The Age of Enlightenment?

Much has been made of Parks Canada considering Wi-Fi access at many National Parks across the country.  Many videos are appearing on YouTube warning cellphone users of social networking leading to people having poor social skills and hollow friendships.  Concerns are being raised about adolescents not attaining sufficient sleep due to texting late at night.  The more I learn about concerns with screen time, the more convinced I have become that schools need to offer students screen time, in part to teach them about the purposeful use of technology.  Screen time must not just lighten the faces of students but enlighten their minds.

Beginning next school year, BICS students in Grade 6-7 will be encouraged to bring their own device to school.  While many parents will see great value in supporting inquiry with digital access, others will wonder if this will simply mean students will have more and more screen time, at the cost of other important learning experiences.  For this reason, it is important that we start conversations around “bring your own device” (BYOD) by asking why:  Why is it helpful for students to have devices?  There are many reasons but I will share four.

First, most schools in British Columbia have moved or are moving towards an inquiry-based approach to learning where students ask questions that guide their investigation into a subject.  To do this effectively, students need a window beyond the classroom; they need access to a variety of up to date sources of information and varied perspectives made available through online resources as well as more traditional research approaches.

Second, learners need an audience.  Too often students share their learning with an audience of one, their teacher, or a small audience – typically family members.  Class and school presentations happen infrequently, but there are frequent opportunities for students to share their learning in blogs or online presentation tools. This kind of sharing increases accountability and engagement.

Third, learners need a place to store their work.  The BC Curriculum is providing more opportunities for students to connect learning among subjects and between grades and a digital portfolio of learning is helpful.

Lastly, students need to learn that technology is a tool, not a lifestyle.  Like using a calculator, it can be taken out for a purpose, and put away when unneeded.  Students need to learn how to use this tool and be good digital citizens:  how to use information ethically, comment on each other’s work supportively, and stay safe online.

These four points are part of the answer of why digital access supports student learning, but as BICS has parent and grant-purchased computers, one might wonder why students need their own device.  The simple answer is that a student device can be used seamlessly:  they have access to it whenever it is needed, not just when their teacher has booked the computers, they are familiar with how it operates, and they can save work to their files and access them from home easily.  The devices the BICS PAC has invested in over the last four years are used consistently and it is becoming increasingly challenging for teachers to reserve them for classroom use.  Encouraging students to bring in their own electronic device to school will reduce the demand on school devices and increase accessibility to support learning in a more streamlined, seamless way for all students. This creates greater flexibility for students to use devices when it best suits the class schedule, rather than when the teacher can book the computer cart.

I have not been easily convinced of the need for BYOD at BICS.  As noted, our PAC has invested heavily in a variety of devices and, up until recently, teachers have found these devices have, for the most part, satisfied demand.  I also share concerns with parents over the cost for families’ buying devices.  I understand that parents greatly value the many learning opportunities of BICS students that have little to do with technology such as learning from people who have insights that will never come up in a Google search.  But I also know that the balanced use of technology does not devalue other forms of learning.  And far from wiping our school goals of critical thinking and inquiry-based learning off the table, digital access is the table, or part of it; it enables inquiry and provides opportunities for critical thinking.

On Monday, May 26th at 6:30 pm in the BICS library, I will share a presentation on BYOD elaborating on the benefits and addressing concerns.  Parents who will have children in Grades 6 or 7 for the 2014-2015 school year are strongly encouraged to attend this interactive session.  Other interested BICS parents are of course also welcome.  After the presentation, I will invite parents to begin a conversation on BYOD that will shape implementation in September.  Please feel free to start the conversation now by commenting on the ideas shared in this post.

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