Implementing a Large Scale Digital 1:1 Learning Environment

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Firstly, I want to take a moment to welcome all the new families and students to Riverside Secondary School.  This blog is one of my communication tools for you, educators, and other professionals who are interested in the changing world of education.  I hope you find it informative and interesting.  My hope is to share with you some of the things we are currently doing at Riverside, as well as our ideas and plans for the future.

I have written in the past on our intention to move to a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) model, enabling us to have a digital 1:1 learning environment.  We are now in our fourth week of implementing this model with our 345 grade nine students, making this a large upscaling project from the pilots we ran last year.

I would like to share what we have learned and experienced in these first four weeks as I believe it will provide the insight and guidance for schools considering a multi-platform, BYOD model.  I also want to emphasize that while there is plenty of troubleshooting that is required to get something like this off the ground, there is a signficant support system for staff and students.  This support we have provided is in the way of District and Site Based IT (network monitoring, access, and troubleshooting, creation of Virtual Classrooms with teacher in service, Creation of Office 365 accounts and in-service for all students and staff, Thursday tech talks to address specific tech issues with staff), classroom support through a full-time LIF position that is shared between two teachers (provide technical support in the classroom for staff and students, collaborate with staff on integrating technology to support and enhance learning, ensure effective transitioning for grade nine students), a teacher site contact who is available for one block per day to provide further technical support to staff and students, and weekly team meetings to address challenges and share successes.

There are two key components to our BYOD model.  The first is in developing a level of digital proficiency so that students and teachers are able to use their devices effectively to do simple tasks, such as accessing our network, Office 365 accounts, and content on Virtual Classrooms (teacher web-site), downloading pdfs, annotating or typing on pdfs, saving pdfs to Skydrive, creating documents in Office 365 and other apps, sharing documents, embedding code, creating blogs and wiki spaces, and creating a file management system in the cloud.  Our experience in the pilots have suggested that this process will take 4-6 weeks for all staff and students to feel a level of comfort and proficiency in these areas.  At four weeks in, we are seeing that the majority of staff and students have addressed the technical components and are transitioning to the second key component of our BYOD model.

The second key component of our BYOD model is how we utilize the technology to enhance student learning.  Our staff are developing lessons and units that promote creativity, collaboration, problem solving, media fluency, and research.

21st century fluency

Furthermore, we are utilizing opportunities that integrate technology with developing digital citizens who understand how to protect privacy, create and publish, build social networks, and act ethically.

technology use

Over the next few months, I intend to share stories of the exciting work our staff our doing with students to further engage them in the learning process and deepen their thinking about the curriculum in which they are uncovering.  This team of educators is very innovative, adaptable, flexible, and determined.  They get motivated by challenges, enjoy collaborating with their colleagues, and recognize that the possibilities are endless for integrating the technology to make learning more relevant to students.  My point in sharing this is that a culture of risk-taking, collaboration, commitment, and innovation is critical for any school choosing to journey down this path.  This culture must get supported by a strong and flexible IT team, solid IT infrastructure, a supportive and collegial network to handle all the troubleshooting that is needed, and coherent vision for what we are trying to accomplish with the technology.

In a recent professional day, I asked our team of grade 9 teachers what is currently working in our digital environment.  Here is a summary of what they said:

  • Students are troubleshooting, sharing ideas, and helping one another with their devices.  It is building competency for students across the different device platforms in the classroom.
  • Friday has become a day to free up students from the curriculum by focusing on play, creativity, innovation, and sharing.  We are using this as an opportunity to learn from one another, collaborate, and explore different tools.
  • Students have more voice into what they are learning and how they are learning it.  They have some investment into the teacher’s Virtual Classroom.  They submit viral videos for their classmates to see.  It draws them into our web-site and gives them an opportunity to contribute to the class in a different way.
  • The support from IT, LIF teachers, and colleagues has been very helpful in building capacity and alleviating anxiety.
  • It is helpful to quickly see what students are producing.  We can get work sent to us digitally anytime, from anywhere so that we can see how the students are doing.  It’s nice to have a digital copy of what students have produced.  We can imagine an archive of student work over their high school years that will show progress in learning and thinking.
  • Opening and saving documents through Adobe Pro 9 before uploading to our Virtual Classrooms is great so that students can open these documents to annotate or type on them on any device.
  • Student Services has a better idea of what we are all doing in our classrooms because they can go to our Virtual Classrooms to see what the students are learning.
  • Students have become leaders with the technology.  This has enabled some students to shine who would not normally get recognized.
  • No more large, heavy textbooks.
  • Wikis and blogs minimize the need to submit emails to teachers because these can be run through RSS feeds into readers for the teacher.
  • Students are developing a toolbox or backpack of digital tools to assist them with their learning.

So, what have been some of the challenges we’ve experience so far?  Well, the truth is, in a BYOD model, we have several different types of devices in a classroom and they all operate differently, making some things frustrating for staff and students.  Currently, 87% of students have brought a tablet device, while 13% brought a laptop.  Laptops are fairly simple to navigate in that they typically have a hard drive which allows for easy file management, storage, and workflow.  However, most laptops do not have touch screens, nor do they allow students to write on them.  For most laptops, the app world is not available.  Where things get very interesting is with the devices.  We have students who have brought in Samsungs (Notes and Tabs), Ipads, Surfaces, Asus, and other types of tablets.  Each one of these devices has different apps available through the app store and operates differently depending on the operating system.  Some devices can open up PDFs enabling students to write on them, while other devices cannot without the PDF first being opened and saved through Adobe Pro 9.  We also noticed that some devices easily integrate with Skydrive (cloud storage) in Office 365 and others…not so much.  File management is not so simple as storage is in the cloud.  Some browsers easily communicate with our Virtual Classrooms to download documents and other browsers do not.  We (staff and students) have found solutions to many of the challenges we’ve encountered, but it has certainly added a level of complexity to the classroom that didn’t exist before.  We are in the process of surveying our students to ensure that they are all able to navigate the technical components that are needed to move forward with their learning.  Our LIF teachers will provide 1:1 support to those students who are still struggling with certain components of their devices.

I am very pleased with the progress of this project so far.  While there are still some challenges to work through, I am impressed by the level of engagement and  learning that is occurring so early on in this initiative.  These students are well on their way to creating a positive digital footprint that they will carry with them to future employment and education opportunities.


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