Friday, 10 February 2017

The Magpie, Or BYOD : a contemporary tragedy

What do you spend most of your day doing? I have no idea. What I do know, though, is that I spend a hell of a lot of time doing two things. One, watching television (often via a laptop). Two, using a computer (by which I generally mean the internet). What's the point? Basically, that people have contact with computers, if they have them, outside the school environment. In fact, people have so much contact that they often manage to teach themselves computer languages/learn to code and really get to grips with technology in a way that transcends this xkcd comic.

It stands to reason, then, that computer skills... especially given the skills of the vast majority of teachers do not transcend the comic and that BYOD policies by and large are not associated with attempts to teach, say, coding more broadly... cannot be the rationale of BYOD. After all, if computer skills were the reason for BYOD, then BYOD would have to be the most ill-thought out, ooh shiny/magpie policy concocted since your two year old nephew tried to hide your keys by eating them. In fact, since policy makers aren't two year olds, they cannot possibly be so stupid as to think like that. However, I strongly suspect that they don't think at all (hence the inequitable nature of these policies), so I do mention this here. But assuming that "improving computer skills" is not the rationale, there are still big problems with the stated reasons.
Using digital technologies:
  • supports expanded community and international involvement in learning, both face-to-face and online
  • enables students to learn in relevant, real world 21st century contexts
  • allows students to learn, create, share, and collaborate anywhere, at any time
  • opens up a new world of resources for students, providing much more knowledge than any one teacher or school library could hope to
  • enables students to personalise their learning experience (recognising every student's strengths, talents, and needs, building on their identity, language, and culture)
  • helps build on students’ prior and current knowledge, needs, and interests
  • encourages greater collaboration between students, teachers, and school leaders
  • supports teachers to engage in blended, personalised professional, and peer collaboration.
All of these factors add up to more students being present to learn in the classroom and beyond – engaged, enjoying learning, and achieving better results.
That's TKI. This is a quote from a transcript about BYOD at one particular school.
The overall vision for BYOD here at Wairakei School is around making sure our children are connected, capable learners. For our school vision, the characteristics of the learner are visible in everything we do.
Well we believe one-to-one device is a more optimum way of learning. For one, the child gets to use it during class time, they get to take it back home and carry on with their learning.
Our students are really not bound by time and space because of the learning opportunities they have by owning their own device. It’s that ubiquity coming out. One of the reasons why we have one-to-one BYOD is that the device is personalised to them. The children are able to have their own unique login.
These are pretty stupid reasons, which only make sense if you're a magpie. Let's examine them, through the quote. (Fair warning, I think the TKI stuff is self evidently stupid because what it is on about doesn't depend on BYOD.)

"making sure our children are connected, capable learners"

This is, effectively, the computer skills argument packaged in a manner that looks just enough like  tech speak buzzwords to convince people that it's something different.

What is a connected learner? Well, one must assume that this means a learner who sits at the centre of some sort of web, like a giant spider, and draws knowledge from a variety of different sources in essentially real time. Newsflash... this can and does (or should that be, did?) happen without BYOD. It is not predicated on BYOD. Thus, this is irrelevant in deciding whether or not BYOD is possible. Actually, it is entirely possible that it is better if the sense of being connected is something that a pupil generates as a by product of what they do... rather than seeing it as something that their school wants them to be. Do you see the difference?

Capable learners? Ah, we'll get back to this... the idea is clearly that BYOD makes people learn better.


"use it during class time, they get to take it back home and carry on with their learning"

Okay, leaving aside questions about:
  • whether that much screen time is actually good for developing children
  • whether or not this actually happens
I am left wondering how this is different to being able to take your schoolbooks home with you or even how it differs to homework.

So, once again, BYOD leaves us with niggling doubts as to whether or not it results in worse outcomes (harmful here) and something which doesn't rely on BYOD.

Clearly not portable at all.
Oh, maybe the point is that they're using the device for other reasons so it's not homework, and avoids the "too much homework problem" too (n.b. too much homework is a real phenomenon). But what if this makes the pupil lose sight of the difference between free time and school time? And it still doesn't resolve the screen time issue. In fact, it probably makes it worse.

