The modern classroom is a messy one! Schools are entering the world of technology at different speeds and levels; some institutions have invested in full 1:1 programs where the school selects a single device (such as iPads or Chromebooks); others have instituted Bring Your Own Devices (BYOD) initiatives, some specify a single device while others permit a broader selection; and most of us operate in some type of hybrid environment where students have access to a device at school, such as a tool issued to them, a computer lab, and/or laptop cart and/or a device they have access to at home or even bring with them. As technology becomes more ubiquitous both at home and in the classroom, we find ourselves in a more blended world. As educators in the 21st century, we must be prepared to tackle education in an environment that is cross-platform and multi-device.
Working in an unpredictable environment is especially challenging. As educators, we want to provide the most effective and innovative learning environment possible for our students. At the same time, it can be challenging to initiate a sophisticated, 21st century project with an eye to address the individual technology set-up of hundreds of students.
Over the years of working in blended environments, I have found some solutions that allow me to assign sophisticated, robust projects without making me – or my students – go crazy in the process!
When I work with faculty, they are often concerned that they must teach students how to use programs or apps. I address this very concern in my article, “How to Infuse Digital Literacy Throughout your Curriculum” emphasize that it’s not the tool, but rather the product. Just as we don’t require students to use Microsoft Word or Text Editor when we assign them an essay, it’s not necessary to designate and then teach them new software for a digital project. For example, if you want your students to create a video, and you work in a blended environment, allow for some software flexibility. You do not need to require that they use iMovie or Movie Maker and then teach it to them. Rather, allow them to use whatever tools works best for them. There are a myriad of Mac, Windows, Android, and iOS compatible programs available. They are intuitive and thus easy to learn and use. Providing this flexibility not only permits students to work with software that will run on their device, but it allows them to operate within their own comfort zone.
Twice a year, I ask my students to create a history documentary. At Ransom Everglades, we are not BYOD or 1:1. Therefore, my students have various access to computing tools. You will note that I do not assign a particular type of computer or software. What they use to create is up to them. However, I make very clear my expectations with concise instructions and a rubric. The instructions I give them focus on research, content, and construction, similar to what I would hand out if I were assigning a research essay or class presentation.
Sometimes using just one tool is easier and more cost-effective. When you select software for a project, choose one that is cross-platform compatible. In our hybrid world, many tools now work on Windows and Mac, as well as many mobile computing platforms such as Android or iOS. Cloud tools, especially those that operate via a web browser, are especially useful. For example, my favorite cross-platform word processing suite is Google Drive. I don’t have to worry about a student sending me a document that I can’t open, and they always have the ability to work on their projects regardless of the machine they are using. Additionally, by using Google Drive they can collaborate with their peers, even completing a paperless research essay. If you know you need to use a single tool, do your research – pick one that will work for most if not all devices!
Don’t think that you must suddenly become an expert on every single device and piece of software. That is impossible even for the most skilled IT professional. Instead, encourage your students to become their own help desk – searching out their solutions and assisting one another. This teaches them one of the most important skills that they can learn: creative problem solving. At the beginning of the year, students quickly learn that when they visit my office hours or email me a question, I will ask them:
I have learned that when I encourage them to figure things out and solve their own technical problems or help their classmates, they quickly become empowered. I find that even on individual projects, students build camaraderie and leadership skills through collaboratively working on assignments and teaching one another new things.
Overall, the best advice that I can give when working in a hybrid computing environment is to be flexible – expect that things will go wrong and be ready to find work-arounds. Someone’s computer will crash, or they will misunderstand an instruction (or worse yet not read the instructions!), or some random error message that makes no sense will pop up on the screen. That is okay! Take a deep breath, do some basic troubleshooting, and come up with alternative solutions. In fact, this is a great way to model your expectations in a tech-rich classroom!
Additionally, encourage your students to communicate with you – let them know when you are available and how best to reach you; I tend to hold digital office hours via Google Hangout during projects. This will help you to direct them when they have a question and encourage them to be open and communicative with you throughout the process.
The world we live in is no longer single device and neither are our classrooms. However, as educators we can build robust and creative curriculum within these non-uniform environments and in doing so teach our students how to think critically and creatively.
To learn more about cross platform classrooms and unleashing students creativity in a BYOD environment, come join the conversation at the July 28-30 EdTechTeacher Summit in Chicago.