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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Are Schools Prepared to Let Students BYOD?

By Peter DeWitt — August 26, 2012 4 min read
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“Districts wading into the “bring-your-own-technology,” or BYOT, waters are wrangling with which issues should be tackled through districtwide policy, and which should fall under school-level procedural codes. In the process, they’re trying to leave room to solve unanswered legal questions about Internet security and privacy.” Quillen (Education Week)

As our students get older, they become more responsible...we hope. A laptop or tablet has replaced the notebook and pen over the past few years since our present technological explosion. Many students can’t wait until the age that their teachers allow them to bring in their own devices. Unfortunately, no matter the level, not all students are encouraged to bring technology into the classroom. And those that are encouraged to do so, may not be doing it for the right reasons.

Being the first school in the area to allow students to bring their own devices (BYOD) may help a school sound progressive and current. However, if they do not have the proper infrastructure and are not prepared for the change of culture that this can have, the schools only look good on paper. BYOD can create positive changes to a teacher’s instructional practices.

For about four years I taught graduate courses at the College of Saint Rose in Albany, NY. There is a lot of buzz around BYOT (bring your own technology) or BYOD at the K-12 school level and I understand that it is different at the collegiate level because many colleges and universities are prepared for this kind of instructional revolution. After all, higher education is known for their academic freedom.

Last year, I encouraged my students to bring in their laptops or iPads. Being that it was college level, I assumed that all students would be prepared to bring in their own devices. However, you might be surprised that a few were not prepared at all. They preferred notebooks and pens. A few told me that their other professor told them not to bring in laptops because they were too distracting. These students, all pre-service teachers, were learning a hidden curriculum which was that their professor was not allowing them to use their computers. I wondered if this meant they would be less likely to allow their future students to use their devices.

As much as we may believe that the 21st century revolution has hit higher education...it has not. We all have to make more of an effort to embrace these tools and not outlaw them. The day my graduate students brought in their devices, the class was transformed into a much more engaging environment. We didn’t just talk about education; we researched it, found short videos about it, and practiced our media literacy by debating some of the information we found that focused on it.

Banning Technology
“Throughout the information age, the corporate I.T. department has stood at the chokepoint of office technology with a firm hand on what equipment and software employees use in the workplace” (Kopytoff).

Just like in the workplace, schools ban the devices that make them uncomfortable. Instead, we should teach students how to use it properly. Many times, we should ask students for their assistance on how to best use technology because very often they know more than we do. Banning devices only makes the school system seem further behind society than it really is, and we can no longer afford to have our students believe we are behind the times.

There are certain pitfalls to look out for when inviting students to bring their own devices. With BYOD comes responsibility. Schools need to be prepared for a change of this magnitude. They must have a plan in place before they can encourage students to bring in their own devices. The following are a few of those issues:

  • Is your infrastructure prepared?
  • Does your school have the proper wireless equipment Is there secure access for students/staff?

  • Health and Safety
  • Is your school prepared for when students break the code of conduct? Are present board policies counter to what BYOD means? Do they ban the very devices that students are supposed to use?

  • What does BYOD mean? There are so many devices that students can use and if it is too open-ended, some students will take liberties that they shouldn’t.
  • Laptop? iPad? Tablet? Smartphone?

  • What about the students who cannot afford the devices?
  • If schools require or encourage devices, they need a plan for those students who cannot afford them

  • How will teachers receive professional development around BYOD?
  • Not all staff understands how it works. Many teachers want to allow students to bring their own devices but they do not always understand how they handle the concept.

  • Outreach to parents
  • How are parents being informed that their children can BYOD? Parents need to know what their children are doing with the expensive devices they bring to school. What is the policy if a device gets lost or stolen? Is school like a hotel? They're not responsible for lost or stolen items?

21st Century Skills
We have come to a time when we need to accept the fact that the concept of 21st century skills is no longer a progressive phase to latch onto but a reality that we need to instill into our school systems. When students bring their own devices it literally transforms the conversations that take place in the classroom. Unfortunately, it takes a lot of work for schools to be prepared for this to happen and that cannot be taken lightly.

With this technological freedom comes a great deal of responsibility. A friend’s sister works in a school district where every classroom was given five iPads. The iPads are supposed to be used for instruction. Unfortunately, the teachers were not given professional development and many didn’t know how to use an iPad, much less use it for instruction. In the end, some of these teachers only let students play games on the device.

If BYOD is going to be the mantra of the school system, they need to make sure that the end justifies the means. If a device is used as a tool to bring games, it’s counterproductive to encourage them in the first place. There has to be a reason that the devices are allowed. Being the first district in the county to allow students to BYOD is not enough. These devices can change the way teachers and students learn if they are used correctly.

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Chadband, Emma. (2012). Should Schools Embrace “Bring Your Own Device”? NEA Today

Kopytoff, Verne G. (2011). More Offices Let Workers Choose Their Own Devices. N.Y. Times.

Livingston, Pamela (2012). Bring Your Own Device. Questions to Consider. The Innovative Educator.

Robinson, J. (2012). 5 Areas of Consideration for Developing a BYOD Policy in Your School or District. 21st Century Principal Blog

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.