Another Adavantage of BYOD – IYOA (Install Your Own Apps)

For many years, board owned computers have been used in schools and usually they are locked down. In other words, they come with a pre-selected set of applications for students and teachers to use in their daily work of learning and teaching… and that’s it. Special software is usually installed to prevent new software installations or reconfiguration of current applications.

One of the most exciting aspects of a full BYOD implementation in schools is that the student owns the device and, therefore, the student makes the decisions about what apps to install that help the most with learning. Giving the student this control makes sense and gives them ultimate flexibility over how they learn and create. In terms of self-regulated learning, I think this represents a big leap forward. Also, it seems reasonable to assume that a teacher could understand a great deal about how a student is learning by examining the array of apps they have installed on their device and listening to the reflections of the student regarding why they were installed.

It is an excited prospect knowing that these devices can dynamically adapt to the minute-to-minute needs of the learning environment and the learner. The affordance of being able to quickly find and install a new app makes these devices the ultimate customizable device. I think that the learning implications of the often used phrase “there is an app for that” are significant. I discussed Seymour Papert’s foreword to Mindstorms in my last post. In the last paragraph he wrote, “the computer is the proteus of machines” and I think this certainly still applies in this case.

I feel really strongly that we have to think carefully and strategically about how BYOD initiatives are implemented in the classroom. One of the learning strategies that should modelled is how to find, install and experiment with new apps that might facilitate learning in a specific situation. Or, how can you use your existing apps in a new learning situation? Or even–how can you design your own custom app to meet your learning needs?

What were the gears of my childhood?

The idea I reflect upon most often from Mindstorms is the one in the foreword. In it, Seymour Papert presents the thesis of his book and probably of his career as well. He discusses his childhood fascination with gears and how they developed into powerful, personal and lovely objects to think with. He was able to use his understanding of how gears worked to understand new abstract concepts, such as a system of equations with two unknowns. He wondered if there could be an analogous experience for every child. The problem, of course, is that every child will not have the same fascination with gears. But, in the last paragraph, he hints at one possible solution: “What the gears cannot do the computer might. The computer is the Proteus of machines. Its essence is its universality, its power to simulate.”

And so he goes on to describe how Piaget’s epistemological theory could be combined with computer programming, and an “object to think with” or, in this case, a Turtle. The marriage of these three ideas formed the basis of what he called a microworld. A microworld is a simulated environment where certain rules applies and various commands allowed tasks to be performed in this world. Children are put in control of the Turtle with the idea that the Turtle can be taught new words in a special language called LOGO (places to get it). Children begin by figuring out how they themselves would move in a certain way, for example, in a circle. Then, they tell the Turtle how to do it… In the real world, the child might take a step forward, then turn left a tiny bit, then take another step forward, then turn left a tiny bit, and so on… repeating these movements would result in the child moving in a circle on the floor. Eventually, through much playing, feedback, laughing, and trying out ideas, this could be translated into LOGO and look something like this: TO CIRCLE REPEAT 360 [FD 1 LT 1]. Then, CIRCLE can be used now as part of another program. CIRCLE has become a function that the Turtle can perform.

In a very real sense, computer programming served as the gears of my own childhood. What happened to Papert with gears happened to me with programming; my experience was very much as he described in the foreword to Mindstorms. As I learned to program (starting in grade 8), I learned strategies and ways of thinking that I applied to problems for the rest of my life. As I became more proficient programmer, I looked at problems in new ways. I could break them down into the smallest parts possible and figure out how a potential solution could fit together as a set of instructions using variables, functions and multi-use procedures.

This was also my first experience with constructionism. The act of building these computer programs strengthened my thinking in a unique and personal way. And it did not happen quickly. It took a number of years to develop proficiency and economy in programming. It is a discipline that takes a long time to learn. These days, I think Scratch is most in sync with Papert’s original thesis… the fact that there are several million shared programs on the Scratch web site makes it clear that people are learning with Scratch in a way that is fun, creative, and social.

Further Reading:

At long last…

Hello world!  Welcome to my first public blog post. I have been active on Twitter for a while now and there are times when I want a little more than 140 characters to discuss an issue related to educational technology, pedagogy, psychology, or science.  I’ve started this blog as a place for those ideas. Special thanks to people like Dean Shareski, Will Richardson and Chrissy Hellyer whose blogs have inspired me to share ideas and to more intentionally examine my own teaching practice and learning strategies.

I called this blog because another goal is to explore constructionism through writing this blog and connecting it to my experiences as a teacher and learner.