At the Global Forum last week, I had some conversations with other educators about the idea of Bring Your Own Device in One-to-One programs. I’ve been involved with Kent School District’s One-to-One since 2005, from planning to teaching and now supporting. The short answer to my opinion is this: I don’t like it.
One of the reasons I don’t like BYOD is because it is difficult to support from a centralized perspective. In my district, we struggle to help students through home wireless connectivity issues as it is. Although we are certainly not required to troubleshoot home internet, our Customer Support Center staff members care about kids enough to spend time on this. Our teachers, too, have all spent precious minutes of their days helping students find the online assistance sections of their ISP websites. I can’t imagine trying to help each student with their own device as well. That rules out a whole list of support options, including screenshots and video tutorials that would be all but useless for anyone without the most common device.
With a majority of Kent School District students qualifying for free/reduced lunch rates, I know that our students couldn’t possibly come to school with equitable devices. We would quickly see who the “haves” and “have nots” were – whether because the students are bringing different devices or (horror of horrors) the kids who aren’t able to provide their own devices get to check out from the school to borrow. I want to know that each of my students are being provided the same level of access to the 21st century tools and skill-building lessons, whether they can afford it or not.
I can guarantee that anyone working on a desktop apps team knows the hardship of upgrades and updates. Our teachers are always asking to be placed on the latest version of their favorite web browser, and sometimes we have to say no. We know that not every device can play Flash video files, not every device runs the latest version of Java, and a multitude of web apps don’t work at all on your favorite web browser. How can we ensure that every student has the ability to access the information and resources they need with a BYOD model? We can’t.
Teaching and Learning
The biggest struggle I have with BYOD is how it impacts teaching and learning. I’ve heard it said that BYOD requires teachers to plan for “the lowest common denominator.” That means teachers can’t push the boundaries of problem-based learning, and students can’t count on a group member to finish certain parts of a project. It means a teacher can’t plan for every student to complete a complex task because one or more students may not be able to access that file, program, application, or browser. When I teach, I want to know that my lesson will work. I don’t want to ask students to create a short movie clip and then get a flurry of emails explaining that they don’t have video software on their devices.
If your district just doesn’t have the funding to provide devices to every student in a One-to-One Initiative, I would recommend thinking twice before launching a BYOD model. You won’t see the same kinds of systemic changes you’re hoping for and the frustrations it may cause overshadow the benefits.