Leveraging the ‘Instrumented’ Pocket & Backpack

Many of our students, not all, carry with them daily very powerful devices. My team and I often position that many students have what we call ‘instrumented’ pockets and backpacks.  I think we would all agree that pockets and backpacks carry the essentials that we need to get us through the day.  From a student perspective, backpacks travel with them throughout their entire academic career and often beyond.  So, what’s in their

What's in my backpack minus the smartphone that took the picture and my laptop.

backpack or pocket that is essential to get them through a day of learning in school?  A variety of things that are personal and a variety of things that are meant to aid in their learning.  Many students put in their backpacks and their pockets things that matter to them for their day to day living. This often includes an electronic device. Why?  It’s because these devices are part of the tools they use in their everyday life. The devices they bring are part of who they are as people. It’s how they connect and become communicators, collaborators, problem-solvers and critical thinkers. So I say, let’s work together and allow them to leverage BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) during the school day and coach them to understand appropriate use in our business of learning together.

Online collaboration, access to resources and effective use of the internet are becoming essential skills that students need to meet the challenges of today’s classroom and tomorrow’s workplace. No one can dismiss this.  We do our very best to ‘instrument’ learning spaces in schools but,  in addition, students want to learn with their own stuff, their own devices. BYOD gives them the choice and opportunity to learn – when, how and where they want to. BYOD allows students to use the same tools for their learning that they use in their everyday life.


  • How open are we in schools and classrooms to allow students to access their own devices and leverage them for learning in the digital age?
  • Do we allow and encourage BYOD? Can students bring out their smartphones, tablets, laptops and netbooks to aid in their learning?

We hear lots of debate about BYOD.  Are we really honouring how our students learn and live? Are we listening to their voices and responding in ways that allow them to use their personal tools for learning?


  • How will we make sure that students who don’t have a device have access to one for their learning?
  • How will we ensure that all lessons, projects, assignments, and ebooks are accessible across platforms, across devices?
  • How do you handle what software and browser they use?
  • How do we make sure that all schools have sufficient access to technology and wireless?

In my role as a system principal, I have facilitated learning sessions with school staff and the discussion of why BYOD should be considered.
Let’s think about:

•Improved motivation and engagement (using their own tools)
•Greater personalized learning (device is customized)
•Improved critical thinking and choice
•Greater ongoing access to information, resources and experts
•Greater opportunities for collaboration in wide contexts (local & global)
•Extends the tech resources already provided by the school
•Encourages purposeful choice of appropriate tools / apps
•Pivotal in supporting independent learning – 24/7
•Allows students to leverage the mix of technology they use in their life

While this is a solid list, we must also bring forward the range of questions and comments that have been shared during sessions that I’ve facilitated with school staff:

  • What about BYOD being a distraction from my lesson?
  • Who will provide devices for kids who don’t have them?
  • How can we share devices in school to keep it equitable?
  • How do you cope with multiple devices that are different?
  • Empowers the 8 year old learner
  • What about the teacher learning curve?
  • DI comes naturally when we allow students to access a variety of resources and allow them to produce a variety of results
  • Uneven access is currently the norm – allowing more tools in the class actually increases equity because we can target our resources more effectively
  • Teachers are sometimes not familiar with the devices as students
  • Students who are shy and who are afraid to contribute their thinking through discussion are able to share their ideas using their own devices – reduce anxiety
  • Some teachers have a hard time experimenting with technology that they are unfamiliar with
  • Students require monitoring of of off-task behaviour whether using a device or not
  • Supports the seamless continuation of 24/7 in a personalized way connected to the classroom
  • there are frameworks for kids to know when and where to use them – they are called expectations
  • What would you do if a student was using their device inappropriately?
  • BYOD is a reality in life, why not school?
  • We supplement what kids don’t have rather than be expected to provide for everyone
  • Lots of questions about use; it’s all about collaboration and communication
  • Never feel bad that a student has to show you how to use the technology; embrace it
  • Students can share work they are proud of with people outside of school and access it easily
In terms of answers, well, they must be determined collectively and consider the students, staff and school context.  We must learn together about what BYOD can mean for enhancing the learning conditions and be open to taking risks and trust each other and our students.  No one size fits all BYOD plan exists.
Ask the question: What will happen if we openly encourage and welcome students to access their own devices for learning?

