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Today I had the privilege to discuss this compelling question with school leaders from academic and technology departments across our network of schools. The topic was of the group’s making, and the range of perspectives and mix of environments made for a lively talk and great shared materials.

The challenges and benefits of BYOD

Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) is one solution to the issue of access to computing resources, and certainly a fiscally and operationally desirable solution for schools. In this arrangement, families own and support devices, and damage is clearly theirs to troubleshoot. Without additional supports, however, in my opinion BYOD does not adequately address issues of equity, invisibility, or sustainability.

Equity –

By equity I mean that the technology resources available to one child are similar to those available to another. Within a BYOD system, students bring what families can afford or have on hand, conditions that can vary wildly.

Invisibility –

Invisibility is the chance for technology to fade into the background, where teaching staff do not need to intentionally plan for troubleshooting of devices during a technology-enhanced learning activity. With a host of platforms in the hands of students, schools that adopt BYOD assume that a given student understands the capabilities of his device, which may not be true. If a student does not know the device well, the teacher may be called upon to help troubleshoot, taking that teacher out of their content-driven plan and into the role of technician.

Sustainability –

I see sustainability as the ability of the school to ensure reasonable performance throughout the tenure of the student. A full BYOD solution would be subject to the variety of circumstances that happen to families throughout a year’s time. Sustainability would depend on the stability of those families and their fiscal abilities to support their student’s technology.

What about phones?

One support mechanism for BYOD is to outfit classrooms with a shared work tool of some sort (carts of Chromebooks, classroom sets of laptops, etc.) and then rely upon phones as the 1:1 device. In the right way, and with a staff committed to coaching students through some forthright conversations, our group mentioned much to recommend this approach. There are also some concerns to address.

Phones represent a distinct opportunity for schools to coach students into the productive use of devices that will be with them for the foreseeable remainder of their lives, if the technology doesn’t evolve into something more wearable or even embedded. They provide unique access to multimedia learning activities, like bringing authentic views of the outside world into the classroom through apps like FlipGrid. Excluding this technology wholesale may improve classroom dynamics, but may not improve the quality of student life.

At the same time, schools must weigh the same risks with phones as associated with any BYOD initiative. What to do with phones that arrive with broken screens? How to alter assignments when one student has an iPhone X and one an iPhone 5C? Must the phone be connected to the school WiFi when on campus in order to fulfill CIPA requirements? Are there guidelines about notification settings during class?

The question of addiction –

In his book, Leaders Eat Last, Simon Sinek outlines a range of chemicals our brains release when engaged in work and play, research that he hints at in this video entitled “The Millennial Question”

As schools leverage the opportunity available in phones, the dynamics Sinek outlines above will be healthy to review with staff members. As mentioned in many of the comments on the video’s YouTube page, his observations extend beyond generations, addressing difficulties of many people engaged with technology today, regardless of their age group.

A school leader looking to leverage mobile technologies should be willing to describe and connect her own experiences of technology with those of the children she serves. Doing so may demand a level of vulnerability about these tools, and may yield productive results in both our personal and professional lives.

Where next?

A number of wonderful additional resources were shared by Aaron Kaiser, including:

The full slide deck, with thoughts addressing questions like “How much per student should a school be spending on IT?” and “What are the pros and cons of the various delivery models of 1:1 or nearly 1:1 environments?” can be found here:

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