Bring your own device programs are evolving. It’s time to take a fresh look
Bring-your-own-device and one-to-one laptop/tablet implementations on K-12 campuses usually sound simply enough in theory—but they can actually be quite complex. Lenny Schad, chief technology information office at Houston Independent School District (HISD), has spearheaded a number of successful BYOD rollouts, and frequently distills advice to struggling districts. Here, he gives technology teams his top six strategies for ensuring a smooth implementation and long-term success for a K-12 BYOD initiative:
1) Brand your BYOD effort. Much like a large corporation would “brand” a new product rollout or internal management effort, K-12 districts should develop a brand and messaging that clearly identifies and promotes their BYOD initiative. At HISD, for example, BYOD falls under PowerUp, a district-wide initiative aimed at transforming teaching and learning. “PowerUp is about ‘powering up’ all 282 of HISD’s schools to create a personalized learning environment for today’s 21st Century learners and to enable teachers to more effectively facilitate instruction, manage curriculum, collaborate with their peers, and engage today’s digitally-wired students,” according to the district’s website.
“For such an initiative to really grab hold, you have to spend time putting a brand on it,” said Schad. “At HISD, you can go anywhere in the district and mention PowerUp and everyone knows what it is.
Next page: Forget what you knew about BYOD
2) Create a cross-functional team to support BYOD. Because BYOD isn’t only about devices, applications, and internet access, Schad said districts should kick off their initiatives by assembling cross-functional teams that will support those efforts. In fact, he credits much of HISD’s success with BYOD to the fact that it was a district initiative versus one that’s driven by technology. “From the very start, we put together a team that included [individuals from] technology curriculum, professional development, instructional curriculum, plus principals and communication staff,” Schad explains. “All of these people came together on a project team and we spent time with that group telling them why we thought [BYOD] was important and talking about how we wanted to accomplish it.” From there, Schad said the team developed a consensus around project goals and the role that individual departments would play in the district-wide initiative’s success. Two years later, the team continues to serve as a focal point for HISD’s BYOD approach. “That project team will remain in place forever,” said Schad, who regularly receives positive feedback on HISD’s PowerUp project. “There are people who have been with the district for 25 years, and who tell me that they’ve never seen such a well aligned and consistent initiative put in place here.”
3) Blow up your current IT support model. Before students begin bringing their own devices to school to use both in and out of the classroom, reassess the IT support model your team has relied on for the last decade. “The days of command, control, and locking everything down are behind us,” said Schad. Responsibilities such as content and website management, for example, must become much more agile and flexible in order to accommodate the influx of devices on campus. “Your team has to be quick in responding to all of the [IT support] requests that will start coming in,” Schad adds, “with the knowledge that it will probably be taxed in ways that it never has in the past.”
4) Evaluate your filtering practices. This is an area that many schools overlook, said Schad, and one that can truly make or break a BYOD initiative. “If you haven’t made your filtering practices granular enough to handle high school, middle school, and elementary school,” he said, “your internet access will become very slow and users will assume that the problem is your broadband network.” In fact, he said overtaxed filtering systems are to blame because district IT departments tend to focus on their networks, broadband connectivity, and wireless access points. “While all those elements are also critical,” he points out, “if the system isn’t scaled appropriately to deal with this new flexible, agile environment, things will grind to a halt.”
5) Install wireless access points in every classroom. Nothing can hold up the educational process quite like a roomful of students who aren’t able to access the internet via their mobile devices, laptops, or tablets. Schad has a straightforward solution to this problem: install access points in every classroom. And don’t overlook the need for WAPs in any campus cafeterias, gymnasiums, and/or theatres. “Put them in the areas where students are most likely to congregate and get work done,” said Schad.
6) Create a non-threatening environment for instructors. Instructors who aren’t onboard with their district’s BYOD efforts—or, those who feel threatened by the infiltration of devices into their classrooms—can quickly derail even the best-intentioned rollout. Schad said one way to avoid this challenge is by taking the time to talk to teachers about the upcoming changes and how they will help enhance the educational experience and engage students. “You can walk in with a cold-hearted ‘We want you to change instruction’ mandate,” said Schad, “or you can factor in the major culture change that’s about to happen and give teachers, principals, and others adequate time to come to terms with it.” Use pacing to ensure a smooth transition to the BYOD environment, said Schad, and to create a non-threatening approach for teachers who are accustomed to using specific instructional styles and strategies. “Remember that while technology can accelerate instruction,” he said, “it’s not the cornerstone of instruction.”
Bridget McCrea is a contributing writer for eSchool News.
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