Step Right Up, Join the BYOE Circus


Q: What does the use of digital teaching tools look like in the classroom?

A: A multi-ring circus

Most educational institutions continually have to do more with less. This will affect Information Technology (IT) budgets. That being the case, and as already foreshadowed by EDUCAUSE, students will not only start to bring their own hardware, but bring software as well. In short, we’ll continue to move into the BYOE (Bring Your Own Everything) technology movement. 



As Julia Romberger mentioned in her “Should We Teach All the Things?” post, context matters. What I’m following up with in more detail is…not only does institutional context matter, but individual access and experience matters as well, maybe even more so. Instructors cannot assume that students have access to the same hardware or software. One of my favorite ways to consider BYOE is in context of the growing number of individuals using smartphones as their primary, sometimes sole, device to access the Internet.  Many of us might consider it “impossible” to write multiple page essays or access and complete assignments in a Learning Management System (e.g. Blackboard, Canvas, Moodle, etc.) on a small screen, with our thumbs; however, there are a growing number of students who do a lot, even a majority, of their academic work on their mobile devices. EDUCAUSE’s 2012 Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology  identifies the need for BYOE students to still have access to institutionally maintained computer labs for access to specific software (like Microsoft Word to do final page break, header, and hanging indent formatting on a paper) or printing (p. 14). 

The BYOE movement does not solely refer to hardware; it also refers to software, and, this also includes, the prior experiences each individual has with specific types of hardware and software. At first, every student bringing any device and software application may seem overwhelming for instructors, thus the image of the multi-ring circus; I think it also provides an opportunity to showcase diversity. Students can share the different applications they use to get work done, demonstrating that most academic challenges can be met in a variety of ways. This does mean, however, that instructors must design assignments in a manner that allows students to complete them differently.  Instructors might also worry about supporting each and every technology brought to class; allowing students to support one another as well as teaching them to build their own support networks (both people and other resources like LifeHacker and YouTube) is the equivalent of teaching students to fish! 

As Julia Romberger and I argue in our recently drafted Hacker Pedagogy piece, these types of assignments provide students the opportunity to meta-reflect on their learning practices. Allowing for diversity in technology usage, and therefore assignment completion and submission, also helps keep classes interesting for instructors as well…step right up, buy your technological circus ticket now!   


Creative Commons licensed images posted at Flickr:

·       Circus, Circus, Circus by Les Chatfield 

·       Planet Circus UK 2011 by DirkJan Ranzijn

·       Step Right Up by smoochiedeluxe


When we presented on using video editing software and teaching film at Computers & Writing, I was reminded that, even though we were in a lab, the students were much more comfortable working with their own laptops. I don't find this surprising. I too prefer to use my own hardware/software when possible. The benefit is not only that students can take their work home with them but also aids in working around issues like installing software on university owned computers.  

I wonder, though, as an instructor, if there is any concern with this BYOE concept that the teacher need be relatively proficient in seemingly any technology. You mention directing students to YouTube, but I am thinking in class itself. In my own classes I find that I'm often not only trouble shooting whatever technologies we are working with, but also Google Drive, Dropbox, online video editing tools and any other software students bring to class. I tell my students day one that we will use technologies that I know well and/or have passing familiarity with and that sometimes we will hit glitches and they are free to offer up suggestions they see. Often it works great and we pull on the class' own knowledge network. 

The approach Lee Skallerup Bessette mentions earlier in this survey may help with using different tools in the classroom. Sharing how software is used with the class forces students to become comfortable with playing with tech and takes some of that load off of the professor. 



I'm thrilled you pointed to Lee Skallerup Bessette's post! She mentioned one of the two major methods I use to help with technical support:

  1. have some "teach one another" assignment, Lee's, or
  2. group students in projects based on the functionality of what they have access to.

In other words, have the students help one another, and help you help them. I would argue, as you know, one of the 21st Century Literacies we want students to have is the ability to feel confident enough to figure out a new technology on their own. To help do that, we should be having them develop their own technology support networks (people, online places, confidence, etc.) while still in school. 

If we wait to teach with technologies until we are comfortable enough to do so; we'll never do it. And if more colleges continue to explicitly support BYOE initiatives, as EDUCAUSE suggests, it will be impossible to know all of the technolgies. We've got to work through other support mechanisms. 

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