slide show but then move on to adding narration, text, music and hyperlinks as they progress? 
  • ·      Are there scaffolds in place so that the student can get help as needed but also progress at their own pace?
  • ·      Are there multiple forms for representation for the content?
  • ·      Can students express their understanding in multiple ways

It is important that the students are motivated and focused when using the resource. 
Questions to ask:
  • ·      Does the software draw students into the learning environment in a fun and motivating way?
  • ·      Does the resource help students to focus on their learning?

Motivation is not enough reason to use a tool, ultimately engagement fades if there is not another purpose to using a digital tool.  The tool must somehow enhance the learning experience.
Questions to ask:
  • ·      Does the software allow students to learn or participate in something that they could not without the software? 
  • ·      How does this software enhance the students learning experience, where they are learning more or differently with the aid of this software? 

Prompt Feedback
It is important that students receive a response or feedback on their work as they progress. 
Questions to ask:
  • ·      Does the software provide feedback as the student tries to progress to new levels or as the student tries to create a project. 
  • ·      Is the feedback immediate?
  • ·      If there is not feedback, do they know how to find “help”?

Ease of Use
While there should be some challenge in using the software, once shown how to use the resource, it should be fairly intuitive for their developmental level.  If the student has to constantly ask the teacher for help, then the software is probably too difficult for them. 
Questions to ask:
  • ·      Are navigation options to save, get help, go home obvious and easy to find. 
  • ·      Can the students’ manure around the tool with little to no outside help?

A new movement in the STEM world is adding an “A” for the arts (called STEAM).  We should look for opportunities that allow students to be creative or customize the resource.
Questions to ask:
  • ·      Can the teacher customize a personal learning path for students? 
  • ·      Are there opportunities for students to be creative? 
  • ·      Can the students make choices in the tool in how they show their understandings?

Alternative Access
If the students had to bring their own devices or use this software at home, we should look at how many different ways the resource could be accessed.
Questions to ask:
  • ·      Are there opportunities for students to be creative? 
  • ·      Can the tool be accessed from multiple platforms such as iPad, laptop, Nook, Smartphone? 
  • ·      Is there a cost to alternative forms of access

While we all prefer great resources that are free, it is important to remember that sometimes it might be best to pay for something that could create a quality learning experience for the students.
Questions to ask:
  • ·      Is the cost reasonable for the amount of use?
  • ·      Is there are free version that could be used and get the same learning results?

Data Collected (analytics)
Does the software collect data in some form from the student. 
Questions to ask:
  • ·      Does the software will collect usage data (how and when), as well as the individual progress of the student?
  • Does the Analytics allow opportunities for the teacher to modify the student's learning path?

Resource updates can be significant since curriculum is often changing.  It is important that the software is staying up to date on the latest educational and societal changes.  There is also a better chance that the software will be less “glitchy” if it is updated often.
Question to ask:
  • ·      When was the software last updated? 

In this day and age it is rare to find classrooms that do not have students who are English language learners (ELLs) or students who speak more than one language.  By using resources with multiple language options, we may be creating a more optimal learning environment for all students.
Question to ask:
  • ·      Can the software be used with more than one language?  Keep in mind this can be helpful for parents of ELL’s who may want to help their child but they do not speak English as well as their native language.

Unfortunately equity is often an overlooked category in most sites for review, but should not be!  Digital equity is very real and should be a concern for any K-12 teacher.  There are equity issues along gender lines, economic lines, as well as racial/cultural lines. 
Questions to ask:
  • ·      Is there a gender bias (such as only a male narrator or gives females a stereotypical role as the less intelligent one). 
  • ·      Does there seem to be a bias towards one racial group?
  • ·      Do you see any glaring stereotypes that you do not want to reinforce?

Culturally Relevant Pedagogy
Using students’ everyday culture in the classroom can be a bridge to help the home to school connection.
Questions to ask:
  • ·      Does the software provide a way for students to connect with their everyday cultural background? 
  • ·      Can the student bring in their personal norms and folkways into the learning through the software?  For example, the software may allow the student to select the geographic region they live in, select the local dialect, and choose a particular song that has personal meaning to them in doing a geography activity. 

RTI (Response to Intervention)
Does the tool allow for targeted interventions to help modify the learning experience so all students can be successful?
Questions to ask:
  • ·      Can the teacher modify the learning path of the students and track their comprehension of the content based on the targeted interventions?

I tend to put the categories above in order of most important to them to least important for their particular learning or classroom goals.  Then begin to rate and review, the goal being that the app or website best matches most important categories for my classroom.
Disclaimers and Other Information about this blog. The information on the blog may be changed without notice and is not guaranteed to be complete, correct or up to date. The opinions expressed on the blog are the opinions of the individual author and may not reflect the opinions of anyone or any institution associated with the author. Links to external sources in the blog posts are provided solely as a courtesy to our blog visitors. All of the links on the sidebar under "recommended links" are links that the author believes to possibly have benefit in K-12 teaching and learning. All other sidebar links are related to cell phones and/or education but not necessary recommended as a K-12 learning resource by the author, some may be sponsor links and/or paid for image/banner ads. The author does not do paid reviews for her blog posts about web resources.Please contact Liz at for any inquires regarding this blog.
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