Take time and read @TechieAng‘s blogpost: BYOD in Primary.  She is mindful of challenges that will arise with BYOD and anticipates what may or may happen and responds to what does happen. She shares the journey and covers time, jealousy, connectivity, parent relationships, safety, engagement, quality of work, responsibility, more tools and appropriate apps.  Her honest reflection and practical advice for implementing BYOD in a classroom is connected to learning, problem-solving, engagement and responsibility.

Join us on Wednesday April 4, 2012 for the #OntCL monthly twitter chat at 8:00 pm EST.  This month’s topic is BYOD – leveraging possibilities and getting comfortable.  Here’s a primer, @markwcarbone aggregated to percolate our thinking:  OntCL Twitter Chat primer.
In addition,  check out this post in K-12 Focus on Education posted on April 2nd entitled One-to-One or BYOD?  Districts Explain Thinking Behind Student Computing Initiatives.  This post explains how one school jurisdictions has shifted their thinking from 1:1 to BYOD because students prefer to use their own personal mobile devices. Also, included are steps to implementation, lessons learned and more.  Here’s a news article posted on March 29th, 2012 sharing how Peel region in Ontario is encouraging 140,000 public school students to BYOD.

There is no question that there are many factors that come into play when thinking about BYOD.  I’m not dismissing these, but am left wondering how we can move forward together.
I also share with you this quote:

Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) is becoming acceptable across many jurisdictions. When combined with a wireless network, students are using iPods, iPads, iPhones,tablets, netbooks, laptops, and other SmartPhones to access educational resources over the Internet. This strategy, when properly guided by teachers, assists schools with equity of access by complementing devices provided by the school.
Council Of Directors Education Advisory #3: Effective Use of Technology, June 2011

My post is not to list all the pros and cons because they are different depending upon context and environment in every learning space, classroom, school and jurisdiction.  My post is to bring forward the moral imperative of allowing students’ the choice to leverage the tools that are in their pockets and backpacks for their learning.

Let’s begin to act and position BYOD as an open option for our students.  Thoughts?  Please share.

13 thoughts on “Leveraging the ‘Instrumented’ Pocket & Backpack

  1. Lisa, you ask some fantastic questions here, and ones that I have spent much time considering as I look at the options of BYOD in my classroom. Is there a Board policy on this though? I’m just trying to figure out where to go next with this. I read and commented on Angie’s post, and as a primary teacher, I appreciate the concerns that she’s mentioned along with her possible solutions. Royan Lee is another fantastic resource when it comes to BYOD, and he’s shared some great blog posts and resources with me that have allowed me to gain a better understanding of how BYOD can work in the classroom and how we can ensure that all students have access to the tools that they need to learn. I think that already having access to some tools in the classroom is great, as then students that can’t bring their own, can still use these same tools as well. I know that I definitely have the ideal set-up for BYOD this year, and I’m very interested in “hearing” what people contribute tonight at the chat. I’ll try coming for sure!

    Thanks for such a thought-provoking post!

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  3. Hi Lisa,

    First, I am just thrilled that leaders in our district are beginning to ask these important questions. I appreciate the links and blogs included in your posts which helped give some context and perspective about where this issue is current at – and where it is going.
    The idea of students bringing in their own tools just makes sense. Why wouldn’t they be able to bring in the devices and tools that help them learn? Using audio and video in the classrooms is more and more being proven as a sound method of instruction because it allows for more choice in learning and supports a universally designed learning environment. We know that the information and content that students can access through a single device more diverse then ever before. So why do we not allow students to carry around a library with them in their tiny little devices? Why do we not let them learn, communicate, research and talk in the same way that we do – as adults? There is some irony found here, I’m sure.

