In classrooms where students are empowered to explore their own learning using technology, amazing things can happen. Students discover new ways to demonstrate learning. Classroom communication and collaboration flourish. Students become information producers rather than passive consumers.
But how do you make all of this happen in a BYOD / BYOT (Bring Your Own Device / Bring Your Own Technology) or 1:1 environment? Which elements should you have in place to manage, nurture and encourage these learning communities? Although there are a wealth of pedagogical and technical points to consider, there is one tool no successful BYOD / BYOT or 1:1 implementation can be without:
A learning platform, or learning management system (LMS).
We’ve asked one of the leading experts in BYOT, Dr. Tim Clark, to tell us why. Coordinator of instructional technology for Forsyth County Schools (Forsyth County, Ga), and author of the BYOT Network blog, he has been a leader in one of the most successful BYOT implementations in the nation
Here are Tim’s top reasons why an LMS can make these environments thrive.
Reason #1: Provides consistency
“An LMS or another learning platform is essential for the success of a BYOT or 1:1 initiative because the learning community needs a house,” says Tim. “Because the students are empowered with the use of mobile technology, the LMS provides a consistent platform for communication among the teachers and students.”
For Forsyth, and many other BYOT / BYOD experts, this consistency includes having a learning platform that runs on a variety of student devices, providing access to all students.
In her post, 6 BYOD Discussions Every School Should Have, Vicki Davis, educator and author of the Cool Cat Teacher Blog, states that “a learning management system (LMS) is almost essential for any successful BYOD environment.” In addition, she writes, “an LMS will make your school run better – if you make sure that it works on all platforms.”
With a device agnostic “house” with which to operate, students at Forsyth are able to work at their own pace, says Tim, allowing for more differentiated instruction and opportunity for remediation and enrichment.
The learning platform “celebrates the uniqueness of the individual students,” he says.
Reason #2: Provides multiple ways for teachers and students to communicate and collaborate
With a learning platform, students and teachers can communicate through a variety of ways, including:
- online chats (text or video)
- announcements and tasks
- assessments and feedback (via text, audio or video
These options have given students new ways to express themselves, says Tim, helping them to better connect with teachers, with each other, and “eventually to the content they are learning.”
“Different channels of communication begin to develop as students express their ideas in new ways and compare their different points of view, and the teacher can help nurture that conversation,” says Tim.
“Students can also collaborate with each other to complete projects and assignments both synchronously and asynchronously, and this type of collaboration is supported by the LMS.”
One way a learning platform can help manage this collaboration is through the use of groups, which allow projects to be submitted either individually or by the group as a whole. Grouping students by individual learning needs and interests through their learning platform, teachers can better facilitate work that encourages students to become content creators and peer assessors.
So, how is this demonstrated in the classroom?
“In my district, we had English Language Learners (ELL) who rarely spoke aloud in class become more confident about sharing their ideas by communicating within the LMS, and they became important members of their groups as they collaboratively completed assignments within the platform,” says Tim.
“A fifth grade student even commented that the students in his class began playing together more on the playground because of they were getting to know each other so well within the LMS.”
Reason #3: Provides an organizational framework for managing student groups, learning activities, and assessment
“The BYOT or 1:1 classroom is an active learning environment where students are empowered to use technology to research information, solve problems, and discover new ways to show what they know,” says Tim.
“In that context, the teacher becomes the facilitator of learning, and works with students individually or in small group, asks questions to guide student discovery, and learns new ways to use technology alongside the students.”
Although this constant flow of activity and communication contributes to a dynamic, engaging environment, teachers need to have a way to manage this exchange in order to be successful.
Tim provides some specific ways a learning platform can help in this area:
- The teacher can post directions for assignments or use communication tools to provide feedback on student work. This enables the teacher to focus on a group of students in the classroom while the other students can continue working independently within the LMS on their devices.
- The teacher can also upload or link to instructional videos, interactive sites, or create activities within the LMS so that students are able to be engaged while learning with BYOT or 1:1 technology tools. Then the teacher is able to provide assistance to students to clarify information or to conduct small group instruction.
“Many teachers in my district have commented on how much more time they have in their classrooms now that they have organized student learning within the LMS,” says Tim. “Students are also able to continue their learning beyond the school day by accessing the LMS from anywhere, and at any time.”
Reason #4: Facilitates differentiation for student learning based on their individual needs and abilities
For Forsyth, having a device agnostic learning platform means that all students can participate in lessons, whether using their own technology devices, or those in the school. At the same time, teachers are able to use the power of their learning platform to assign tasks and projects to each student based on individual needs.
“Academically gifted students can continue progressing on the planned assignments within the LMS, and students can also receive remediation activities at the same time,” says Tim.
At Forsyth, teachers can consult their learning platform for recommendations of student activities based on their performance against learning objectives and their individual learning styles.
“Since the students are all able to work independently or in small groups within the LMS, the teacher is able to monitor the progress of the students, and provide access to content that effectively meets the needs of their diverse students,” says Tim.
Kathy Carpenter, principal of Riverwatch Middle School in Forsyth County, says that having a learning platform has not only made students more interested in their own learning, but has opened up a variety of ways that students can demonstrate mastery of lesson objectives.
“We have the ability to engage students through the power of choice,” she says. “Students have the ability to publish their learning in a way that they find pleasing, whether that be through video, through writing, through a cartoon that they’ve done, or through a photo story. They have many different options to present their learning and showcase what they know.”
“In the BYOT or 1:1 classroom, students are holding devices meant for communication and collaboration, and now the online learning platform can facilitate those learning experiences,” says Tim.
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