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BYOD - Engaging Students Using Their Own Devices

Pamela D. Wash
Greta G. Freeman
University of South Carolina Upstate

       In 2012, EDUCAUSE, a leader in IT advancement for higher education, published its findings of a survey disseminated to 195 participating institutions receiving more than 100,000 student responses. The data are clear; the data cannot be ignored. Our students are demanding seamless integration of the varied instructional technologies and mobile devices they own and command.

     According to the ECAR Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology Report (Dahlstrom,2012), students crave blended and flipped classrooms, they yearn for seamless integration of mobile technology, they believe technology is critical for both academic success and career accomplishments, and they value multiple options for communicating. In having valid confirmation from a national perspective, institutions of higher education are faced with the challenge of how to respond. This article describes the process of one institution’s journey toward a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) initiative and instructional strategies being immersed in classrooms by participating faculty.

     Gone are the days of standard lecture and PowerPoint presentations from higher education faculty. Our digital native students are demanding that institutions of learning catch up with the 21st century and engage them using the mobile technologies that are a daily staple of their lives. The basic landscapes of college and university campuses are evolving trying to upgrade wireless infrastructure and keep up with the demands of support and bandwidth required to host all of the wireless supported mobile devices logging in to their networks. One-to-one computing initiatives are simply unsustainable and even unmanageable by most IT departments (Nelson, 2012). Even computer labs are evolving and morphing to thin client technology reliant on cloud computing and host servers. This revolutionary technology has slashed the cost of purchasing and supporting traditional CPU technology and replaced it with a small 5x7 inch box mounted under each keyboard and monitor station. In addition to the revolution of computer labs, the overall need for campus-wide site licenses for discipline specific software is minimized with cloud computing. Smaller software bundles can be purchased and provided on shared virtual desktops accessible by faculty, staff, and students anytime and anywhere there is internet connectivity. This solution eliminates the need for students to purchase required software or to drive to campus to use a specific program.

     As with computer labs, classroom landscapes are evolving and responding to student and real-world needs. Even classroom furniture is taking on an interactive feel by replacing traditional desks with rolling tables and chairs allowing for flexible grouping and mobility. The materials students are bringing to the classroom are changing as well. According to the 2012 ECAR Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology survey results, of the more than 100,000 student responses, 86% own a laptop, 62% own a smartphone, 33% own a desktop computer, 15% own a tablet and 12% own an e-reader (Dahlstrom, 2012). With this technology readily available with the majority of our students, higher education institutions are embracing a ‘mobile obligation’ to seamlessly integrate this technology into the curricular experiences provided to students (Laughran, 2011). Thus, more and more higher education institutions are moving toward Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) initiatives.

Journey to BYOD
     As a state supported public institution in the southeast, our institution is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS). In accordance with SACS accreditation standards, institutions must plan and implement a five-year Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP). An approved QEP must focus on issues related to enhancing student learning (Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, 2011). STEP-UP, Student Technology Enrichment Program - USC Upstate, is the capstone program justifying and supporting the campus-wide BYOD initiative. The three main goals for the QEP are: 1) Faculty Development, 2) Development of Technology Intensive Courses, and 3) Creating a Technology Fluent Campus. The BYOD initiative connects seamlessly to each QEP goal; thus providing justification to move this project forward.

     The BYOD journey began spring 2012 with full implementation scheduled for fall 2013. So, how did we get there? The answer is easy to provide, but harder to obtain - faculty buy-in. A determined group of tech savvy faculty, staff, and students formed an ad-hoc BYOD Committee and plotted a pathway to a BYOD campus. Our summer/fall/spring plan formulated around the following tasks: draft and distribute a position paper and initial infographic rack card for sharing the concept, recruit faculty to participate in a one-week summer technology intensive workshop with a $1,000 stipend and an iPad, elicit faculty buy-in through multiple open forums during the fall semester, present the final position paper to the university cabinet and finally, seek Board of Trustee approval. Through these focused efforts and overall university support, Board of Trustee approval was granted with a fall 2013 full implementation date.

