This year, my school district decided to fully implement a Bring Your Own Device policy on all secondary school campuses. Last year, I piloted BYOD, or BYOT as some people call it, and I saw a lot of success in the work that my students were creating. I found that they were engaged in a whole new way when they were able to bring their own technology and work together to create a product or participate in technology enhanced discussion. Because of my experiences last school year, I was thrilled to know that our whole campus would be implementing the policy this year.
But here's the thing. Technology fails sometimes; kids fail sometimes, too, in drawing the line in what is acceptable school technology use and what is not. This past week, both types of failures happened at my school. Technology failed at a time when we least needed it to do so--during literacy and math quarterly standardized testing. As a measure to prepare for PARCC testing, our district decided to administer all quarterly testing for math and literacy fully online. That meant no back-up paper copies. That meant that when the portal failed (like it did on Tuesday and Wednesday) and when the school's network connectivity went down (like it did on Thursday and Friday) kids were frustrated and teachers were frustrated and everyone went home tired and begging for a paper test.
Back up to before any of that even occurred...on Monday I received a note in my box that three of my students had been suspended from technology for two weeks for taking photos of other students on their devices without the permission of these students in health class. Not cool. It specifically states in our acceptable use policy and in our BYOD agreements AND in the digital citizenship session our students are required to attend when school starts that they are not to take students' photograph without their express permission. These students got caught up in the fact that they had their phones with them, they were bored, and, hey, when kids aren't in school, what are they doing? Taking pictures of each other, sending snapchats, and posting on Instagram. That's their real life.
BYOD problems occur at other campuses as well. I realize that our problems this past week are not unique. It's just part of the implementation curve. But this is my concern. Many times, when problems occur in succession, it becomes easy to want to give up on the change. I think giving up on this particular change has huge implications for our students. Our students have been taught, almost since birth, that a cell phone or a tablet is a great "toy." It plays movie to keep them occupied; it has games on it that will keep their faces staring at the screen for hours; it takes pictures and movies. It's a world of entertainment at their fingertips. Before they had their own devices, they had their parents' devices. What our students need to learn through BYOD is that their devices are not just toys. They're instructional tools and life tools. Those phones don't just hold games and movies. They hold a wealth of information.
In addition, so many of our students lack any type of digital etiquette. Let's face it. So many of the adults we see everyday lack any type of digital etiquette. They place calls or check Facebook in the checkout line at the grocery store. They text during meetings. They send snapchat selfies in their cars at stoplights. This is the world we live in, and I am just as guilty as the next guy who is choosing an Instagram filter at the dinner table instead of enjoying face to face conversation with the other people there. Our students have to learn when those entertainment choices are and are not appropriate. It has always been our obligation as teachers to educate our students for the world they live in now AND the world they'll live in as grownups. I think the world we live in now could use some soon-to-be adults who know how to use technology for good, necessary reasons, not just to be their daily boredom-killer.
So, as my devotional challenged me on this gorgeous Sunday morning, I will not grow tired of doing good. I will not grow tired, in a moment of frustration and exhaustion, of teaching my students to be better digital citizens. As idealistic as it may sound, I do completely believe that my job is not just to teach English, it's to create smarter, more involved, more respectful future-adults. Even when it's frustrating. Even when there are failures along the way. Here's to a new week, and a new opportunity to turn failures in to teachable moments and do some good.