Tech-i-ya 3.3

Adrian A. Durlester

Adrian DurlesterI’ve tangentially mentioned the concept before, but one of the trends in education (and business) that could prove to be a significant advantage for Jewish education of all kinds—day school, supplemental, informal—is the concept of BYOD—bring your own device.

While many, if not most schools (other than colleges) still prohibit or severely restrict the use of student-owned cellphones, smartphones, tablets and laptops, many forward-thinking institutions have a different approach.

Even if you accept the notion that religious education should perforce be counter-cultural, it is possible to permit the use of technology. I might argue that, in point-of-fact, it may be easier to demonstrate the need for balance and even disconnected time to students in the school setting when the use of the technologies are allowed. It can be hard to illustrate the potential pitfalls when only doing it theoretically! Counter-cultural doesn’t have to mean being anti-technology or troglodytes.

Let’s be plain—not allowing students to utilize technology in their learning settings is like not allowing a doctor to use a stethoscope or a construction worker to use power and hand tools of the trade. Smartphones, tablets, laptops, even gaming devices are the everyday tools of today’s students.

Few school or synagogues can afford the enormous cost of providing technology tools for all of their students. That’s what makes BYOD such an attractive option. Many of your students have these devices. All you need is a plan to allow them to be utilized, and one that provides the tools to those students who don;t yet have them or whose families can’t afford them. (As to families that make a deliberate choice to not give them these devices, that’s something your institution is going to have to think about. If you’ve decided to go the BYOD route and there are families that don’t want their children using the technology, there are philosophical decisions to be made. Will you embrace the technology at the risk of losing some families? Will you find a way to accommodate those families?)

Implementing a BYOD policy requires developing the technology infrastructure needed to support it, and an acceptable-use policy that creates sensible guidelines that make expectations clear to all, especially students. The students’ use of their devices needs to be restricted to those that are part of the educational program. Difficult to control and police? Perhaps. I think if the students are sufficiently engaged they’ll be using the devices to learn rather than play anyway. Some schools are even allowing “text breaks.” Developing social skills is part of what students learn, and today’s social skills include things like texting.

The power of technology, and especially BYOD, can create an amazing learning environment. Imagine your educational setting as a giant virtual Talmud. At the core, the mishna of the topic you are exploring.Your source material is your gemara. With supplementing technology, you have instant access to both find and create all kinds of additional commentary, glosses, notes, etc. (Addtionally, while some may shudder at the prospect, people have been studying in virtual hevruta now for years. Imagine the possibilities for your students to study in hevruta not only with other students int he class, but people from all over the world.)

There are many challenges to implementing a BYOD system. There are issues of technology, content-control, acceptable-use policies, equitable access, cross-platform compatibilities and more. It will take an effort that, I believe, will be worthwhile. The time to start thinking about this is now (well, actually, yesterday.) While it’s a brave new frontier, it’s not unexplored territory, and there is lots of useful information out there to help guide you.

The following are useful articles on the subject of BYOD:

What’s the future of technology in education? This info-graphic from Edudemic provides a fascinating look into the possibilities. You can view it online, but you can also download and print it out and post it!. 40 Ways Education Technology Will Be Used in the Future

I’ve mentioned it before, but this LiveBinder is an excellent compendium of useful Web Tools for Teachers Sorted By type.

If you haven’t yet discovered Richard Byrnes’ Free Technology for Teachers site, do go and explore it.

These two recent posts had some great information:

Talk back to me! You can reach me at my contact points for my Technology in Jewish Education consulting work: e-mail Twitter: @yoeitzdrian. I also blog and tweet as @migdalorguy and @havanashira. On Google+ I’m +AdrianDurlester

Hillel said: In a place where there are no humans, strive to be human.