BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) is something that I embraced as the Technology Director at Addison long ago. I didn’t approach it haphazardly but rather embraced it because the conditions of our network and the logic of BYOD fit for our district. It started with one student asking if it would be OK to bring their laptop to school and grew from there. I was able to stay within CIPA compliance because our web filter (Barracuda Networks) blocked all unauthenticated traffic and presented them with a login page that forced them to use their school login. This enabled us to apply filtering rules and monitor usage.
We do not have a policy for BYOD and I started to research what type of policies we should implement. We are in a school district. EVERYTHING needs a policy. As I researched the subject I discovered it is also a polarizing subject. At first blush, Gary Stager’s “BYOD – Worst Idea of the 21st Century” stands opposed to BYOD. Stager explains how it “enshrines inequity”:
“The only way to guarantee equitable educational experiences is for each student to have access to the same materials and learning opportunities. BYOD leaves this to chance with more affluent students continuing to have an unfair advantage over their classmates.”
Lisa Nielsen took Stager on directly in her post “7 Myths About BYOD Debunked”.
“The digital divide exists whether we allow students to bring the devices they own to school or not. It is illogical to prohibit those students who have devices from using them in a desire to achieve a sense of equity rather than to provide devices for those who need them.”
Nielsen is actually in agreement with Stager on this but I’ll get to that in a minute. I still need Stager to play the villain. Stager uses his next two sections to discuss what defines a device and the “false equivalencies” of different devices.
“BYOD simplistically creates false equivalencies between any object that happens to use electricity”
I’d like to say that this does not happen but I do have my share of students that bring in subpar devices. This year I’ve seen a sharp rise in students bringing in budget “Android” devices that their parents got for a steal at Kohl’s. These devices do not meet Google’s criteria and thus do not have the Android market or other Google apps that are needed for the device to be useful in a learning environment. However, I think that Stager missed the mark on cell phones,
“Repeat after me! Cell phones are not computers! They may both contain microprocessors and batteries, but as of today, their functionality is quite different.”
My phone is the one device that I would choose if I had to choose one. The iPhone and Android phones not only allow you to be a content consumer they allow you to be a content creator. Nielsen made an excellent point about today’s student,
“Clearly, students are bridging the connectivity divide with portable devices like cell phones and MP3 players. Kids with computers at home are taught how to use them in school. Kids who connect to the internet on phones because they can’t afford computers are not.”
Stager claims that it is “miseducative to make important educational decisions based on price” and this gets closer to his main point. By making BYOD a policy, schools are forgoing the investment in technology and later claims that it “diminishes the otherwise enormous potential of educational computing to the weakest “device” in the room”. Nielsen says that Stager is wrong,
“While teachers may know that cell phones can be used as tools to read a book, write an article, or serve as a free student response system, they may not realize they can be used as tools that enable students to create podcasts or digital books.”
Stager claims that BYOD will increase teacher anxiety but Nielsen uses an example from Tim Clark of Forsyth County Schools,
“ If teachers are introducing an activity with school software or hardware, then they are expected to know how everything works. Because of this learning curve, teachers resort to focusing on one process and one product. When the students bring in their own devices, then they are now the experts on the technology, and they can help each other. The teacher is then able to focus on the educational uses of the technology.”
I know from experience that any change can cause teacher anxiety. Teachers want to use new technology but don’t like to be caught off-guard by it. In the #edchat on Twitter last night we discussed failure and the importance of letting students see you fail. I have experience with this in the Web Design class that I assist with at Addison. I was nervous when I started helping with the class because I was the “expert” in the room and I didn’t want to look like an idiot. The truth is I don’t know everything but I do whatever it takes to solve the problems that are presented to me. My approach rubbed off on students and we had students taking chances with their web design that they would not have taken before.
Stager is not against students bringing their own devices. It is easy to browse his article and make the assumption that he is just cynical about BYOD. He waits until the end to prove this wrong:
“Of course teachers should welcome any object, device, book or idea a student brings to class that contributes to the learning process. Every thing a child brings to school in her heart, head or backpack is a potential gift to the learning environment.”
I believe that there are no cookie cutter methods for technology. However, Stager makes a great point that if you make it a policy you are asking for funding to be diverted. This is a concern. In the end, I think that the only policy that needs to be created for BYOD in our district is for liability purposes and that can be done inside the acceptable use policy. I believe that we need to continue to invest in technology while supporting students that bring devices into the district. This will help us bridge the digital divide quicker than doing so with the meager budgets that we are afforded.