    HOWEVER….do I fully support a bring your own device policy at this time? No.
    Before we as a system can begin to implement and encourage such policies, we need to step back and focus on the teachers and principals – whom are at the frontlines working with students, schools and community – and these devices. If priority is not being placed FIRST on training the front line workers (and not as an extra) on using the devices that their students are using, then I worry about how teachers are going to properly integrate them into their content, and pedagogy safely. I worry about the safety of our students if teachers are not sure how to moderate or are not using the tools themselves. In most districts, teachers are still not the first employees to get devices put in their hands (ie: computers, handhelds) and I wonder if this contributes to their ambivalence about learning/teaching with them?
    Before we implement policies like BYOD – districts need to first put computers, devices into the hands of the teachers. Our leaders need to begin modeling their use as an instructional/learning tool. There will need to be a huge ‘mindset’ change about the purpose and use of the tools that students may be bringing in – including how they are moderated during teaching time. I look forward to talking about this issue more during the chat this evening. Again – thanks so much for leading such a great discussion!

    • Lisa, thanks so much for setting out your thinking and the discussions you been enjoying in such a thoughtful, considered and comprehensive fashion.

      Thanks too to Zoe for highlighting what might constitute the most pressing issue during the discussion of and planning for a BYOD programme – that of the ‘players.’ The voices of the teachers and senior leaders, parents and crucially the students should all contribute to an organisation’s preparations. That a radical change in mindset will be needed is at the heart of things, but here’s where I might diverge slightly. I’m not sure whether getting devices into the hands of teachers is achievable simply from a financial standpoint for a school or district; it wouldn’t be back here in the UK. Perhaps an alternative should be to allow (encourage?) teachers to enter into BYOD, making use of the devices many of them already have so that they have the opportunity to either model their use with colleagues and students or better yet, put themselves alongside the students as co-learners … or even as students of the students!

      There are definitely behavioural, classroom management and perhaps safety issues to be discussed amongst colleagues, but here too are opportunities to learn from each other and to involve the student body right from the outset – discussions of these topics with them might go a long way to forestalling some of the issues that might otherwise arise. They may even be capable of some degree of self-policing?

      As for developing new pedagogies? Ideally yes, but realistically that might be tough for many. How about the possibility of allowing them to grow organically by providing more open learning activities? Setting out to the students in advance what you want them to achieve in terms of their learning, then hand over to them the responsibility for undertaking that challenge by using adapting their technology to meet the criteria set out by their teachers/coaches?

      Or have I simply once more forgotten to swap my rose-tinted specs for the normal ones?

  4. I am very impressed with your post Lisa, as I too have always wanted to share my thoughts on BYOD. Thanks for starting such a powerful conversation. I understand the caution in starting such a unknown policy and caution should be taken. However, caution is good, but no reason to shy away from it either. What would you say when those around you who are hesitant to try a new “21st Century” tool in their classroom? Do you offer your support? (rhetorical – as I know previous commenters would). I really think Ian has a great comment about encouraging teachers to join in on BYOD – and we can’t wait for boards to offer devices to all teachers, or PD (especially with all news of budget cut in Education) Instead those that see the value should be encouraged to bring in their devices and provide support for one another. If a policy is established to make teachers more comfortable & supported (as being allowed) more would jump aboard. I had the benefit of having the support of my board and principal (3 years ago) and have learned so much along this BYOD adventure – I encountered many challenges along the way – but the positive results greatly outweigh any negative I’ve encountered. The best result being equality (all students were able to use a device) thanks to the support of the school (had less students to provide devices to). I encourage all to join me in BYOD, but before any board, school, or teacher embarks on the BYOD journey they should use your guiding questions Lisa. Thank – you!

    • Hi Brye – WOW I can’t believe I won one of your giveaways. How cool is that – I’m tickled! Thank you so much! I’m off to send you an email. By the way, Frolic looks fantastic, really a great job!

    • At an earlier papal audience in the same place, members of the new ecclesial movement Fratelli Pellegrini (Pilgrim Brotherhood) with their foundress (Chiara Scuro) demonstrated both JP2′s theology of the body and B16′s hermeneutic of continuity–with an enthusiastic contingent of their second order cheering them on.

