The Trouble with Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) in ELT

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Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) can allow teachers to use technology where it would otherwise be unavailable
BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) is the only solution for educators who wish to use technology in the classroom when access to a CALL lab or institutional set of devices is not available.

Almost all university freshmen in Japan now possess a smartphone of some description. These are generally either iPhones running iOS or OEM handsets running Android. iOS seems to be somewhat more popular in Japan, but there are still a fair number of students with Android handsets, and a few with rarer hardware/software combinations.

If you are relying on BYOD for your tech-powered teaching, the fact that not all your students will have the exact same device is where your problems begin, but not, unfortunately, where they end.

Fragmentation

OS fragmentation is “a barrier to a consistent user experience, a security risk, and a challenge for app developers.” It is caused by mobile device owners’ unwillingness or inability to update to the latest version of their device operating system whenever an update is released. This problem is particularly pronounced for Android handsets, but also exists in relation to iOS.

This might not be a problem for individual users, but it becomes a major issue when leading a group of students in lock-step through a structured learning process. The fact that the “user experience” is inconsistent means that there is no single set of instructions that all students will be able to follow. The fact that developing for every possible OS/handset combination is a challenge means that many apps only run on the latest OS versions of the most popular handsets.

So, although every student may possess a smartphone, not every smartphone will be able to run the cool CALL app you have in mind. Even if they can, you will either have to give individual support to every student in helping them set up the activity, or create multiple iterations of the instructions to cover every OS/device eventuality.

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Mobile devices are cornucopias of personal and private data
Privacy

Unlike institutionally owned devices, which can be easily wiped after the user logs out or finishes the class, student owned devices contain a trove of personal data: photos, messages, appointments, contact information, and more.

Most students would probably feel uncomfortable sharing at least some of this information with their teachers. So when we walk around the room monitoring students to make sure they are on-task, or helping them set up the mobile-based CALL activities, we have to be careful not to inadvertently peek into the personal lives behind the tiny glowing screens in their hands.

Distractions

Ever since Apple overhauled the iOS notification system, it seems that every app and its dog wants to send me updates, offers, news and status reports. While I endeavor to disable notifications for any app that doesn’t absolutely need them, my students tend to be less discerning. There’s nothing worse than setting up a class activity on mobile devices, only to have students navigate away from the app or site the moment a giant emoji-laden message drops down from the top of the screen. Even the students who diligently dismiss annoying messages from friends must find them a distraction from the learning process.

And I haven’t even begun to mention the students who will double click the home button and go back to Candy Crush the minute you’re not hovering over their shoulders and spying on their screens.

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The millennial version of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs
Battery

The modified version of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs now puts battery life right at the bottom of the pyramid, directly below “Wi-Fi”. Yes, this a sarcastic dig at millennials’ seeming inability to pull themselves away from their devices and do something healthy like.. climb a tree. However, in the CALL-based EFL classroom, it is a very pertinent observation.

Battery life hasn’t really improved as much as we’d like in recent years, and certainly not as much as storage capacity or processor speeds. It seems that battery life isn’t subject to Moore’s law, as the science behind it is based on thermodynamics rather than electrodynamics.

This means that students, who are already heavy mobile users, may simple not have enough juice to utilize their devices during study time as well as break time. Where this is the case, you’d better hope that you have enough power outlets and charging cables to get them hooked back up to the mainline.

Data

Capped data plans on mobile are generally the norm these days. There may be actual technological reasons behind this, but the cynical side of me suspects it’s just the carriers trying to milk heavy users for more money.

In any event, if you don’t have an easily accessible Wi-Fi network in your classroom (which isn’t restricted to just teachers) and you’re asking students to use their own data connections to engage with your chosen app or website, you have to be careful not to inadvertently incur additional charges for your students. Usually they will be quick to let you know when this is the case, but it can be yet another barrier to the successful exploitation of BYOD.

Summary

If you can overcome the difficulties presented by various models of various handsets running various versions of various operating systems, and all students have a fully juiced up device with plenty of bandwidth, and they are able to pull themselves away from Candy Crush, and ignore messages from their friends in other classes, then BYOD can be a good way to gain access to mobile technology in the classroom.

However, we must be careful not to appropriate students personal (and often private) devices as our own teaching tools, despite how cool that new ELT app may be.

25 Tech Tips from JALT 2016

  1. etec-illustrationThe Free Music Archive is a great place to find music for apps, games, and other projects
  2. LiveInk allows you to easily render any text in a “brain friendly” way
  3. FreeHostia allows you to host your own website, blog, or bulletin board for free
  4. Roll20 is a suite of easy-to-use digital tools that expand pen-and-paper game play
  5. Pics4Learning provides free clip art for educational resources..
  6. ..while the Library of Congress can be used to find public domain images of historical significance..
  7. ..and ELT Pics is a Flickr photo stream containing over 25,000 pictures for teachers of ESL
  8. LibSyn provides podcast hosting for only $5 a month
  9. Hopscotch helps you learn to code through creative play..
  10. ..while Javascript Obfuscator helps you protect your ideas when you eventually create that “killer app”..
  11. ..and the Learn How YouTube channel contains video tutorials for beginner programmers
  12. Imiwa is a Japanese dictionary for iOS
  13. Smart Smart produces many different apps for English study
  14. TEDict is an iOS app which allows you to use TED videos for listening dictation practice
  15. News in English provides English news in three different levels of difficulty
  16. Herstory is an innovative and interactive detective game
  17. EFL Technologies provide a number of free apps for learning the NGSL, GSL, NAWL and AWL
  18. English Test Prep Review provides unofficial guides and review materials for TOEFL, TOEIC, and other standardized tests
  19. Leander’s Lexicon Extractor is a free online tool that allows students and teachers of English to quickly extract and list important vocabulary from an inputted text
  20. CleverBot allows students to practice English conversation with an artificially intelligent chat bot
  21. Bloomin’ Apps lists apps and websites for every level of Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy
  22. The Rule of 6 (eBook) propounds a simple framework for how to teach with an iPad
  23. The WikiTude SDK allows you to build your own augmented reality app..
  24. ..while Aurasma enables anyone to easily create, manage, and track augmented reality experiences
  25. Documents 5 allows you to read, listen, view and annotate many kinds of documents on your iPad or iPhone

