For K-12 districts looking to implement mobile learning, there are really two options: BYOD or 1:1. BYOD stands for Bring Your Own Device and it’s exactly what it sounds like. Students and teachers bring in whatever device they have access to at home be it a laptop, tablet or smartphone. In a 1:1 environment, the school standardizes on and provides a device to its students and faculty. Both approaches to mobile learning provide much needed access to technology, but each comes with its own unique set of challenges, particularly where classroom management and sustainability are concerned.
Planning for Mobile Learning
Regardless of whether you choose to implement BYOD or 1:1, there are several things you need to do to prepare for mobile learning before you settle on a device or a particular approach. You first need to invest in infrastructure, mainly bandwidth. According to Renee Patton, director of US Public Sector of Education at Cisco, the number one mistake schools make is to underestimate the importance of their network foundation. The second mistake: they lack a comprehensive mobile learning strategy.
“When we work with districts, we really encourage them to figure out what outcomes they want to see as a result of mobile learning, regardless of whether it’s BYOD or 1:1,” says Patton. “How are they going to measure what they’re doing? What content and curricula should they be delivering? How are they going to engage students? How are they going to deliver professional development? Then the last decision is about what devices and how.”
This is where an integrator can help. An integration company that works within the K-12 market will have experience working with many different types of school districts and will have spoken with end users facing similar challenges. They can help you design a mobile learning solution that is a good fit for your school and that leverages your existing technology to the best of its ability.
“We try to understand the current situation, not just with respect to how many projectors and screens do you want, but how do you teach? What’s your methodology? We try to really understand the environment and culture before making recommendations,” says Lisa Dayse, account executive at integration firm IMS Technology Services.
It’s important to remember that hardware is only half the battle with mobile learning. A well thought out initiative takes everything into account from laptops and tablets to device use policies to digital classroom tools to software.
“We have found the successful programs are the ones that are well organized and well administered,” says Mike Shinn, project manager at IMS Technology Services. “That’s not just in terms of people who are ahead of the game. It’s also having the right software solutions to match the needs of the students and the faculty.
Part of choosing the right solutions is involving the appropriate stakeholders in the decision making process. That includes principals, IT administrators, representatives from each teaching department, instructional technology staff, school administrators and even facility managers. All of these people will have a part to play in mobile learning.
Once you’ve made the necessary improvements to your infrastructure and have outlined in detail your learning outcomes, you can then begin to examine your mobile learning options.
The appeal of a BYOD policy is pretty obvious, especially when education budgets are tight. A district can save money by having students bring in devices from home rather than investing in a hefty purchase. In this scenario, a school or district would still need to invest in its infrastructure in order to support an increased number of devices connecting to its Wi-Fi network and draining bandwidth, but it would not have to purchase any devices.
“With BYOD, [districts] save money on the initial implementation, but they really have to consider the management and control policies and processes,” says Patton
The issue of management applies to both IT administrators and teachers. In a BYOD environment, there are a number of different types of devices with a variety of operating systems accessing the network.
“When you talk to an IT administrator it’s usually kind of a headache for them,” says Dayse.
IT administrators are responsible for setting up access and permissions for devices and also potentially pushing out applications and software upgrades, tasks that become significantly more difficulty when multiple operating systems are involved. This challenge also trickles down to the classroom level where teachers need to create digital lessons that are device agnostic, meaning they will work regardless of the device a student is using and whether it operates on an iOS, Android, Windows, Blackberry platform, etc. Teachers may also be called upon to provide basic troubleshooting for devices they are not familiar with.
BYOD Pros: It’s cost effective. K-12 districts can save money while providing students with digital tools.
BYOD Cons: Device management is a little trickier. Teachers and IT administrators have to juggle multiple operating systems.
From an IT and classroom management standpoint, 1:1 seems to make more sense, but it’s expensive and can be a difficult approach to sustain. The district chooses a device, for example a MacBook, and deploys that device across a number of grades. Every student and every teacher has the exact same device loaded with the exact same software, making device management a lot easier. However, the school also has to commit to refreshing those devices every few years to keep up with maintenance requirements and improvements in the technology.
Dr. Mike Webb, deputy superintendent for Instructional Technology and Operations at Union County Public Schools has overseen the roll out of a 1:1 program in his district for the last four years. When Union County first considered mobile learning, it knew right away it wanted to go the 1:1 route.
“We wanted to provide a consistent platform for our teachers so that whatever they were producing to share with our children, all children would be able to access it through a common device. The second reason was we wanted to make sure that we were not part of the digital divide.”
The term “digital divide” refers to disparities in access to technology. In a BYOD situation this might present itself in one of two ways. One, a student does not have access to a mobile device at all, or two, a student may only have access to a smartphone while their classmates are using Chromebooks and MacBook Pros. In this case, there is clearly an advantage to having access to a full laptop rather than a smaller screened smartphone.
As a 1:1 district, Union County has made the commitment to continue to refresh the Lenovo Chromebooks deployed throughout its schools every five years. The program is funded by allotting a portion of every department’s budget towards sustaining 1:1.
“We have by in from the bottom up and the top down, meaning we’ve all committed parts of our budget to sustain this,” says Webb. “For example, every principal agreed to put a percentage of their materials and supply money (state and local) towards this initiative. Every department has agreed to do that as well.”
1:1 Pros: Device management is simple and everyone is using the same digital tools in the classroom.
1:1 Cons: Going 1:1 represents a significant investment upfront and in years to come.
Do Your Research
You may have an idea of which mobile learning approach is right for your school, but before you give the go ahead you should consult other districts that have made the same choice. Shinn recommends speaking to three schools or districts. One that was successful with mobile learning, one that was unsuccessful and one that struggled with deployment.
“Understand where those problems occurred and how to prevent them during roll out,” he says.
Also be sure to address what software is going to be used in the classroom and throughout the district and make sure it will work with whatever mobile learning approach you have selected. Don’t rush into roll out. Only proceed when you feel ready.
“A lot of people just want to get the hardware and advertise they are 1:1,” says Dayse. “But, the effectiveness is really dictated by the content and how well it’s utilized.”