"not bound by time and space" 

Okay, I'd like to pretend this is talking about "the cloud" but I doubt whoever wrote this was thinking about that. This is actually an advantage of BYOD. After all, we could access several different subjects from one easily organised and reorganised computer or via any computer by storing the same things in the cloud. However, given that BYOD is about taking a specific device with you, BYOD is not about the Cloud, which really just becomes a back up in the case of emergency. The Cloud is actually something that the old model of computer suites encouraged and developed... because multiple devices were actually used. This we might term flexibility through experience for the pupil, and a counter-intuitive but actually deeply obvious outcome of BYOD.

"Not bound by time and space" is probably largely about the collaborative opportunities presented by technology (or if it isn't, it ought to be). Take Business 102. As part of that course we had to make a short three minute presentation. However, that really relied on being able to organise five other people, which proved (as with 101) to be difficult. I myself had to show up very late to one (self-organised) meeting due to an assignment being far more difficult than I had appreciated. One of the attempted solutions to this problem was Google Docs. I never actually used this but I saw it in action on two of the macs used by the other group members... two people could type in the same document at the same time and the changes were made in real time. That's pretty cool. It is, however, merely just an augmentation (maybe even substitution) of the age old practice of vivids and a piece of newsprint... it's not a new phenomenon, just a non-time and space bound version. Possibly, though, it could lead to more group efforts throughout the education system... there are lots of other ways to collaborate (a class blog, God knows why, being a popular suggestion).

At this point, it is probably worth noting that the evidence suggests that BYOD does not, in fact, improve outcomes. However, the counter-argument raised to this is that substitution/augmentation level of technological integration/implementation is why this is so. That is, perhaps the reason why the evidence disagrees with BYOD is because what determines the outcomes is how people are learning... and this doesn't change if you switch between writing your notes in an exercise book or typing them up.


"the learning opportunities they have by owning their own device"

Devices, or at least computers, really do bring learning opportunities. For instance, typing represents a distinct skill set to dictation or writing (by hand) and it is, in fact, something that pupils will learn best through constant use. Why? Well, firstly I think a course in typing is really only going to help you if you are willing to learn (and I am not sure this holds true of school children) but more important is the second reason: typing, writing and dictation are three distinct mindsets. In the same way that people who don't write aren't as good at writing, people who don't type aren't as good at typing. The trouble is, BYOD generally exists at the expense of the place where most people learn to write and, as I noted right at the start, people use computers of their own volition very easily. If you're paying attention, this is probably why the defence of the study is able to work... except it's clearly a two-edged sword because solutions don't involve writing experiences but trying to figure out how to have typed assessment. And, of course, maybe it's both... even with typed assessment the handwriters will do better than chance alone would suggest.

It must be said, however, that continual access to IT is really useful. Well, not so much if you have an addiction but healthy use means that you are able to do work when you need to be doing it. A lot of people without access to IT or, perhaps more likely, the internet at home will be reliant on libraries to get their work done. This means, if you're a school pupil, that you'll basically have before school, morning tea, lunch and then after school only up until 8pm at the absolute latest. I don't know about you but there were several internals I worked on until midnight or the wee hours (and a couple of uni assignments too). I was also, in general, able to work in a sustained fashion: public libraries  will often allocate one only an hour at a time and they're busy.

What we notice here, like so much about BYOD, is that BYOD is not required. Owning a computer/device does not require a BYOD policy. For instance, when I was at college we had, for basically the entire time, at least two computers for a three-person household. Right now, now that I am at uni, we have four laptops (one of which is admittedly crap) and a PC (although that is my brother's so no-one else uses it). In neither period was BYOD a thing that any of us lived with. Now, a lot of houses, admittedly due only to the crappiness of NZ and the general cost of tech here, are a lot less able to afford such extravagance. It is also true that price really does determine quality with computers. For instance, the cheapest of those laptops has effectively 0 memory by design and is very much intended for the cloud, so basically it demands more internet than something like my laptop which has a decent hard-drive. It can do less, but I bought it for two things (the odd occasion when I want to have a computer on me at uni, and watching television) so that's okay. But if such a computer had to be the primary device? Hmm... There are serious equity issues that are just plain ignored by advocates of BYOD. Possibly because they overlap substantially with contemporary leftists.1

The equity issues are also manifest in another respect: internet access. A friend of mine from Ramarama only managed to get decent internet access a few years ago... and his family is definitely not from the "not well off" side of things. This raises very interesting questions about the delivery of education in rural areas... especially if the flipped classroom becomes a video-heavy orthodoxy. Mind you, the issue is now resolved so maybe there is good rural internet access these days. But let's take a poverty angle: how common is limited internet access in New Zealand? That is to say, what proportion of households have internet? Well, I'm not sure. The percentage seems to be quite high, and was growing in 2014. But let's say that we get to 95% (the 2014 figures say 90 in 100 households have internet access), what does that actually mean? Well, basically, it means that 5% of households don't have internet access or, in other words, 5% of people are getting left behind... which based on the 2012 figures implies that 1.5% of households (probably about 25,000) households can't afford internet. And I think it is reasonable to think the cost of internet is too high for about 30% of internetless households because while it had risen from 2009, CPI and other figures suggest the cost has collapsed somewhat since 2011. So, how many children is that?