Link rot, deprecation, squatters, and hackers: the trouble with books on CALL

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Link rot can be a major issue when writing about web-based resources

I’ve just finished reading the excellent Language Learning with Technology by Graham Stanley. It’s packed full of useful ideas for how best to integrate technology with the ESL classroom, and I highly recommend it.

However, having eagerly loaded up almost all the links in the book, I encountered several problems, which are well-known to anyone who’s ever surfed the web. I should acknowledge here that these problems apply equally to all publications relating to web-based technology, including my own.

Link rot

The trouble with books is that their text is unapologetically static. Once a book is published, once the ink is dry on the dead cellulose wood fibers, it can’t be changed. At least, not until a new edition is released.

Conversely, the web is unpredictably dynamic. URLs which exist on Monday may completely disappear by Friday, or take us somewhere we never intended or expected to go. Link rot is defined by Wikipedia as:

the process by which hyperlinks on individual websites or the Internet in general point to web pages, servers or other resources that have become permanently unavailable

Link rot is a major issue when writing anything about web-based technology. This problem exists not just in relation to dead tree publications, but also with web-based ones, although the latter can be more easily updated.

Link rot is the main reason why it’s inadvisable, to say the very least, to publish anything that relies mainly on the availability and predictability of web resources. It’s one of the reasons why search engines like Google eventually won out against web directories like Yahoo! The web is in constant flux, and trying to write down, describe, or analyze any website, excluding perhaps the web’s most permanent destinations, is an exercise in futility.

Deprecation

No, I’m not talking about British people’s infuriating refusal to acknowledge compliments. I’m talking about what TechTarget defines as the following:

In IT, deprecation means that although something is available or allowed, it is not recommended or that, in the case where something must be used, to say it is deprecated means that its failings are recognized

Perhaps the most infamous example of a deprecated web-based technology in recent years has been Adobe Flash. Once the only way for webmasters to easily deploy games, videos, audio, and a whole host of other snazzy features on their sites, Flash is now regarded with disdain by surfers, web browsers, and tech giants alike.

Almost anyone who has ever used a smartphone or a tablet can tell you: Flash just doesn’t work on mobile. Unfortunately, the appeal of Flash-based apps hasn’t faded as quickly as Apple would have liked. This means that teachers who have recently furbished their classes with a set of iDevices have to be extra careful about which web-based resources they prescribe or recommend, and must be prepared for disappointment when they see the old familiar message: This page requires Macromedia Flash Player to run correctly.

Squatters and Hackers

If squatters are the opportunistic freeloaders who jump into your house and claim it for themselves the minute you vacate it, hackers are the guys who sneak in through the hidden back entrance, change the locks, and stick their name on your front door just to prove a point.

Both hackers and squatters are a major issue in relation to web-based resources. The domain of my name, paulraine.com, is a good example of domain squatting. Back in 2006, I owned it, but later let the registration slip. Now it is “parked”, and if I ever want to use it again, I will probably have to pay the current owner an exorbitant sum to do so. This happens a lot with domains that have at one point been registered. If the owner fails to renew, they get scooped up by internet squatters, and used to advertise tenuously related sites and services. This can happen at any time, and we must be careful that sites we recommend to colleagues or students haven’t been surreptitiously converted into money-making portals.

If your domain hasn’t been taken over by squatters, it may still have been invaded by hackers, which seems to be the unfortunate case with the official companion site to Language Learning with Technology (languagelearningtechnology.com), which, as of November 2016, seems to have be “pwned” by a certain “gunz_berry”:

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Bear in mind this is a book that was published only three years ago, in 2013. Who knows how long the companion site has been displaying the “Hacked by gunz_berry” message. Unfortunately, many of the ideas and suggestions in the book refer to the companion site, so it’s a real shame that it’s been compromised. I hope that Cambridge University Press can get it back up and running again soon (I’ve already tweeted the author to let him know the site is down).

Solutions

Ultimately, there’s not a lot ed-tech authors can do about many of these problems. To avoid link rot, it’s best to go with sites that have been around for at least a couple of years, but even then, they can disappear suddenly and without warning.

We should also be careful not to endorse deprecated technologies, but the pace of technological progress is so fast, that even newer innovations are becoming deprecated very quickly.

As for squatters and hackers, we can only try to ensure that our security arrangements are up-to-date, and we remember to pay our domain renewal fees.

Conclusion

Perhaps a non-technical solution is the best to these technical challenges, and Graham Stanley manages it quite well: focus on types of technology rather than specific instances; focus on ESL activities rather that ESL sites; and give alternatives and variations for every suggestion, to ensure that ideas can still be applied even if the technology itself fails in certain instances.