Let’s leave them to their own devices

This posting is about some of the hidden benefits I discovered when I encouraged students to bring and use their own device (BYOD) to a workshop I ran earlier this week.

The workshop was on cloud computing for small businesses so it felt appropriate to develop the materials using a cloud platform and have a go at supporting it entirely from the cloud.  I set myself the goal of going to the workshop with no material at all on my laptop.

I chose Google Sites for the course website. Even if you are familiar with Google Sites it’s well worth another look.   You select  a website template that has most of the functionality.  you want and edit.  Mine had  blogging, a wiki and a file manager as standard pages.

The course outline was posted on the site and I made a PowerPoint presentation to walk participants through the workshop.  The ppt had quite a number of embedded links that pointed to web resources, the idea being that participants would load it on their machines and “follow along” (see below). Loading the presentation up as a Google Doc and then linking it into the site was a 2 minute task.

Into the file manager page went a selection of documents and other resources on cloud computing. Think of this as a reading list and set of contextual examples and price lists.  All in all about a days work to write, create and get ready.

The day before the course was due to run, I emailed the participants with the course URL, giving them view only access to the materials and site.  I also by chance suggested that they might like to bring their own computers to use on the day.  This was a last minute idea and was prompted by some research I have been looking at on students being encouraged to bring their own technology into the classroom.  I was therefore particularly interested in how this might work in practice.

How can cloud technology support a course differently ?

In designing the course I thought I might try a few things that can be done easily in a cloud tech supported course that are not as easy using traditional presentation methods.

Electronic introductions

– At the start of the course using a form to capture students details, the level of their existing knowledge, what they wanted out of the course etc was just so much better than that awful lets all say who we are,  why we are here and what we want out of the course.  This way these things are captured, students are asked to write their goals down rather than just vocalise them and spend much less time wondering how they will sound to others.  As the students completed the form, the results were displayed on the front screen and we then went through them and slightly re-designed the course.  Because the data was captured  we were able to come back to this at the end of the course to see if we had achieved our goals. This stage could also have been completed in advance of the course.

Follow the bouncing ball

– I encouraged the students to load up the presentation as I was running through it and explore the embedded links. One of the exercises had them adding a couple of slides into the presentation having looked at a couple of case studies.  This could have gone really wrong but if they have a screen open in front of them they would be doing twitter, answering email or face-booking anyway.  This was my way of asking them to look at the content twice.  For those that had their own technology then now had the links in their bookmarks!  see below

Reflect and tell others – collaborate

– After each exercise students were encouraged to write a short blog post on what they had done and to create a link to it. They were asked to jointly author material , collaborative learning.  Seeing additional material pour into the pot as the course progressed had a powerful effect: it seemed to give ownership to participants along with and a sense of their own creativity.

In summary having all the course materials, activities up in the cloud allowed:

Device and location independence.  One student was not able to make the course but as I had sent him the material the night before he  looked through it, tried a couple of the exercises, wrote a small blog post and emailed me some questions. The course was the same on an  iPad, and on a PC.  I was able to use my smart phone to add an extra person to the course while on the move yesterday.

Collaboration.  A killer benefit, all the workshop exercises involved students working together.  Sitting next to each other and putting content into the same document.

So why did allowing students to bring their own technology make such an impression on me?

I was surprised to observe that students that had their own devices were learning better, which started me wondering why. Here is what I concluded:

Less friction at the start of the class. They already know how to use all the tools on their device, know the password and how to attach to wifi etc.  Students using their own devices were able to get connected to the network and into the course material via the links in the pre course email in less than 2 minutes.  For the rest of group this was easily a ten minute exercise. Allocating passwords, typing in urls, navigating the new interface.

More effective and efficient in the use of time   Because students are familiar with their device’s interface and software, they are much more productive in the exercises and are able to focus on the content to a greater degree than if using unfamiliar systems.  The access process becomes transparent and allows learners to focus on the “what” much more than the “how”.

Ownership  As a result of using  their own device within the course, it’s much more likely that learners will be creating bookmarks and be integrating content and links into their workspace.  Courses that are taught via screens in a class room, even if the materials are made available on the Web, will, I suspect feel as if they are owned by the institution, rather than by the learners, at least in their early stages.

On reflection, these are pretty obvious, but not to me prior to running this workshop hence the post. I would be interested to hear from anyone who has listed or overcome some of the obstacles.  The technology that makes this work is Wifi and tablets / laptops / notebooks.  We would expect students studying catering to have their own knives, it strikes me as absurd that we do not expect students to have a device that will help them to learn.

Schools I suspect are likely to be the most hostile environment in which we might expect students to use their own devices.  The technology issues can be overcome.

–         Protect the wifi with an internal firewall to implement policy and auditing

–         Register an association between the device MAC address and a person

–         Provide secure storage

It’s answers to the cultural issues that I am more interested in

  • Not all students have their own device
  • Teaching in this way is very different. Can it be done in groups of 30+?
  • Migrating existing content might be difficult. Specifically, workshop and question-based  learning are a good fit but more traditional styles may not work.
  • Issues of Cyber bullying,  Trolling  etc. need to be addressed
  • How can work be assessed?
  • Can it be afforded? Is it fair to require students to have a suitable device to learn in this way?

Eric Mazure  states nicley that “the plural of anecdote is not data”, the above piece is clearly anecdotal , if any one is doing a proper trial answers the issues above I would be really interested to hear from you.

A copy of the course site can be seen here.

I tweet as @mooreanswers and can be found lurking on my company website at http://www.mooreanswers.co.uk 


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One Response to Let’s leave them to their own devices

  1. techczech says:

    I think this is definitely the future. But I recently had great success with setting up own laptops with 4 people per machine – this was teachers at a school that didn’t even allow USB sticks on those machines. So the BYOD part is not strictly speaking necessary. We used etherpad for collaboration but also had them just do research in groups – I just cued up the links.

    This was inspired by the hole in the wall idea of small groups working together. So in this case, it wasn’t the case of BYOD but bring any device and use it in a meaningful way (BADAUIIAMW) – and in a way that won’t take up lots of time of people figuring out how to use it.

    I’m all for BYOD in principle but in a new environment and short one off event – even trying to make sure 30 people can all connect to WiFi can be a challenge.

    But I think setting up a backchannel / collective notetaking even during formal training (like etherpad or a Twitter hashtag) can enhance the event for many. Sure people will be a bit distracted and might miss something – but it’s a myth to assume that a non-tweeting audience is any more attentive and it’s certainly a lot less engaged.

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