3 considerations for the device-agnostic class

A look at what it takes to develop a BYOD initiative that incorporates device-agnostic lesson plans, content, and collaboration tools.

device-agnostic-classIn the 2015 Higher Education Edition of the Horizon Report, The New Media Consortium pinpoints Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) as one of the most important developments in educational technology with a time-to-adoption horizon of one year or less.

“In higher education,” NMC states, “the BYOD movement addresses the fact that many students are entering the classroom with their own devices, which they use to connect to the institutions’ networks.” The Horizon Report includes an example from California State University, which studied the BYOD phenomenon and found that students “could only engage in educational activities for six minutes before turning on their devices for support.”

The open question on U.S. campuses is not if students are bringing their own devices or how to connect them to the institutional network, but rather: how do you support all these personal devices at the point of instruction, in the classroom? How can educators can effectively design lessons and utilize software in an environment where their students are using myriad different devices, computers, and operating systems?

According to some educational experts, the best approach to supporting BYOD for instruction is the “device-agnostic” class. Device-agnostic tools are applications that work across multiple systems without requiring any special customizations; they are compatible with most (or all) operating systems and can be used on various tablets, smartphones, and laptops.

(Next page: 3 considerations for the device-agnostic class)

Learning is enhanced when students use their own devices

At Triple Point Advisors in San Francisco, CEO Gauri Reyes, a former university professor, says the proliferation of BYOD on higher-ed campuses is being driven by students’ desire to integrate their personal device usage with their educational activities. “While it definitely makes sense to keep the two [activities] separate,” says Reyes, “the trend in modern technology is to merge the two sides together into one.”

Merging those two sides can lead to good things, according to Reyes, who has seen learning fields enhanced, collaboration stoked, and educational spheres positively impacted when students use their own devices in class. The problem, she admits, is that there is a plethora of devices currently on the market, and not all of them share the same platforms or operating systems. This can create issues for educators who have to create lesson plans that incorporate tools like the iPad, iPhone, Android, tablet, and/or laptop. The age of the device itself can also come into play, she notes, particularly when some students have newer equipment and others have older, outdated versions of the devices.

“These devices all have different quirks,” says Reyes, “and that makes it hard to predict which ones will ultimately be brought into the classroom, who will be using which ones, and who needs to know what about the devices and their capabilities.”

Examples of device-agnostic applications

To help smooth out some of the BYOD-related bumps in the college classroom, applications like Haiku Deck (presentation software), Tackk (a multimedia scrolling poster), and Snapguide (for creating step-by-step guides) are all offered in iOS, Android, and/or web versions. The latter, for example, uses a browser-based interface to allow students to access the application from any device – regardless of operating system – and use it online without having to worry about software incompatibility issues.

One of the newer entrants to the device-agnostic BYOD market is EXO U, a platform that allows instructors to share information and collaborate with students across multiple operating systems. Shan Ahdoot, CEO of the San Francisco-based firm, says such applications help educators get “everyone on the same page” quickly and effectively without wasting classroom time or IT resources. “The goal is to create a consistent experience from phone to laptop to interactive whiteboard,” says Ahdoot.

In the absence of such tools, Ahdoot says the BYOD experience can be challenging for instructors who have to use a combination of email, the campus learning management system (LMS), or other means of collaborating with students. Also, he says web-based applications don’t always look the same on different devices. An online program like Evernote, for example, appears differently on an iPad versus a laptop versus an Android device.

Like Reyes, Ahdoot feels that BYOD as a whole can be a very productive and effective way to put devices into the classroom without a large financial investment (on the part of the institution) or the need for extensive IT support. Plus, he says, students tend to take better care of their own phones, laptops, and tablets compared to those that are distributed by an institution.

Design for cross-platform, whether approved or not

Even with its obvious positives, the BYOD movement comes with its own share of setbacks. For example, Reyes says instructors will continue to be challenged by the need to effectively develop lessons and content for multiple devices and operating systems. To those instructors that are already feeling that strain, Reyes says the best approach is simply to assume that the technology is going be brought into the classroom – and whether it’s “approved” or not.

“Start by taking the most popular devices that are out there and making sure your applications, lesson plans, videos, or other content work on those devices,” Reyes advises. “Just make the assumption that whatever you’re developing or using has to work on iOS, Android, or another platform, and then create an environment where your students can learn, engage, collaborate, and communicate effectively.”

Bridget McCrea is an editorial freelancer with eCampus News.

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