BYOD in Theory
The acronym BYOD stands for “bring your own device,” and BYOD is a current trend that is gaining popularity in many schools. Those who support BYOD do so for a few different reasons. First, they see it as a way to save money. They assume that most students already own devices, which they have a certain comfort level using. According to this logic, it is therefore unreasonable that schools should be expected to spend vasts amounts of money buying devices and training teachers to train kids how to use them.
That level of comfort students may have with their own devices is seen as a boon because in theory it eliminates the need for teachers to spend lesson time teaching students to use the devices and programs. In the article, “The Brutal Authenticity of BYOD” Terry Hick (2012) argues, “BYOD takes that and turns it upside down—or right-side up—by attempting to leverage existing assets that are natural to learners, and not subject to Draconian district policies.” Hicks believes BYOD enables schools to work around the politics and money shortages that may be plaguing their desire to incorporate technology.
The “Real” World
While BYOD sounds promising in a general way, its proponents are looking at matters from a fairly narrow field of vision. They make the claim that some kind of device is within the reach of every student in the United States, but this claim is not only wrong, it is woefully narrow-minded. My neighborhood public school probably has one of the most economically diverse student bodies imaginable. We have students who live in million dollar homes, students who face extreme poverty in tribal pueblos, and a range of students who fall in between.
Some students do own state-of-the art devices, but others have parents who cannot even afford to pay for their lunch. According to PBS Frontline between 13.4 and 16.5 million American children lives in poverty. That translates to roughly one in five kids. To claim, as Hick (2012) does, that a $50 device is within the reach of every, or even most, American children is to approach this problem from a position of absolute privilege, and it is because of such attitudes that so many kids in this country get left behind.
The power and glory of education is that it is a great leveler. But if we start demanding students engage in the practice of BYOD, we begin to chip away at that perceived equality.
Issues of equality aside, BYOD is problematic for other reasons. Proponents tout the benefit of having students work on devices and with programs they already feel comfortable with. They claim that lesson time spent teaching students how to use school devices and programs is wasted time. If schools are only using the devices for simple actions like conducting research, then their arguments are valid.
However, that is not how most schools use devices, or rather that is only one of the many ways schools now use devices. Besides research, students use devices to take standardized tests, and teachers may use the multitude of programs now available to enrich lessons by flipping the classroom or providing student engagement opportunities. School and classroom calendars are posted online, as are links to additional study materials.
The thing about all of these many uses, is that students will need to learn how to use them before they can actually use them. Although this may seem time-consuming, it is necessary if we want to incorporate technology in any sort of meaningful way. Furthermore, it is highly unlikely that the powers that be, who make big decisions about standardized tests, will willingly allow students to use just any program rather than the one in which the actual test is housed.
There is also an issue of safety. If a school has a set of devices that have been screened and configured for their network, they have control over where students go online and what they are exposed to. Schools also have some control over what their own network is exposed to in return, in the form of viruses, malware, etc. BYOD throws all that control out the window. Yes, a student may know how to use their particular device, but schools will be hard-pressed to incorporate and manage so many unknowns in a responsible and meaningful way.
The Future of BYOD
Currently, BYOD may work for some schools, namely those in more middle class districts, but it is not likely to work everywhere. Besides being unfair to lower income students, BYOD is potentially ungainly and difficult to manage. Any resources potentially gained by eliminating training time for teachers will instead have to be funneled into paying for more IT people to manage the devices.
That said, thanks to ongoing budget cuts, BYOD may very well be the future for many schools. If this future comes to pass, schools will have to evaluate how they choose to use technology in the classroom, and decide whether they want that learning to be profound or shallow.