Okay, let's just clarify where some of my numbers are coming from by working in a list:

  1. In 2012, 1.3 million households homes had internet access, or 80%. This implies that there are 1.625 million households in New Zealand.
  2. We then assumed that we get access to 95% of homes (this would be 5 percentage points more than was the case in 2014). But that also says there were 1.77 million households at that time, so 95% of that is 88,500 homes. We'll work from here now.
  3. We then inferred that 30% of internetless homes would have no internet for cost reasons based on 2012 figures (for a few more details see above). This means 26,550 households can't afford internet access.
  4. In 2013, 28.3% of households did not contain families, which implies that children could live in 20310.75 families. (We're assuming, for instance, that no children live with adult siblings; which is stupid because we all know it happens.)
  5. In 2013, around 6 in 10 families contained children. This suggests that there are 11421.81 families with children in New Zealand.
  6. In (5) we also learn that 32.7% of childrened families have one child (3734.93187), 29.8% two (3403.69938) and 16.4% have at least three (1873.17684).
  7. This means we're talking about 3734.93187+(3403.69938*2)+(1873.17684*3.1) children assuming the average of the last group is 3.1 children (I pulled this number out of a hat). That's 16349.18 or 16,349 children.

There are obvious problems here. I believe these numbers are correct under certain conditions. For instance, we imagine that being internetless is random so there are equal proportions of internetless households in certain categories. We know that isn't true. We also assume that among internetless homes, those containing families with children are randomly distributed too. That's unlikely to be true as, among other things, children do raise costs and people are probably likely to make sacrifices for their children. How such forces come to bear on distributions is almost certainly unknown and definitely isn't to me. Hopefully, though, that figure of roughly 16,000 is a conservative estimate (i.e. less than the real figure) because as long as it isn't vastly larger than the real figure, if we perceive 16,000 to be too many children consigned to being left behind... an unfortunate phrase in education discussions due to the diffusion of US debates globally... we condemn the policy. 16000 might not be relatively many people, but I couldn't live with 16,000 futures on my conscience, and if you can... well, I want you no-where near educational policy. And I've got some substantially stronger words to say to you too...

More cartoons about poverty: some grossly ill informed, some intelligent

Now it must be said that education in New Zealand (or, indeed, the USA) is hardly equitable without the burden of BYOD. We have deciles, it is true, but while I roundly endorse the concept, it must be said that I have come around to the view that deciles haven't really managed to solve the issue... that to be from a poorer household and to have good school results requires resilience is simply not fair.Which is to say, getting rid of BYOD or stopping its uncaring advance is far from a solution. And if we ignore that most of the stuff about the benefits of BYOD are predicated on routine accessibility to the internet, it must be pointed out that a laptop could reduce the costs of stationery. But how much stationary does $100 buy? And how much of the large costs are from homework books and the like which could well still have to be bought in digital form? How much laptop does $100 buy and you ain't never finding a laptop that lasts for thirteen years. And who knows when we'll start with the BYOD... if we assume from year five forwards we're probably looking at two laptops between useful lifespans and updates. The bad laptop I mentioned at the start of this post is just over a year old and practically toast because it turns out the HP Stream doesn't just have limited memory but has a memory problem. (Research before you buy: and don't have the bad luck to search for laptops on the day of a one off sale you didn't know was happening which throws you off kilter.)

