The summer of BYOD

June 29, 2012, 2:23 pm

So, the six-week Calculus 2 class is over with — that didn’t take long — and there’s beginning to be enough distance between me and the course that I can begin to evaluate how it all went. Summer classes for me are a time when I like to experiment with things, and I wanted to comment on the outcomes of one experiment I tried this time, which is using a bring-your-own-device setup for clicker questions.

I’ve been using TurningPoint clickers ever since I started doing peer instruction, and I recommend these devices highly. They have a lot going for them in terms of classroom technology: They are small and unobtrusive, relatively cheap ($35), exceedingly simple to use, rely on no pre-existing infrastructure (for example, whether or not you have decent wifi in the room), and are nearly indestructible. They are about as simple, dependable, and inexpensive as a radio-operated garage door opener — because they basically are radio-operated garage door openers.

However, the one drawback for clickers — not just TurningPoint, but any basic clicker device — is that the only thing you can do with them are multiple choice questions. If you want to get any other kind of assessment data from students, these don’t fit the bill. I had never really realized how limiting this can be until I started looking at alternatives such as Socrative and Learning Catalytics. Both of these systems are web-based, where students use any web-enabled device to log on to a web site, the instructor pushes out the PI question to their devices using the web connection, and students respond. The wide-open entry possibilities of an iPhone or computer allow for questions in which students can respond with text, mathematical expressions, drawings done on the screen, or heat maps generated by touching/clicking on a diagram. Since students use their own devices they already have on them, these are referred to as bring-your-own-device or “BYOD” type systems.

So after auditioning the two web-based systems above, I decided to go with Learning Catalytics for reasons I will explain in a future post. LC is a terrific system, but I’m sure you catch the big assumption that both LC and Socrative make: They assume that students have their own web-enabled devices to bring to the class. Any device that accesses the web with a browser will do — laptop, Kindle Fire, Nook, iPod touch, etc. — but students have to have such a device, or at least need to be able to borrow one, or else they are out of the system. The BYOD approach has two main advantages: Nobody has to buy any hardware, and the students get to use the technology they are already familiar with. But the main disadvantage is obvious: What do you do if a student doesn’t have a device? 

That happened in my class. I had 27 students enrolled and 26 of them had devices they could bring, most of them smartphones. But I had one student who did not own a laptop, smartphone, or anything like it; did not have plans to purchase one; and did not know anybody who had one from whom she felt comfortable borrowing. It turns out that my department has an iPad that can be checked out, so I was able to loan it to her for class meetings when we weren’t in a computer lab. But if this had been three students instead of one, I would have been scrambling to find some options.

This is a big problem with the notion that students today are digital natives, immersed in technology. People make this assumption, build instructional designs around it, and it turns out that not every student is technocentric (imagine that!) and some students, who would otherwise be strong contributors to the class, have to sit out. In my case, it wasn’t so much an assumption that every student would have a device but a hope — or a gamble — that they did, or that nearly all of them did. Learning Catalytics offered so much potential for the course that I felt that taking a risk and building the course around the use of a BYOD system was worth it. And anyway, I have a box of TurningPoint clickers in my office in case all things failed. I did send out an email to students a week before class started telling them what we’d be doing and asking them to please contact me ASAP if they didn’t have a web-enabled device, but of course not all students read email from professors during the summer in a timely way.

Learning Catalytics worked brilliantly in the course (again, more on that later) but only because I was lucky enough to be able to have every student with a device, theirs or mine. Generally speaking, I don’t wish to leave my instructional design up to a roll of the dice like this, though. The next time I run a class with 30 students in it, it could well be that 10 of them don’t have devices, and what then? We can’t assume that students just carry around all this gear that we can leverage into their classwork.

I’d like to stick with Learning Catalytics, but I need to have some way of being certain that the students enrolling in the course have the devices they need. Having classes meet in a room with computers is one way, but it’s not practical for me at least. I’m looking into applying for a grant to purchase 10 iPod touches to keep on hand for students (along with a full-class license for Learning Catalytics), just in case. But I’d be open to any other suggestions people have about BYOD systems — got any?


This entry was posted in Calculus, Clickers, Educational technology, Peer instruction, Teaching, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.