How BYOD Programs Can Fuel Inquiry Learning

Launching a Bring Your Own Device program can be both exhilarating and scary. The opportunity to extend access to technology in the classroom and at home is enticing, but school districts can get hung up on important details like providing a strong network, making sure each child has a device, and questions around distraction. Of course, no one answer will work for all teachers or students, but one guiding principle that’s shown to work is for schools to focus on how mobile technology will help shift instruction to be more collaborative, learner-driven and inquiry-based.

“Instead of this just being a technology initiative, it really is an instructional initiative, so all of us from different departments can get on the same page,” said Tim Clark, coordinator of instructional technology for Forsyth County Schools in Georgia.

Forsyth started out by creating a learner profile, a set of criteria the school district wanted students to learn while in school. That profile includes: seek knowledge and understanding; think critically and solve problems; listen, communicate, and interact effectively; exhibit strong personal qualities; and engage and compete in a global environment. The profile helps guide all approaches to learning in the district.

To achieve that level of decision making, school culture has to shift to one that encourages an on-going conversation, often filtered through devices. “Anytime I see students watching a video in the classroom I expect them to be back-channeling,” Clark said. Back-channeling is an ongoing conversation on Twitter or an app like Socrative about what students are watching. The teacher then knows how students are responding to the material and can decide how to move into the next activity.

Inquiry-based learning grounded in authentic projects go hand in hand with BYOD, Clark said. “What we are trying to do is get to transformative use of tech, where kids are doing things they wouldn’t be able to do without the tech,” Clark said. He recommends using big picture questions to frame ideas and help students identify the many smaller questions within the topic. “I expect that if I go to a student and ask them what’s the big question you are working on they’ll be able to tell me and talk about,” Clark said. “There’s not just one right answer. I want more questions to arise out of that one big question.”

A bigger equity question remained around access to the internet. One strategy Forsyth has employed is to pull the community into the effort. Businesses with free wifi put a sticker in their windows and the district offers a directory listing of those resources. Many businesses have risen to that challenge and now even some dental offices offer free wifi, so kids know they can work online while waiting for an appointment. The district also bought Kajeet smartspots to send home with students who had no internet access in their houses.

Read the entire article by Katrina Schwartz on MindShift at

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