Inequality in Education
 Bring Your Own Device and the Dunning-Kruger Effect

 The case I have made thus far, as I remember it (it's been written in at least two major chunks months apart) is fairly simple:

  1. Do no harm. Education is serious and we should be sure that some policy change is helpful.
  2. There is no real evidence that suggests that BYOD is additionally helpful and some, possibly explicable, evidence that it is harmful. This suggests we shouldn't use BYOD.
  3. The benefits people say BYOD brings are not predicated on utilising BYOD, i.e. they can be, and are, realised through other approaches.
  4. There is an inequality dimension to BYOD that should be enormously concerning in light of (1).
This last point is more complex in the sense that I think the Dunning-Kruger Effect is relatively easy to misunderstand and I have had to do my best to understand from the internet. That is to say, the Dunning-Kruger effect describes the erroneous assessment of ability such that low ability individuals over-rate their personal competency. I believe that we can substitute in knowledge for competency/ability if we so choose. But what has this got to do with BYOD? Put simply, I believe the Dunning-Kruger effect represents another example of BYOD providing no additional benefit and an additional harm.

One of the things that seems true about BYOD is that it is not intended to be used for, as an example, developing coding skills or development of computer systems. In other words, regardless of whatever people say about, for instance, augmentation3 what is really going on is the substitution of learning about {traditional subjects} via {traditional methods3} with the learning about {traditional subjects} via utilisation of {devices}. In other words, I see the ICT skills doing one thing: nothing. If you remember my critique of the idea of Millennials you'll recall that we're talking about people whose educations took place in two quite distinct eras. Old Millennials born around 1980 went through a school system which would have had minimal computer use... they were in their early-mid teens when Windows 95 was released, for example. Young Millennials, theoretically me, in contrast are old enough to remember, maybe, daft Apple computers in computer suites and also fairly modern, "grunty", operating systems (e.g. Windows 7) in computer suites. There is no comparison whatsoever. But everyone always talks about the computer literacy of Millennials. But when you search the italicised in Google, what do you get? That's right, everyone goes on about how digitally native "Millennials" are, which basically means being unable to do anything that's beyond everyday. They can use Facebook and maybe hook-up an xbox but they're not really computer competent... even if we define competency as "adequate Excel skills" based on the first few hits of that search.

There is, naturally, a moral to the Millennial story for BYOD. When schools develop curricula they have to distinguish between "pupils can do what they want to do" on the computer and "pupils can do what is useful" on a computer. We're not even talking about "coding" stuff like being able to use the html aspects of Blogger when we're saying "useful" but stuff like sorting (although how useful sorting emails really is, is up for debate). Hell, html is probably too high a standard too: we're not even talking about the sorts of coding knowledge that will help pupils become statistics students dealing with the likes of R, SAS or Stata (basic, entry-level ideas). Will BYOD help at all?

This is a very pessimistic overview of BYOD and I haven't really introduced any of the benefits of BYOD that aren't bollocks airy-fairy statements that don't stand up under even cursory examination. That is, I am letting you believe, at last, that maybe TKI didn't present the best case for BYOD (and, hey, I am assuming, months down the track that the links still work). And sure, as the above image probably also demonstrates I am a bit sceptical of the holy awe the Cloud seems to invoke in some people but... I am capable of pointing out at least some the tangible advantages of BYOD.
  1. Weight saving... I feel it is a rare college pupil who wanders through high school with less than a Chromebook's worth of weight.
  2. Freedom... no longer is work stuck in a 1B5 exercise book. You may well not remember anything as well but you can ctrl-F.
  3. Indeed, Chromebooks probably force you to have something like the above:4 permanent cloud-based storage of all your files... as long as you have internet, you're all good.
  4. Space saved storage. Everything is there in just a few gigs (or even less) rather than eight or so magazine boxes (where the bulk of my uni stuff is kept: the above is mostly just assignments and any lectures I've recorded/important files). The flipside is that Mummy and Daddy are going to have a terribly difficult time figuring out if Johnny's deleted all his previous year's work (although, why would he? laziness will out).
  5. You don't have to up and move the entire classroom in order to use something like Language Perfect, which may or may not be better than completely traditional educational methods.
There are possibly other things, but thus far you get the impression that, at best, the constraints of using glorified keyboards will force pupils to be a bit more clever than just saving everything to their MacBook Pro and then driving off with the thing on the car roof (true story... unless it wasn't a Pro... in that someone told me they did this). And while there are tradeoffs to be observed in some of these things (e.g. insurance or relative abuse survival of a 1B5 and a laptop) these really are good things. But, still, it doesn't really look like BYOD is going to do too much more to actually encourage pupils to get to grips with ICT, unless the curricula change. The one thing that BYOD can do the most to change, the single most transformative part of BYOD, is the potential to make something like "computing" some kind of mainstream subject. But it won't because the teachers don't have the skills and because the principals don't have the curricula space... especially if teachers can't integrate even the "productivity" skills into their normal subjects because they don't have them either. Some do, of course, but not enough.

