The recent ACER publication Bring Your Own Technology: The BYOT guide for schools and families by Mal Lee and Martin Levins has triggered some useful online discussion. Mal Lee, whose writings in professional journals will be familiar to a majority of Australian educators, has been discussing the book’s concepts in professional forums and the ideas are getting well-deserved media coverage.
Lee and Levins define BYOT as:
an educational development and a supplementary school technology resourcing model, where the home and the school collaborate in arranging for students’ 24/7/365 use of their own digital technology/ies to be extended into the classroom, and in so doing to assist their teaching and learning and the organisation of their schooling and, where relevant, the complementary education outside the classroom.
This is in contrast to the more familiar BYOD – bring your own device – about which Lee says:
Many are viewing BYOD as an approach where the students are free to bring to school whatever personal technology they wish, but the use of that technology in the school is still closely controlled, often via virtual desktops or similar such controls.
The refreshing and promising thing about Lee and Levin’s argument is recognition and clear articulation of the fundamental changes that inevitably flow once a BYOT position is adopted. In a blog post, Lee summarises these changes thus:
Underpinning that definition are a set of key educational principles – which we recognise many school leaders and teachers will not yet be ready to accept – that include:
- trust in – not mistrust of – the students and the professionalism of teachers
- greater personalisation of teaching
- children choosing and using their preferred technologies 24/7/365
- use of that technology in their teaching and learning – in and outside the school
- a blurring of the now strict home-school divide and a lowering of the school walls
- the respect and responsibilities that are associated with personal ownership of the kit
- student’s care and maintenance of own kit
- use of multiple technologies by the children – that includes both the hardware and software
- use of market forces – and not ‘ICT experts’ – to keep the personal technologies current
- genuine home-school collaboration, not ‘one – way collaboration’
- the pooling of the home and school resources in the future resourcing of schools where digitally empowered parents and students will want a fuller voice.
Their book, and subsequent discussion, includes case studies of schools in Australia, USA, NZ, and the UK and they continue to seek schools willing to join.
I like the clarity with which Lee and Levins argue their case – and the accumulation of practical, concrete, intelligent examples. It is hard to mount a “yes, but” response – hard too, to resist the mounting excitement of possibility for learning. Those of us who have worked in educational technology related fields over the last two decades have seen measurable progress. There are lots of good practice stories. We have, however, failed to engage every teacher – or a critical mass of teachers – to seize the power of digital tools and lead the transformation of education. Lee and Levins articulate the reality – the genie is out of the bottle – and demonstrate how to accept the genie. Students will go where many teachers have baulked at going.
Lee and Levins also recognise the equity issues involved. Their attention to parents as an audience is a major contribution. Further, Lee reports that all schools they have worked with recognise and have initiatives to deal with some students’ lack of equipment and access. I have no quarrel with their argument that the local area is where this should be addressed. I would, however, like to see a lot more discussion, debate and philosophy applied to teasing out the implications of BYOT in national and state policy forums.
Once we recognise and articulate that learning is advanced by the lowering of the school walls and a blurring of the home-school divide, we cannot escape the logic that the ‘postcode’ advantage that is already measurable in student achievement in Australia, is set to increase unless we intervene. Ensuring ‘kit’ for students is nowhere near enough. If, as a nation, we blur the home-school divide, as a nation we have to reach right across that divide and actively redress the disadvantage in many homes, and that isn’t as simple as a device or a kit – as tempting as that may be for political parties in election mode. It means that the capacity of a community -or parents or carers – to be part of the student’s learning advantage, becomes the business of the school – and of government policy and programs.
We have had universal compulsory schooling for more than a century because we believe our nation rises or falls on our collective capacity. We depend on identifying, developing and utilising our collective talent, establishing the basic groundwork in childhood. There has been no room in Australia for divisions and classifications that kept people in boxes – our population and our geography meant we needed every kid, and every ‘new chum’, to grow into a productive, turn-your-hand-to-the-possible kind of person. And that hasn’t changed.
Australian Ministers of Education collectively have achieved a lot in relation to technology in schools over the last 15 years. In spite of party political differences they have brought – sometimes dragged – schools to a very reasonable standard of technology. It has been hard and mostly thankless work, but without it, and without the intelligence and persistence of some outstanding Directors General of Education we would not be in a position to be debating BYOD versus BYOT. If Lee and Levins, however, are right – as I think they are – the fundamentals of universal compulsory schooling have changed.
The school may be the best place to make decisions about addressing a student’s ‘kit’. Schools need, however, not just the resources to do this, but the whole society behind them and the cultural capital to do it effectively. For at least a century schools were our society’s main tool to lift our standard of living and to give every child a good start. What we must all now recognise is that digital technologies, in taking the school into the home and the home into the school, give us the choice of abandoning our belief that schools fulfil any equalising function in our society, or expecting and resourcing many schools, notably in less privileged postcodes, to build the capacity of families and communities to apply digital technologies to learning.
The reason that, until very recently, those of us who were privileged to work for State education systems had to agree to go wherever we were sent was to ensure kids in rural, remote and suburban fringe communities were served by well qualified teachers and could achieve high educational standards. The 2012 measure needed to achieve the same outcome may well prove to be resources and programs for schools to not just provide the device or technology, but to assist the family and community to strengthen its capacity to support learning beyond the school walls.
Students bring more than their own technology. They also bring cultural and social capital. There are studies, for example, to indicate that poor families have less understanding of apps and their educational use and that the amount of time spent watching media is related to family income.
Schooling is a service. It serves individual students, communities and the whole nation. The deep changes to which BYOT rightly draws attention require a thorough analysis of what is required to deliver that service fairly and effectively. Some students, parents and communities will need additional services – such as adult workshops, community development, mentoring, clubs, extended hours, websites, forums and support networks if we are to continue as a democratic, creative and egalitarian nation.
This bell tolls for all of us – and needs serious policy attention.