Monday, July 13, 2015

The Road to High School BYOD

Soon after I made the transition from high school associate principal to director of technology in the Fall of 2012, my quest to learn and understand how students learn best through the use of technology devices became my most important priority.  At that time, Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) was beginning to gain some traction in K-12 schools with mixed results and opinions; some good and some not so good. Nonetheless, it was still worthy of discussion and was added as a “Study Recommendation” item in the 2013-2016 Grand Forks Public Schools (GFPS) Technology Plan:

Study Recommendation #5 – Bring Your Own Device (BYOD)
Grand Forks Public Schools should study the potential impact of students having the opportunity to bring their own device/laptop computer.
The recommended study would develop a systematic plan for students to bring a digital device from home and access the district network for academic purposes.  A BYOD pilot study will take place in a summer school English class in the summer of 2013.

GFPS students in grades 5-8 now have 1:1 access to netbooks or Chromebooks, but in the Fall of 2014, the budget did not allow for the 1:1 initiative to continue for students into 9th grade.  Instead, carts of Chromebooks were added to the high schools dedicated to 9th grade students in the core curriculum areas as a way to provide additional access to devices.

When the GFPS High School Technology Committee first met in the Fall of 2014, we reviewed the 2013-2016 GFPS Technology Plan.  Committee discussion focused on and kept coming back to increase device access for our high school students and BYOD.  After significant study, the plan was presented to district administrators, high school principals, school board technology committee, and the school board.  After answering the questions and responding to the concerns, support was in place to move forward.  A BYOD Steering Committee was established and we started preparations for an August 2015 implementation.  The key areas of our work and discussions included:
  • Expanding the BYOD Summer School Pilot to all classrooms
  • Equity - Several hundred Chromebooks will be deployed for students to access as supplemental devices.
  • Communication with Teachers
  • Communication with the Community (see the Grand Forks Herald article on BYOD)
  • Student Expectations (summer school students are currently involved)
  • Network Infrastructure (additional access points)
  • Teacher Professional Development (planning has been and continues to take place)
  • List Answers to Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

As our summer school BYOD pilot is taking place and preparations continue, it was interesting to read the recently released NMC Horizon Report 2015 K-12 Edition.  The report contained affirmation of the GFPS BYOD initiative as it listed BYOD as an important development in education technology.  The expert panel agreed that BYOD is very likely to drive technology planning and decision-making over the next five years with an expected widespread adoption in one year or less. (See pages 36 and 37 in the Horizon Report)

As we transition to BYOD in our high schools, there will be some themes that will be important to remember:
  1. It’s about student learning, not the device. 
  2. Professional Learning - Our Curriculum Technology Partners are poised to provide just in time and ongoing professional learning opportunities for our teachers geared towards pedagogy in a technology rich environment.
  3. Student Expectations - We will provide our students with the expectations of BYOD and embed digital citizenship reminders, while at the same time, establish an environment of trust.
  4. While we are focused on planning for the best BYOD scenario, we understand that there will be things to learn along the way.  Being mindful that we are always in “beta” will keep us focused on continual improvement.
  5. We need to stay focused on ‘what’s the best that could happen’ [with BYOD and student learning], rather than ‘what’s the worst that could happen.’
  6. “Technology will never replace great teachers, but technology in the hands of great teachers can be transformational.” (@gcouros)

There will be much to learn and work to do during this upcoming school year with BYOD in our high schools.  We do not and will not pretend to have BYOD all figured out, but I will share, through this blog, ongoing reflections on our high school BYOD transition.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

ISTE 2015 Affirmations, Reminders and Challenges

After 4 full days at ISTE 2015, I left Philadelphia grateful for the learning experience as I connected with other educators and had the opportunity to learn from others in my PLN (personal/professional learning network).  While I left with many reminders and challenges on my/our “to do” list, I also left with numerous affirmations that we are doing many great things in Grand Forks related to students learning with technology. Here are my reflections. 

Affirmations, Reminders and Challenges

Staying focused on the right 1 in 1:1; the STUDENT.
Participants at ISTE were often reminded that our work is about the students.  Relationships are still the most important thing in education followed by the importance of relevant, authentic, student-centered learning environments in which the learning process is more important than the end result.  We must allow students to seek out answers to their own questions and pursue their passions.  While a few teachers are implementing some form of genius hour/20% Time within their current curriculum, the practice of an increase in student voice and choice should become more of the norm rather than the exception.  Student agency can always be improved as we should continually seek the opinions and guidance from our number one customers, our students.  Student agency, along with a culture of trust, will be an important components in the transition to a BYOD environment on our high school campuses.

