Smartphone and tablets

in Education

BYOD and cross-platform tools for learning.

I had a really interesting conversation on Twitter with Fraser Speirs and Dave Major this morning about ‘Bring Your Own Device’ (BYOD) and cross-platform tools for learning. You can see that conversation ‘storyified’ here.

I’ve blogged before about why a ‘mixed economy’ of device is best for educational institutions and I’d like to expand upon that briefly with three main points:

1. Learning is something that happens in the brain of learners. You might be able to give them consistency of device and platform but you can’t guarantee that they will have the same experience. Therefore, using that as a reason to go with one particular device is problematic.

2. Educators need to focus on activities rather than tools. One of the examples that Apple advocates often give of the superiority of iPads is GarageBand. It’s an awesome application, but it’s not a learning activity. I’d be really interested in discovering which learning activities can only be carried out on one type of device. I suspect you won’t find any.

3. What we do in classrooms is linked to, but should not be driven by, market forces. We can only buy and use what’s available, but we don’t have to be taken in by the rhetoric of companies. After all, they’re in it to make money. How the world turns out is much more in the hands of educators than anyone else.

Remember that. :-)

Image CC BY Domenic K.

  • http://twitter.com/timklapdor Tim Klapdor

    Thanks Doug. I agree compeletely with your points but I still struggle a little with wholeheartedly supporting BYOD. I think it’s part of the solution, but not the only one and not always the most appropriate. It all comes down to context and what is being set out to achieve. I’ve tried to articulate more on my blog http://timklapdor.wordpress.com/2012/09/17/byo/

    • http://dougbelshaw.com/ Doug Belshaw

      Oh absolutely, I’m just using it as a convenient shorthand. The actual process of ensuring parity of access is complex.

      • http://twitter.com/timklapdor Tim Klapdor

        I re-read the Storify thread and the UX idea did stick out at me. Not the UX of app that got discussed but the UX of process, support and skills. My experience working with academics is that these areas are where the biggest issues lie – particularly in terms of practical integration of mobile. With a multitude of devices simple tasks are complicated by the technical intricacies involved in using a variety of different apps, processes, workarounds etc.

        An example would be getting students to make a video. The vast majority of devices can do this – no problems there. But how they do it differs dramatically. What buttons do, what actions are required, what video format, what export options. All of a sudden the task becomes complicated and unwieldy. The UX suffers because assistance needs to be given individually and the teacher becomes quasi-tech support. This isn’t a great UX for the students and especially not for the teacher who’s task was legitimate and supported by the tools. In fact the Learning experience is centred around the technology and not around the expected outcome.

        In contrast a provisioned approach provides a more consistent UX – use one app and develop one workflow. These constraints provide a model to work around – much the same as an artists with a canvas and set of paints – but the output and the task remain the focus for creativity, not how to use the tools.

        I can agree that a ‘mixed economy’ is a great ideal, but not at the expense of the effort put into the process of learning, and certainly not into tech support or trouble shooting :)

        • Rob Poulter

          The video example is a great one. I’m going through this with a class of students at the moment.

          On one hand having a range of software (not even devices, although it is a mix of different macbooks and windows desktops) is great since it gives students opportunities to learn with easier to use software like iMovie and the more advanced ones can extend themselves using more flexible software (some of them own Final Cut, and we use Premiere on Windows).

          On the other the overhead for supporting this software in the class is huge, and opportunities for students to assist each other decreases. I’ve spent a significant amount of time dealing with technical grief with codec incompatibility, obscure bugs, dealing with how to apply one technique with three platforms and so on. There’s a lot to be said for a standard environment.

          • http://dougbelshaw.com/ Doug Belshaw

            Hmmm… perhaps but ‘making a video’ isn’t a learning activity beyond Year 2, I’d suggest. And what better way to learn the different tools of the trade than to use the affordances of each different way of doing something specific (lighting, sound, narrative, etc.) relating to video than to use different platforms and practices?

          • Rob Poulter

            (Damnit, using the login button ate my post…)

            Perhaps ‘painting a picture’ isn’t a learning activity past finger painting in kindergarten, or writing isn’t a learning activity past whenever you learn to do that.

            If I’m looking at a technique like green screening, the thing I don’t want to have to do early on in the process is examine how Premiere and a couple of versions of Final Cut handle it, look at why iMovie and Movie Maker don’t really, but how you can do a dodgy job using Photo Booth and a laptop’s webcam. I’d like to be able to look at the theory, examine some clever case studies, show students how to do it in a piece of software and let them start figuring out creative ways to use it themselves.

            We’ve spent the last few decades trying to make technology transparent and we’re not there yet. When we don’t have to teach the tool at all, that’s when BYOD will become the best thing we can do, and I’m a big fan of the goals of BYOD; at the same time, I also have to teach in that environment and also support others in their teaching.

          • http://dougbelshaw.com/ Doug Belshaw

            Great! So we’re in agreement that you should use the best tool for the job. I’m fairly sure, however, that the ‘best tool for the job’ is unlikely to be the same software/hardware *every* single time. :-)

          • Rob Poulter

            Same software? Of course not. It could very well be the same hardware though since there’s an immense amount of excellent software available for pretty much any platform you want to name.

            I think you’re giving more weight to a mixed hardware ecosystem than it deserves. To flip your original question, considering your issue with Garage Band, and assuming that there is a variety of software which will give equal opportunities for learning*, how does throwing multiple hardware platforms into the mix improve those opportunities (even without considering the added complications of supporting the infrastructure and student support)?

            *Which you certainly imply in point 2 and the twitter argu^Wconversation.

          • http://dougbelshaw.com/ Doug Belshaw

            I think we may be talking apples and oranges here. In the traditional computer lab I absolutely agree with your analysis. Moving forward in a world where mobile devices have much more integrate hardware/software ecosystems, however, it’s *not* the case that buying hardware is a separate consideration to buying software.

            Given that scenario, I’d advise educational institutions very strongly not to be suckered by vendor lock-in to *any* platform. :-)

        • http://dougbelshaw.com/ Doug Belshaw

          Hi Tim, thanks for the comment. :-)

          It sounds, from your talk of ‘provisioning’ etc. that you’re from a tech support background? I’d suggest that ‘creating a video’ is *not* a learning activity, and especially not ‘create a video using iMovie’.

          Whilst I agree that UX is a legitimate criterion to throw into the mix when choosing technology, it’s far from being the only consideration. From a strategic point of view, sustainability and transferability are equally, if not more, important!

          • http://twitter.com/timklapdor Tim Klapdor

            Yes my jargon does betray my lack of a teaching background – perhaps “visual storytelling through video” might have been a better way of describing the learning activity. My role is somewhat of a technical conduit for our academics looking to innovate. I get the tech and design – they bring the pedagogy and content knowledge. We usually add in an educational designer in there for good measure too!

            Choosing, developing and provisioning technology isn’t simple and nice – and I think that a mosaic approach or mixed economy is the best. It’s bloody complex, but it is the best!

            I think where we agree is that the focus needs to be on the learning – and to treat it as a more complex beast that makes allowance for a range of outcomes and skills across multi-literacies. Focus on the tool, no matter how nice and shiny, is of no benefit in the near or long term (the sustainability and transferability you mention).

            Coming from the ‘tech’ side and crossing the floor to the ‘learning’ side is something I’m still getting my head around and finding it hard to articulate it. Your digital literacies work has given me a new framework to operate in and I’ve found it particularly helpful. I’m still struggling through the semantics and different taxonomies – but getting there I think :)

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  • http://goo.gl/EZfRQ Enterprise Mobile Hub

    Thanks Doug! I agree with your post.