University instructors must deal directly with the presence of student electronic devices in their classrooms. Instructors can ban students from bringing networked devices into
their classrooms, they can let students bring their devices, or they can tell students to bring their own devices to class. Although the difference may seem subtle, each approach to students’ personal technology has implications that influence the classroom climate. These factors may include pushback from students who want to use their devices or distraction among students who mentally wander in and out of learning activities while “multi-tasking.”

Many instructors resist the idea of telling their classes to “bring your own device” (BYOD). Unless instructors have thought through the details of a technology-enhanced activity, they may quickly find themselves overwhelmed and frustrated if everything does not work as anticipated. After two semesters of implementing technology-infused learning activities in a large lecture-based class, I have developed a few essential skills that every BYOD instructor should consider when planning instructional activities.

Sync the Class

Instructors should have a way to get students in the same virtual space and keep them there. For this purpose, tools such as Apollo or Top Hat allow teachers to project a common set of slides or pages on each student device in the room. Students can follow along on their own devices, and instructors can guide them through learning activities. These tools help create a common learning space for the instructor and students.

Check the Pulse

In addition to getting all students on the same virtual page, instructors should monitor student understanding and engagement. A good way to do this is to implement activities that require students to collaborate, discuss, and process course information. Learners are attracted to challenging yet attainable team-based problems. One way to utilize group problem-solving and discussion is to provide students with a space to aggregate their responses. Potential tools for checking the class pulse include Socrative, ActivePrompt, InfuseLearning, and Google Forms.

Create Space

One of the key elements of teaching in a BYOD environment is to keep students engaged in activities with their computers. Since students have exerted effort to bring their computers to class, it is important to do some activities that are particularly well suited to these devices. These activities could involve editing the same Google document at the same time or simultaneously editing slides in a Google presentation. The Google Sheets add-on Doctopus is especially useful for creating and disseminating copies of Google Drive files
for students to edit, either individually or collaboratively. Instructors can have students pin and explain places on a Google map or annotate and draw images using a drawing tool. They may create a 5-picture story, or capture a 30-second explanation using video. There are many possibilities for creating workspace for students during a BYOD class meeting.

Showcase the Students

Once instructors engage their students in learning activities that utilize higher-order thinking and collaboration, they must be intentional about showcasing student work and integrating these learning products into further class discussion. This is the point in the lesson in which instructors communicate to their students whether they, as the learning expert in the room, value this activity as a real learning endeavor or just a high-tech time filler. If they truly value the work students are doing, instructors will devote time to acknowledge, praise, critique, and share the fruits of student learning. If instructors skip the showcase, they should not be surprised if the students show less enthusiasm and engagement the next time around.

Many universities across the United States have invested heavily in transforming their campuses into 21st Century learning spaces. Initiatives such as these challenge students to master time-tested habits of mind and thinking skills, but they also require faculty openness to new possibilities created by innovation. This openness includes reimagining the way we facilitate face-to-face learning using the digital tools students already have. Instructors must be intentional when learning how to navigate the digital learning landscape. Teaching in a BYOD environment is not easy at first. It requires patience, creativity, persistence, problem solving, and a little faith. By implementing this framework, instructors increase their likelihood of success for maximizing the potential of each device, and student, in the room.

Curby AlexanderThis article was written by Curby Alexander, College of Education, for the Spring 2015 Issue of Insights Magazine.