"Positive relationship between teachers and students are among the most commonly cited variables associated with effective instruction." - Robert Marzano

It’s about student learning, not the device.
While an increase in student accessibility to devices continues to be a goal, all conversations start with how student learning will be positively impacted through the addition of technology devices.  Grand Forks Curriculum Technology Partners plan and facilitate professional learning opportunities for teachers with student learning, common core, curriculum, and the 4 C’s at the forefront.

"Give the pupils something to do, not something to learn; and the doing is of such a nature as to demand thinking; learning naturally results." - John Dewey

Professional Learning
Providing teachers professional learning opportunities continues to be important in the pedagogical understanding of how students learn with technology.  While voice and choice is important in students’ learning, it should be equally important in teacher learning. Professional learning highlights the importance of our Curriculum Technology Partners working in schools with teachers and students.  Compared to many other districts, we are fortunate to have Curriculum Technology Partners serving our teachers and students, but we need to continually remind ourselves... 

"Technology will never replace great teachers, but technology in the hands of great teachers can be transformational." - George Couros

BYOD (Bring Your Own Device)

As our Grand Forks high schools move toward officially embracing a BYOD learning environment (along with supplemental Chromebooks) in the Fall of 2015, the recently released Horizon Report lists BYOD one of the six key technology trends happening in education with the expected timeline as one year or less. While we have done much work to prepare for our high school BYOD initiative, there will be challenges and much to learn through our journey.

“BYOD enables students and educators to leverage the tools that make them most efficient and productive.” - Horizon Report

Connected Educators
As highlighted at ISTE, being a connected educator is more important than ever.  An increasing number of Grand Forks teachers are embracing being a connected educator.  As a subtle means of encouragement, teachers can earn PRISM hours (continuing education credit) by participating in our local #gfedchat on Twitter on Monday evenings during the school year at 8:30 pm.  We have conversations on a variety of educational topics and some educators have since expanded their horizons into other edchats on Twitter.

"Alone we are smart. Together we are brilliant." - Steven Anderson

Edcamp Movement
The EdCamp movement is becoming a more popular means of professional learning.  Edcamp is built on principles of connected and participatory learning and strives to bring teachers together to talk about the things that matter most to them: their interests, passions, and questions. Grand Forks hosted 2 mini Edcamps during the 2014-2015 school year with plans in place for Edcamp Grand Forks on Thursday, August 6th from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm at Community High School.

"The Edcamp model provides educators with a sustainable model for learning, growing, connecting, and sharing. When professional development is created "for teachers by teachers," everyone wins." - Kristen Swanson

Maker Space Movement and Coding
While these seemed to be buzzwords at ISTE, Grand Forks is taking some steps to embed critical thinking, creativity, communication, and collaboration through some initial work with maker spaces and coding.  For example, MaKey MaKey, Little Bits, Scratch, Sphero,, and 3-D printers are being integrated into some curriculum areas and through the establishment of some before and after school clubs. This is an area which Grand Forks has started, but has much room to grow.

Google Apps for Education
While Grand Forks has been a Google Apps district for more than 5 years, I was surprised at how many districts are just getting started.  Google Apps is a game changer for education.  There are so many tools incorporated in and integrated with Google Apps that allows engaged learning to take place. Because Google Apps continues to evolve (i.e. Google Classroom), Grand Forks has hosted a Google Summit the past 2 years. Google Apps is becoming a more natural part of “how we do things around here,” but we will continue to strive for an even better Google Apps experience for all users.

Digital Citizenship
Teaching Digital Citizenship should continue to be part of what we do in our schools.  It does not always have to be a stand alone lesson, but more often as an integrated component of students’ everyday learning.  While we have made strides in systematically teaching Digital Citizenship, paralleled with Character Education, in Grand Forks elementary and middle schools, we need to continue and improve upon our Digital Citizenship efforts in our high schools. It is imperative that students understand the impact of their digital footprint.

While we have made much progress in the items listed above, the journey continues as we continually strive for better. ISTE 2015 provided me with the needed affirmations, reminders, and challenges to be better for our students.