Saturday, November 1, 2014

Three Apps That Will Help You Be BYOD Ready From Day One

This morning's New York Times brought some terrific news for me; the long imposed ban on the use of cellphones in city school is soon coming to an end. While the article dealt mainly with the controversy around cell phone use in schools, the biggest takeaway here is that the possibility that BYOD, the educational approach of allowing students to bring their own device and use those devices in the classroom as they learn, might soon become a reality.

I'm sure there are teachers who do not like this idea and will stay far away from it. Of course, I completely understand and accept this. But there are also teachers, like me, who like the idea very very much and who would like nothing better than to begin using smartphones in the classroom, in a responsible formalized way, as a tool for learning curriculum.

But folks like me have to face a tough reality:  Technology has evolved leaps and bounds since the cell phone ban has been put into place. Because of this, the pedagogy around using smartphones as classroom learning tools has not had a chance to organically grow along with use of the technology itself. This means that if BYOD does come to your school, you may need a bit of jump start to get into it.

For those folks (and for the folks who may be curious as to how a teacher may start using smartphones in the classroom), I present to you three apps that will help you be BYOD from day one.

Evernote At its core, Evernote is a very flexible app meant for taking and sharing notes. Students can use a very wide variety of inputs for entering those notes and organize their notes in a very convenient, and orderly, way. Over the course of a given lesson, I may have my students take a few notes, respond to a given amount of questions and engage with informational texts (in the form of classroom handouts). Using Evernote, students can take their notes, snap picture of their completed handout and answer questions all within one day's 'note' (they can also make an audio recording of lecture or class conversation and save it in the note). Because the notes can be publicly shared, I can do a quick notebook check from my own smartphone or laptop and share one student's note or notebook as an exemplar so that other students can use it as a study aide. When students go back to study for a test, their 'Notebook' from my course is very conveniently arranged by 'Notes', from each day's lesson. One note may contain such things as an audio recording, URLs from which to study and pictures of that handout that was used in class that day. It does take some time to get used to, and expect to have to do one or two lessons how students should use it, but in terms of apps that students and teachers can use in a BYOD environment, Evernote will give you the absolute most bang for the buck from day one. (check out this video)
(Android | iPhone)

Edmodo Also referred to as 'Facebook for the classroom', Edmodo allows students to see and interact with content with you and their fellow students on a virtual 'class wall' which looks and feel a lot like a Facebook wall. If you would like students to respond in a 'student to student' manner to things like a picture prompt or to high levels questions around informational texts, then Edmodo is what's up.  You'll be able to see your students interact in an environment that is public to the classroom,  yet safe and secure from the rest of the world. Whatsmore, uploading your files, or just linking to them the way you would on Facebook, is a very simple process. One way you may use Edmodo is in the form of exit tickets. Once the students have made their accounts and are registered for the class, you can just throw your three exit ticket questions up on the wall and instruct students to respond using their smartphones. After the 5-7 minutes of exit ticket time has passed by, you can make students responses public to all and ask them to "like" responses that they felt met the criteria from your task.(If you're doing this while being observed, you're hitting 'Checks for Understanding' and 'Peer to Peer Assessment' from Danielson 3D, as well as a bunch of stuff from Danielson 3B and 3C). What's best is that, if your exit ticket question are aligned to your lesson objectives, students can simply refresh themselves on the core content of that day's lesson by checking the class wall and looking over other student responses to the questions (imagine: Exit slips as a study guide; whodd'a thunk it). (HEre's a video)
(Android | iPhone)

Quizlet I don't want to get into vocab in the classroom here. I only want to say that there are still old-school teachers like me who use tried and true methods of learning, then using vocabulary over the course of a unit (ok, I also want to say that vocabulary is an important Common Core Instructional Shift (Shift #6! Academic Vocabulary) but I'll just leave it at that. It's not up to me to tell you your job!). For those who know that teaching vocab is a big key to unlocking these complex informational texts that all of our jobs depend upon, Quizlet is something you absolutely must check out. After you have built your vocab set (which Quizlet calls a 'Study Set') you can assign them to students. From there, there, you can have them study to study using virtual flashcards or even take a vocab quiz. It's really good for 'anything that needs to be memorized' (check out this video here). Don't have time to build a vocab set? No problem! You can just search 'Study Sets' made by others and use that in instruction.
(Android | iPhone)

If your school does go into a BYOD world, try to keep just two things in mind:

1) These three apps are really, just the tip of the iceberg but, if your school hasn't quite provided the supports to do so, they can provide an excellent entry way into using this new tool in your class. Google Apps for Education, for instance, can do everything these three apps can do all in one secure environment, but its' complicated and realistically requires whole-school involvement. There are also many many subscription educational services that are present on smartphone devices.

2) If you're turning he blogs for answers about this, you'll get lost in the woods with all of the suggestions you see! My advice? Keep reading, and pick the two or three apps that you've found teacher-bloggers writing about the most. Once you've done that stick with those two or three apps until they have become actual tools (as opposed to toys) in your classroom for learning. Do this before you start branching out for more and you'll be much more happy. Transitioning to a BYOD class should be a slow, steady process not a turbulent revolution.


  1. Ever hear of the "digital divide"? To assume that all students and teachers can afford access to or want to have access to these BYOD,is quite a stretch. To say that the schools will make up the shortage of devices is laughable.

    Is there actual proof that these enhance learning or is it just a WOW factor?

    Forcing parents, students or teachers to invest in an "unproven" something to help facilitate learning is wrong. It will only widen the gap of the haves and the have-nots

    1. Thanks so much for the comment!
      Of course, the reality is that the overwhelming majority of students do already have these devices and,.at add low as $49 per device, most folks can understand why. This is certainly the experience I have.

    2. I am glad that is the case in your school. It is not in mine. Many cannot afford or will not have a device and data plan, nor will the school give out the access code to an already overstressed network. What do you do when students opt out of BYOD or UseYOD? There are also privacy issues involved. remember the adage, "if it is free, you are being used to buy or sell something."