BYOD in Action
     Faculty development is critical to the success of any pedagogical shift. Since some faculty view technology as a “disruptive innovation”, a phrase coined by Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen, monetary carrots as well as innovative scheduling and presentation formats for professional development must be considered. In collaboration with the Office of Distance Education, the Center for Teaching Excellence, Learning Technologies, and the Director of the QEP, a summer one-week long technology intensive workshop was held for interested faculty and semesterly face-to-face and podcast workshops were held to promote a variety of tools that can be accessed on any mobile device. These offerings served to both increase faculty knowledge as well as increase faculty buy-in.

     As a result of these workshops, faculty began to share with the committee the types of culminating engagements they were conducting in their courses and the overall student positive reactions. This served as informal evidence that mobile technology could be used with purpose in our courses and could increase student motivation.


Tools for the Classroom
     One of the pitfalls to avoid with a BYOD initiative is narrowing your focus to a specific device or brand name. Instead, focus on the tools available through any web browser which allows students to bring in almost any internet-accessible device. By allowing students to bring varied types of devices and platforms of mobile devices to the classroom, you are not excluding participation. Additionally, this allows the IT department more flexibility in providing student loaner devices when necessary.

     Synchronous presentation tools are popular among faculty. They are using web 2.0 tools that allow instructors to push out presentations and documents to students for synchronous access. These programs allow faculty to control and share interactive presentations, course documents, provide real-time quiz and poll questions, and even allow students to take notes simultaneously. The real-time quiz and poll questions can be content driven to determine student comprehension during a class session, spontaneous questions to gauge opinions or ideas, or even survey and Likert-scale questions. Three such presentation tools available are: Nearpod,, and Presefy.

     Generating graphic organizers is a tool many faculty are employing in their classrooms. There are several online graphic organizer generators available for use on mobile devices that allow students to quickly and easily display content for a topic in a visually appealing format. With the addition of a blue-tooth enabled LCD projector, students and/or groups of students can create and share their organizers to the class in real time. Two free and user-friendly tools available are: Text2Mind Map and Bubbl.

     Using online newspaper headline generator tools gives students the creative power to write and informally publish their impromptu or even formal writing on a particular topic in a unique format. Each of these tools allows students to provide an original name for their newspaper, insert a custom headline title, and type in the narrative for the storyline. Instantly, the story is published in a faux online newspaper and can be shared in small groups, shared on a document camera with the class, or saved and submitted for an assignment. Two recommended online newspaper generators are: Fodey and Yourgoodnews.

     Formal and informal assessments are important in the classroom as well as in-depth discussions and even debates. While there are commercial “clickers” on the market that faculty can distribute to each student during class, why not take advantage of the free polling tools available through the internet? These tools can be used formally with teacher-created assessments or informally with spontaneous questions for anonymous participation in the classroom. The data generated from these mobile device available tools can be saved as well as exported as a spreadsheet. Socrative is a free, multiplatform available tool that can be easily used for the aforementioned as well as exit slips and other forms of assessment and polling available with this tool.

     John Dewey said it best, “If we teach today as we taught yesterday, we rob our children of tomorrow", (1916). In higher education, “we have the opportunity to teach students to ask the right questions, use the real-world tools that they have in their hands to find the best answers, and share that in an authentic way with those around them” (Nelson, 2012). As technology continues to expand and advance, it is imperative that classrooms evolve and embrace these instructional tools to meet students where they are and to meet the demands of the current career market. A BYOD initiative is one way to make these connections in the classroom.

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Dahlstrom, E. (2012). ECAR Study of undergraduate students and information technology, 2012 (Research Report). Louisville, CO: EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research.

Dewey, J. (1916). Democracy and education: An introduction to the philosophy of education. NY: Freepress.

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Laughran, P. (2011, November 26). Mobile obligation. (Web log post). Retrieved from

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Nelson, D. (2012). BYOD. Internet@Schools,19(5),12-15.

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Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. (2011). The principles of accreditation: Foundations for quality enhancement (5th ed.). Decatur, GA: Author.

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