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Is BYOD Inevitable?

Tuesday, February 5, 2013 -- Scott Sterling

Not surprisingly, one of the biggest topics of last week’s FETC conference was Bring Your Own Device, or BYOD, as a way for schools and districts to meet the technology purchasing challenges of the future. After all, the more ubiquitous technology becomes in our lives, the more devices a school needs.

Chances are that if a workshop or session wasn’t about Common Core, it had something to do with BYOD. Further, nearly every exhibitor tied itself to the BYOD concept in some fashion.

The word on the street

The vast majority of attendees and presenters were treating BYOD as an absolute certainty on how we are going to proceed in educational technology. And that may be true, but there have also been other “sure things” in this business that haven’t quite panned out. Before we head “whole hog” into the next big thing, it might be prudent to discuss the shortcomings of a BYOD strategy and ways that it could fall out of favor.

The parents’ perspective

The opponents of BYOD say that the concept simply rearranges the stress of ed-tech. In our current system, the stress tends to be on the district and school to fund and procure technology products. Under BYOD, the stress would be on the parents – some of who cannot afford (or don’t think to) send their children to school with paper and pencils. Although few of these students are without a phone of some sort, the burden of acquiring a phone that can keep up with today’s ed-tech might be too great for our more disadvantaged families.

District IT: already at critical mass

Speaking of stress, some of the people in our system with the most to bear are our district and school-level IT personnel. Under BYOD, these people now have to be experts not only in Windows and/or Mac OSX, but also Android, iOS, and maybe even Windows Phone architectures. They experience an exponential increase in their learning curve and would probably be the first to revolt under BYOD.

The boots on the ground

Finally, there are the teachers. BYOD unlocks a lot of creativity when it comes to lesson planning thanks to the knowledge that every student will have access to a device. But have you ever brought in a laptop cart or brought your kids to the computer lab? Did everything run smoothly or did you have to do a little troubleshooting in order to get your students on the same task? Troubleshooting is the norm in those situations, right? Under BYOD, some of the learning curve from the IT side extends to that situational troubleshooting. Just get used to hearing “It won’t let me log on!” a lot.

The bottom line: it’s coming

These issues need to be discussed, not as a way to dissuade people from BYOD but as a way to prepare. BYOD’s inevitability is not fueled by educational best practices (although there are certainly educational benefits), but by the very real notion that BYOD might be the only way forward. Our school districts are strapped for cash yet find themselves in the middle of a technological explosion. The only way to prepare students for this new world is to find a way to let them practice the skills they will need on a consistent basis. A laptop cart or computer lab does not make that ideal possible.

Additional Resources on BYOD

Don’t forget that tomorrow marks the second annual celebration of Digital Learning Day.  The Alliance’s Center for Digital Learning and Policy has developed excellent resources for educators including teacher toolkits to provide digital learning resources and ideas for teachers in specific subject areas.  Check out the BYOD teacher toolkit and explore the site for additional resources to bring back to your classroom.