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One Teacher Lets Students Prove They're Trustworthy With Devices

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School administrators are looking to Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies as a way to bring technology resources in the community to bear in the classroom when there is little funding for classroom devices. In a recent series, MindShift has been examining how three different teachers in three completely different communities -- urban, rural, and immigrant -- are dealing with BYOD issues, including trust, equity, and what happens when teachers try to put student-centered learning in the hands of students who've never experienced it.

Meet a teacher who's ready to shift responsibility to her students: (Read Part 1: Trust, Equity, and Student-Centered Learning With Fourth-Graders, and Part 2: Access to Technology For Immigrant Students)

Part 3: Mutual Trust Helps BYOD Work

Marionville High School only has 200 students, but more than half of them qualify for free and reduced-price lunch. This rural community in southwest Missouri has several teachers who are fairly traditional and have little interest in integrating technology, a few early adopters and a supportive principal that wants to see new solutions to help students graduate ready for college or work.

“I wanted to make my classroom mobile device friendly because that’s where kids are, especially in high school,” said Amy Walker, a Spanish teacher who is studying for a masters' degree in education that focuses on effective ways to use technology. Despite her openness to Bring Your Own Device policies (BYOD), Walker’s students can't access the internet with their phones because the wireless system can't handle the load. They can only go online with school-issued tablets or computers.


The school's policy around personal devices and cell phones in the classroom is evolving. Walker says a few years ago cell phone use in class was getting out of control so the school banned them entirely. Now, the administration is starting to ease that policy, allowing phones in school, but only if they are face down on students' desks. Walker is pushing back against that rule, allowing students to use phones all the time in her class with the hope the technology can help her bridge the gap between kids lives in and outside the classroom.

She's found some success by giving students a chance to prove they can be responsible and relying on mutual trust to maintain classroom order. She knows that teenagers are bound to mess up sometimes, that's part of their developmental process. "As long as you are learning from your mistakes it's all good in my book," Walker said. She does have some students who aren't as mature about device use or completing assignments independently. She works more diligently to keep those few engaged and supported.

As a Spanish teacher, Walker doesn't have to worry about high stakes tests the way English or Math teachers do. She's under less institutional pressure and has more freedom to create a classroom culture that's comfortable for students. That starts with the classroom design; there are couches in her room and students are rarely found sitting at desks. She also assigns lots of online, creative and collaborative work. "By giving them more online assignments I'm free to meet with students individually," Walker said. "I know who needs help and who's being more responsible."

She also makes it clear that kids start with a blank slate when they enter her class on the first day; they each have the opportunity to prove to her they can handle the independence and freedom she's offering. "I think that we as a population, not just educators, do a poor job of looking past bias," Walker said. "In the teaching world, you hear from the eighth-grade teacher about how terrible the kids are and so it's already predetermined that we're going to have problems."

Walker is trying to change that bias in her classroom. "I'm not going to form an opinion about you based on what someone else said," she said. "It has to do with mutual respect, I think." That respect is what allows Walker to give students open-ended learning opportunities, which they don't always appreciate. "The first couple times they really struggled with it because they wanted me to tell them what to do," Walker said.  "Now they like it. We just kept doing it and eventually they realized that it wasn't going away."

Amy Walker teaches high school spanish in Missouri. (Courtesy of Amy Walker)
Amy Walker teaches high school Spanish in Missouri. (Courtesy of Amy Walker)

Walker has been mentoring less confident teachers in more collaborative approaches to good success. She helped a veteran, but traditional teacher implement a creative project on Sophia Learning, encouraging her to co-create the rubric alongside her students. "Students who don't normally engage were very engaged because they got to work on something that was meaningful to them on a medium they like," Walker said.

Because Spanish isn't a mandated topic in Missouri, Walker has more freedom than other teachers. She’s sympathetic to teachers who are having trouble getting started with technology in the classroom, but ultimately believes everyone needs to take the plunge.

"Be willing to take a chance and change it up slowly," Walker said. "Try it and understand that it may work and it may not work. But if you don't try you won’t make any progress." She's also found that staying connected to other inspiring educators is a huge motivator to continue when there are stumbling blocks. "Collaborate with someone who is having positive results in their classroom, whether that's through social media or another teacher in the building," Walker said.

Walker has had success with devices in the classroom because she's excited about making it work, doesn't feel the same pressures to produce test scores as other teachers and truly believes kids can learn a lot from leveraging technology in the classroom. All those qualities make her an active teacher, fired up about what she's doing, and that shows through. She says her students are willing to work hard in her class because they see she is doing the same. It's that mutual respect that has given her good classroom control and that makes BYOD work smoothly.



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