BYOD4L – the pencil case for the 21st century

Answers to questions being asked by educational developers and universities about what are the best change models for adopting BYOD indicate that we are entering uncharted territory. It could be argued that 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 and social media.
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 attempt 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 learner responsibility and being prepared to fully engage. Let me ask, if you are a photography student, wouldn’t you be expected to have a camera? A journalism student, a blog? Do medics still have to buy skeletons? Do Sports students have kit? Do students in general still by books? (maybe not so much, but 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 the chance of your success?
I have heard some people say it’s not fair to expect students to bring and use their own devices for learning. I think we might want to think about how we support students in exceptional circumstances (as we tend to do in Education), but if students are equipped with highly functional personal computing 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 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 everything. Just because I own a book doesn’t mean that I’ve read it. Or if I tell you I’ve read it, But 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. There is a huge divide between being equipped and being fluent and critical (literate).
The point of this is students need to be 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 personal 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? 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 and transactional? It feels just like the transaction that we unwittingly have around using assessment as a blunt instrument to ‘motivate’ surface learning. Surely higher education can do better than that?
The only argument I can see for ‘iPad projects’ is that of taking a little time to learn about their significance, and to be fair that is what I am hearing about at MELSIG events where reports on such projects are often discussed.
But what we see, as we prevaricate, is the organic adoption of smart technologies by students and academics to make their personal 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!
But 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. Unless we take note of the Flipped Classroom where the academic, as facilitator, sees the timetabled slot as a rare and important time together – much too important for just one voice. So smart technologies and digital media, often personal, are being used to seed social classrooms beforehand.
Anyway, BYOD is steadily permeating the learning environment. It’s purpose is to connect personal and autonomous immersion in learning with like-minded and driven peers. It’s portfolio of user selected apps suit the learner and their discipline enabling them to collaborate creatively and curate socially mediated content, discuss it and connect to share and validate learning.

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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