  5. Thanks for starting the conversation Lisa…. it’s one that we definitely need to have. Like Zoe, I agree that the first step isn’t in getting the devices into the classroom, but rather, getting our teachers to see the value in using the devices and getting them to use it themselves. I’m never worried about the Zoe’s or Aviva’s in our board, they will always be on the bleeding edge of innovation and will figure out how to make technology work best in their classroom. What I’m worried about is the teacher who has never touched the devices themselves (“I don’t need a cell, because I don’t want to be reached at all times” or “I don’t use Facebook at all because I don’t want to participate in social networks… it’s DANGEROUS!”). We can’t expect them to figure this out on the fly and so what happens is what we always see happen… the innovators innovate and the others get left feeling inadequate or resentful.

    We can’t rely on the “young teachers” knowing this stuff either. I’ve watched many new teachers come into the classroom with no more knowledge about technology than our seasoned veterans. Just because they grew up with a computer, doesn’t mean they know how to use it (the same applies to our youth…. we have to teach them how to use tools… right now they know how to use it for their own purposes which aren’t always in line with what we are wanting them to use it for). So, it needs to start at the top and work its way down. We need to be training teachers on how to use technology by choosing appropriate tools, that are reliable and effective and demonstrating how to leverage it in their classroom. We need to start small, with one or two tools that can meet a number of needs (not the one-hit-wonder app). We need PD sessions that aren’t “learn on your own time” or learn this through a website without a live person there helping you when you get stuck, but are job embedded, on a need-to-know basis so that they can begin using it right away. We need to provide in class support to teachers as they are using the tools, so that they can learn how to handle the potential “pitfalls”. And of course, we need supportive administrators, who see the value in moving this way and are willing to support the learning of the teacher.

    We also need a support network for the technical side. It isn’t good enough as a system to say that we provide support up to the wireless router in the building. We need a support network that can help teachers connect devices (all of them), that can offer suggestions on use and is willing to investigate when something isn’t working. At the end of the day, all of these devices use similar strategies to connect (that’s why there are standards) and our technicians and support staff know what those strategies are. To turn around and say, “I don’t know how a Kindle works” (for example) is taking the easy route. Give it to a techie and I guarantee within 5 minutes they can get it working (because when they buy their own personal one, I know for a fact they can get it to connect to the network). Tell a teacher, “I’m not sure” and the device sits on a desk and collects dust. We have to move away from this notion that unless it is the “supported device”, we can’t support it. For the basic needs (connection, surfing, getting apps), our technical staff have more than enough knowledge to support the devices (and should be supporting the devices).

    This past year I’ve completed an iPad project in my classroom. I think that it was quite successful and we discovered a lot of innovative uses for the devices. The students stretched their own learning and I stretched my own teaching practices (and in some ways totally changed them!). The question of course is, “now what?” Can we plop those devices into the classroom of a teacher who isn’t using technology? Absolutely. Will we see them taking innovative strides and discovering new things? Maybe. If we don’t provide them with strong support will the use fade? Definitely.

    Lastly, we have to respect the notion that while our students may be “always online”, our teachers can’t. They have families, they have other responsibilities and they aren’t children… they are the ones making dinner while their kids are surfing the web. They are the ones organizing lunches for the next day, reading stories and tucking babies in, while our kids are Facebooking. As a new father, I have a new appreciation for this. I happily continue to welcome e-mails from my students, getting them to post questions, etc. But now, the expectation is that I will check once in the evening before I go to bed and that’s it. The rest of the time, they need to be independent learners and use that technology to find the answers themselves. It turns out I do have a life after all! 🙂

    So should we be looking at the BYOD model? Again, absolutely. But in order to do this, there is a bit of work that needs to happen in the background from a support side. Once we open the box, we need to make sure we have the structures in place to provide active, immediate support to all teachers so that they meet with success right from the get-go. Otherwise, we will end up with what we currently have… some classrooms where amazing things are taking place and students are growing, and others where the computer is in the corner, gathering dust, and our students are remembering the previous year where they were in a different classroom using technology effectively.

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