BYOD – organic proliferation of the 21st century pencil case

Answers to questions being asked by educational developers and universities about what are the best change models for adopting BYOD may include the proposition that we are entering uncharted territory. It almost looks like there isn’t a role for the university in over-seeing the successful implementation of a learning environment structured around the use of personal technologies. The notion of a university ‘iPad Project’, you could argue, is somewhat desperate.
Actually I don’t believe that there is such a dichotomy – but let’s pretend, so we can tease open some of the issues. I’ll do this by asking several disjointed, but pertinent, questions and attempting to answer them.
Question 1: Have we seen examples of personal technologies being brought in to support learning before? If so, how did institutions respond?
The answer is “Yes, very much so. And I’m not sure that institutions ever did react, other than to realise that the technologies immediately became indispensable.” The personal technologies I have in mind include the following:

  1. pens, pencils and crayons…
  2. glasses, hearing aids
  3. etc

Are these really useful to list here? There are questions about comparative cost of purchase and maintenance perhaps, but essentially I think these examples highlight the idea of learner responsibility and their being prepared to fully engage.

Let me ask, if you were a plumber would you expect the customer to supply your tools each time? Or closer to hone, if you are a photography student, shouldn’t you be expected to have a camera? Do medics still have to buy skeletons? Do Sports students have kit? Do students in general still by books? (maybe not so much – how did that happen?). There is something in this though about digital age learners being expected to have digital age tools. The pencil case for the 21st century.
Question 2: If you are making a commitment to study to the extent that you are prepared to pay about £9k a year, does it make sense to do everything you can to optimise your chance of success?
I have heard some people say it’s not fair to expect students to bring and use their own devices for learning. Why not? – they don’t really get used up or particularly worn out. I do think we might want to consider how we support students in exceptional circumstances (as we tend to do in Education) where they don’t have the funds for the initial outlay, but if students are equipped with highly functional personal computing (e.g. smartphones) I think we have an obligation to help them use their investment productively for their benefit now and for the future. There’s a digital literacy dimension here therefore, and that is part of an employability dimension.
Rightly, wrongly, or just naively, I continue to hear how employers want young graduates because of their digital capability. I wish the whole Prensky thing would go away: anyone with any experience of ‘young’ people knows that literacy is muti-dimension. Just because I own a book doesn’t mean that I’ve read it. Or if I tell you I’ve read it, it doesn’t mean that I’ve used it. Or if I tell you I’ve used it, it doesn’t mean I’ve understood it and used it well. And if I tell you I have used what I learnt in the book, and I used it ‘well’, well that’s only my opinion. And so forth. The point I’m try to make here is that there is a huge divide between being equipped and being fluent and critical (literate) and universities are all about the latter.
This means that students need to be encouraged or even pushed to view the tools that they have access to so that they get the most out of them, even on just an ecological basis (as was discussed at a recent MELSIG event by Chris Hall).
The best answer to this question, in my mind, comes from looking at what you can do better by using your smart technology with a little thought through your own volition as a learner. In some respects this is paraphrased through the 5Cs being used to structure the #BYOD4L course: Connect, Communicate, Collaborate, Create, Curate.
Out of all these the most important is probably Connect for me as it begins to explain the fundamental reason all of the other Cs are listed. The Connect word is all about connectivity – as determined by you and those who choose to be connect-able. It’s about autonomy and commitment as determined by the learner. It is about explicitly valuing informal learning over formal methods. And, despite the rhetoric, this is something that organised education has struggled with for ever. In my work on Digital Voices I was sure that the recorded voice’s killer app, if you like, was enabling the personalised and informal engagement of autonomous learners. In my opinion, it’s the same for BYOD.
Question: University change project or BYOD?
It’s neither one nor the other, but universities are asking should they entice students with tablets for part of the £9K fee they feel so guilty about. (Enticing young people with tablets was never a good idea!). But why would you do this? What are you saying? And what does this say about the relationship you have with your students as a university?

What does it say about the expectation we should have of our students for their responsible engagement in study? Is the relationship we are fostering so superficial? It feels just like the transaction that we unwittingly have created around using assessment as a blunt instrument to ‘motivate’ strategic and surface learning. Surely higher education can do better than that deficit, unchallenging modus operandi?
The only argument I can see for ‘iPad projects’ is that of taking a little time to learn about their significance and possibility. Even then I actually think we lose something about the importance of student self-curation and autonomy in all this.
But increasingly what we see right now, as we prevaricate, is the organic adoption of smart technologies by students and academics to make their personal learner or teaching engagement better. I keep coming across academics who tell me they’re using the Socrative ‘clicker’ or personal response app. Every day I find another academic who has used it. It’s beginning to feel like a ground swell!
There is some great irony in this of course! If Socrative was to become the killer app of the BYOD generation, how strange that the disruptive technology found its new home in the lecture theatre of all places! The field or the corridor or the train into college would all seem to be the natural homes of BYOD – but the lecture theatre ought to be in its rear view mirror!
Anyway, BYOD is steadily permeating the learning environment. Its purpose is to make connections across personal and autonomous immersion in learning with like-minded and driven peers. User-selected portfolios of apps are crafted to suit the learner, their discipline and their study. Such collections enable them to collaborate creatively and curate socially mediated content, discuss it and connect to share and validate learning.

The device should be as personalised as the graffiti decorated pencil case was in its day.

About Andrew Middleton

NTF, PFHEA, committed to active learning, co-operative pedagogies, media-enhanced teaching and learning, authentic learning, postdigital learning spaces. Key publication: Middleton, A. (2018). Reimagining Spaces for Learning in Higher Education. Palgrave.
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2 Responses to BYOD – organic proliferation of the 21st century pencil case

  1. Hi Andrew,

    Loads of food for thought here. I was asked a question today by Norman Jackson if things would be different if we would call devices/technologies just tools? As you say a pencil is a tool, but also a tablet and they have different uses. What are your thoughts around this?

    Looking forward to your reflections during the week.

    • amiddlet50 says:

      Very much so technologies and tools can often be used interchangeably. Not so much devices – that word more usually conjures up something more tangible in my mind. I have referred to pencil cases in posts this week (as I have done before in MELSIG presentations) to help us reflect on the common presence of ubiquitous tools for learning. If you like the phone or tablet is the ever present case and in the case are all the colourful little tools/apps like pencils, crayons erasers, sharpeners, rulers, etc!

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