A few years ago, my high school announced that it would become a BYOD campus. Previously, we had been a school where cell phones were treated as contraband. Using a cell phone at school was almost akin to lighting a cigarette right in the middle of class. As someone who had relied on his phone (Palm Pilot back in the days before smart phones) to keep organized, I was excited at the thought of my students being able to openly possess and use their electronic devices during the school day. I envisioned all the benefits awaiting my students: keeping important dates and reminders in their calendars, accessing our class blog right from their desks, taking snapshots of the white board for later reference, and whatever innovations lie in wait as technology and phones continued evolving.
The error in my thoughts is that I was thinking about how I would be using smart phones if I were a student. Now, I'm not naive. Nor am I green. I started teaching high school just a few years after I stopped being a teenager myself, so I'm acquainted with the teenage mindset. I knew that students would be sneaking in texts and game apps into their academic time. If kept in check, though, the occasional distraction from technology would be overshadowed by the potential productivity and organizational benefits of personal devices. The problem, however, is that I was never a teenager with a cell phone. They had not been invented yet. When I graduated high school, Windows 95 was still a few years away. My first cell phone came when I was in my early 30s. I love technology and gadgetry, but I was slow to join the social media movement, waiting until mid-30s to finally sign up for facebook. I--as with many of my generation--view technology quite differently. In our minds, technology grew as an enhancement to productivity. If you have ever typed a paper on an actual typewriter, then you know where I'm coming from with this. We recognize, and even relish, the side enjoyments of being connected via technology, but it still is rooted as a means to get stuff done.
For today's youth, technology has nothing to do with productivity. It is an integrated expression of their personal and social identities. We see technology as something we created to help us. They see technology as a connected extension of who they are internally. Our smart phones work for us. Their smart phones are a part of them...maybe even more than actual peers. We watched social media evolve. They were born into it. Therein lies the problem of opening classrooms to BYOD. As adults, we mistakenly assumed that because teens have grown up in the technology age, they know how to actually use technology for something productive. On the contrary, the average teen knows how to do very little with technology that is not directly tied to self-expression and/or social connection. We're now raising an entire generation whose induction to phone technology as toddlers was based on game apps and seeing photos of themselves that Mommy just took. No parent shows a six-year-old how to put Grandma's birthday on the e-calendar and set a reminder to call her that day. Kids grow up associating phones and tablets with little more than games, selfies, and social media.
When my two oldest sons were 12 and 14, I gave them each a smart phone for Christmas that year. I created a family calendar that we all shared, showed them how to add events to it, and showed them how to add personal reminders for their own use. Three years and one device upgrade later, they are just now somewhat consistently adding school activities to the family calendar...though sometimes only a day before some events. However, they still frequently forget to take the recycling bins to the curb on Friday morning before heading to school, despite the numerous times I later complain to them that it isn't that hard to set a phone reminder to go off each week. Heck, they don't even have to type anything--just tell Cortana to set it for them.
The point of all this, before I get to rambling too far off course, is that educators working within (or considering adopting) a BYOD environment need to realize that the only thing we can expect from students is that they know how to turn on their phones/tablets, take photos with them, play some popular games, and connect to one or more social media apps. Nothing else. If we expect students to do ANYTHING productive/useful with their phones/tablets, we have to model for them exactly what and how. Before any school or teacher opens the door to BYOD, this critical issue must be realized and addressed. We cannot tell students to use their phones responsibly until after we have taken concentrated steps to show them how to do specific things on those devices. More on doing that in a later post...