This is where the Dunning-Kruger effect comes in. Pupils raised on a steady diet of digital devices and digital delivery will have a poor idea of their understanding of technology. This is problematic if we want to talk about the pupil-as-citizen, i.e. someone who has to actually go out and vote. And, sure, I don't see why it doesn't apply anyway with non-BYOD pupils like my former self whose typing skills come simply from doing a lot of typing. I don't know why being able to think on paper or think to dictate would open up the mental possibilities of "maybe I don't know my way around the computer as well as I'd like to" unless, you know, encountering tasks that are trivial to do by hand (e.g. nested bullet point lists) makes one confront limits to one's knowledge. Maybe that helps one learn things or maybe it doesn't. Point is, that's an additional problem that we have to think about, especially when considering how it interacts with the small-scale tangible benefits BYOD brings.

Aggressive and All About the Shiny (which is doubly amusing)

Am I a fan of BYOD? No, definitely not. This should be obvious from the title.

Am I convinced by the "marketing" as represented in the green material above? No, and nor should anyone else be.

Are their useful aspects to BYOD? Yes, of course.

Are their harmful aspects to BYOD? I believe I have identified four. One, it limits modes of thinking. Two, typing is not as efficient for note taking as handwritten notes. Three, the Dunning-Kruger effect of over-rated technological competence is probably exaggerated by BYOD. Four, and arguably most critically, it's inequality creating facets have been buried, deep, deep down.

What matters more in the scheme of things? Some conveniences or the broader implications of, for example, having next to no experience of thinking in multiple contexts and situations? Convenience is so often a dirty word for a reason.

Am I opposed to technology is schools? Of course not. It's just that I think technology in schools, through a computer suite mode of delivery (or, hell, if government stepped in and provided some standard device which was used intermittently) better serves everyone. Just because we can have BYOD and because it's some new, shiny, thing doesn't mean that we ought to pursue it. Education is important! We should not do harm... and I think, very strongly (and hopefully convincingly) that BYOD does do harm. BYOD's proponents are magpies... drawn to shiny things and dangerous to those nearby...

1Actually, there is an argument to be made that BYOD would make owning such things more accessible because then it would be much easier to go to WINZ and get a loan through them a la uniforms (and other school costs). However, I am not sure of the intricacies of that system and, in general, encouraging debt is a bad idea. I would greatly prefer the govt. to choose some sort of mid-range Windows laptop (because despite what that xkcd above said, if you actually want to have options, you have Windows) and just make it available two questions asked. That is to say: a) how many children do you have? b) can we have proof of enrolment?

2And it is problematic that a website/paper trying to raise questions about inequity in our education system simultaneously allows a wildly offbase defence of "identity politics" which suggests trying to focus on socio-economic inequality is a means of keeing the "White Man" in control. 

3And as we saw above, this can require wilful ignorance of standard practices "offline", when you look at the old vivid/newsprint concept. It also must be said that I rarely see whiteboards and their versatility brought up... perhaps because all American media always uses blackboards?

When I was at school, our lessons came in all shapes and sizes. We worked in groups, we worked in silence, we worked in pairs and we worked alone. We worked creatively and routinely. We made powerpoints, poems, posters and "papers" and probably pretty much anything in between. We had computer based lessons and wrote internals online, in test conditions or delivered them orally/as performance. We did all sorts and maybe I can't see what else there is to do because I can't think in a BYOD-mode or maybe because we did all sorts I see how BYOD hasn't really got the power to change anything... except for what it won't change... curriculum, because it is seen in "marketing statements" not as a proper tool, not as a means to an end. BYOD is an end to its proponents. To that I say nay! Education is the end. BYOD is merely a means... and not a necessary means.

4That's not really Cloud storage if I'm being absolutely honest. I have four versions, basically, of that folder. Two on this computer, that Google Drive and on a USB stick. I save to the computer and intermittently update it. If I did so everyday/at the end of every session it'd be Cloud, but it's not. I must say, though, that I wish I had typed some more of my English internals... not having access to what I wrote feels like I've lost some of myself and, well the thing is, if we'd been BYOD they'd probably have been typed to start with so the problem would be avoided. Or, you know, maybe they should've given us back our internals.

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