The importance of BYOD

BYOD has had a massive impact at my school; Willows High school is situated in one of the most socially economic deprived areas in Wales with 40% of our students on free school meals.

During my 6-month secondment with Microsoft it was very interesting to see the amount of schools in England that had one to one devices for every student. I long for the day that schools in Wales have the money to invest in such a luxury, every year our schools budgets seem to get less and less.

At present we have approximately 120 Microsoft surface tablets and a few iPads. Even though our free school meals are around 45%, the interesting fact is that the majority of pupils still have a smart phone.

A few years ago, Leighton Andrews the then Education Minister for Wales led the way for digital technologies in our schools, he promised the setup of Wi-Fi in every school in Wales and the development of HWB, a network for teachers and students.

When considering the pros and cons of BYOD compared to one-to-one tablets, I really think it depends on the school’s financial situation and also where the school is based. I would love our school to be in a situation to be able to offer a device to every pupil but the fact of the matter is there simply isn’t enough money, especially when we have a government in London dedicated to the destruction of public services.

Although we have our own Government in Wales we have to remember the money comes to the assembly from Westminster and seems to be less every year.

What does this have to do with BYOD I hear you asking, well if the schools don’t have the money to buy devices we have to encourage the pupils to use their own devices, or do we?

Willows High school really is pushing the boundaries of BYOD since our school Wi-Fi was installed a few years ago. We have a public network that pupils can join and use. This has really opened up a World of web 2.0 tools available to our staff and students. Most pupils seem to have a mobile phone and if we can encourage them to use those devices positively then surely their experience in the classroom is going to be far more enriching. Obviously not all pupils have a mobile phone or smart device and because the majority do we are able provide the small number that don’t with the tablets we do have in school.

As soon as the students come through the school gates many schools shut out the technology and social media that the students use outside of the school. BYOD has impacted greatly at Willows and has impacted on our teaching and learning to the point that we are now the most improved school in Wales, smashing our GCSE target set my the National Assembly Government. There is no doubt that BYOD has played a part in this.

I am very fortunate to have been asked on many occasions to speak at education events and insets and it always baffles me when so many teachers are still telling me that pupils are banned from using mobile phones in their school and those sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are still blocked, even for teachers in some cases.

Some teachers and senior leadership teams think that by blocking such sites on the school network they are shutting the students out from them, forgetting that the student just simply takes their phone out and use 3G or 4G. They are stopping nothing, we need to encourage the positive use of such technology not ban it!

The mobile phone has more computing power than the spacecraft that brought Neil Armstrong back to planet Earth yet schools are still saying no. When budgets are at an all time low surely it makes sense to allow students to use their mobile device in the classroom. When will schools realize that when our youngsters are playing games or texting at 11 o’clock at night, when they fail a level on that game or they are texting they don’t think, oh it’s getting late I’d better stop now and go to sleep, they stay awake until they’ve passed that level or finished their text conversation.   It’s that determination that we have to bring into the classroom and BYOD can play its part in that goal.  This term we’re introducing free Apps so that students can listen to our

Willows Waves school radio station on their mobile phones anywhere in the World.

That said there are times when the use of mobile devices is not necessary and they should be away and out of sight. I strongly believe that by banning technologies like this we are encouraging poor behaviour.  If we encourage positive uses of such technology the students see it as the norm and respond by using it in a positive way. If we as teachers don’t teach our students to use this technology in a mature and grown up way then who will? We as a school have seen a significant improvement in the behaviour around mobile devices since integrating them into our curriculum and making them part of our teaching and learning environment.

BYOD has impacted greatly on the teaching and learning in my classroom. I regularly use Facebook and Twitter with my KS4 students. As soon as I say to people “yes”, I use Facebook and Twitter with my students they automatically think that is a very strange thing to be doing. How wrong they are! Our students are using social media daily and out of school all the time and we should be embracing that, turning it into a positive to help support our learners. I have simply set up a page on Facebook that my students can like; their parents can like it, my head teacher has liked it, the page cannot be written on by anyone other than myself. Anything I post can be seen by whoever has liked it, again bringing that social media World they love outside the classroom into the classroom. Social media use can be safe; this has been going on for at least 5-6 years with positive outcomes.

There are approximately two billion people connected to the World Wide Web, people think that’s two billion predators, we have to think of it as two billion potential teachers.   as I said If we don’t teach our youngsters to use this technology wisely, who will?

At Willows High school under an extremely supportive Head Teacher for new technologies, we have seen the benefits of BYOD and we are still reaping the rewards. Obviously there are times when students take advantage of the situation and abuse the luxury of being able to use their mobile device but like anything else that is dealt with appropriately.

For two years now we have had a mobile device policy at the school that covers most scenarios. At this current economic time where there seems to be no money for education, pupils are carrying devices in their pockets that can connect them to a World of interactive content and information, as facilitators of learning let’s embrace it.