Smart learning: Bring Your Own Device pilot programme Hamburg

Image: ESTUDI M6 /

In July the EU's Working Group on Digital Skills and Competences visited a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) pilot project in Hamburg. 18 ministries of education joined the two-day event which combined school visits with discussions on how policy can support digital change in education.

'Start into the next Generation' is a project run by the Hamburg authority for schools and training. It was launched two years ago with the aim of improving learning outcomes by using technology in the classroom. Six pilot schools were selected to take part in the project with over 90 classes and 2,000 students involved.

Each school was provided with a secure wireless network but was free to choose its pedagogical approach to using the technology. Students were asked to bring a laptop, tablet or phone to school (in 90% of cases they chose a smartphone). The schools were supported with training and with advice on legal and data protection issues (all parents were given a document to sign explaining what the devices would be used for). The Hamburg schools authority also provided a learning platform which gives access to digital materials and allows students to communicate, submit homework and complete self-assessments.

The enthusiasm of the teachers in finding new and innovative ways of working with students was striking. In Maretstrasse, the school principal and teachers were firm advocates of self-directed learning and the changing role of the teachers from being the 'sage on the stage to guide on the side'. In their classes each student determines his or her own learning plan and objectives for the week. For the teachers, technology supports this approach by giving students new ways and opportunities to learn.

We watched students (14-15 years old) discuss the results of the British referendum on EU membership. The students seemed to move naturally between a combination of paper worksheets and phones in order to undertake research, check facts and watch video material. One girl said she found the information online "more relevant and up-to-date" than what she could find in books. Technical problems arose but these were quickly resolved by the students themselves, including volunteers from each class who were trained as "IT assistants".

As well as the school visits we heard interesting case studies in BYOD from Austria, Luxembourg, Cyprus and Flanders. The problem of infrastructure was mentioned (bandwidth, Wi-Fi network, sufficient plugs for recharging) as well as the lack of good quality digital content.

The teachers were clear about the challenges and benefits of using digital devices in their classrooms. Their concerns include distraction, such as messaging or chat apps, as well as cyberbullying and the 'status' attached to having (or not having) a certain phone. They also stressed the importance of digital literacy and critical thinking and the fact that students needed to be able to understand and assess sources of information in a more critical way. The teachers would like students to become more creative in their use of devices, rather than use them only a passive, consumerist way. Many of their students had never used a PC but had "jumped straight to smartphone". What does this mean for their digital competences?

The department of pedagogy at the University of Hamburg is analysing results of the two-year pilot and looking at how staff and teachers are adapting to this new learning environment. Results of the evaluation will be available in the autumn.

European Schoolnet have conducted a study on BYOD which includes guidelines for school leaders.

About the author
Deirdre Hodson works at DG Education and Culture at the European Commission where she coordinates the Working Group on Digital Skills and Competences.