BYOD for Education: Designed to Fail

There are several ways school administrators have attempted to infuse today’s technology into their curriculum, with the two main solutions consisting of 1-to-1 initiatives (where the district or school purchases devices for each student), which can be very costly, complete with acceptable use agreements and insurance policies to guard against loss or breakage, or BYOD (bring your own device) solutions, where the parent and/or student is the owner of the device.  Perhaps this trend has been popularized by the growing number of businesses that are allowing employees to use their own devices instead of the company supplying and refreshing them.

But students are different from employees.

While one of the advantages of BYOD allows the district or school to save the cost of buying the device, choosing this avenue shows that the focus is on the “cost” of program as the main selling point, rather than the “value” provided by it.  In short, it’s a nightmare for teachers, IT directors and families.  Such a program may also cause extensive revisions to a school’s current policies.  Whereas school-supplied technology must be controlled and monitored by the school’s administration, there was a time when personal technology devices were confiscated by teachers so that students could focus on their classwork rather than accept texts as “passing notes” went high-tech, or, perhaps, share answers with each other on exams.

BYOD programs share guidelines with parents and students with what type of devices are acceptable for use in the classroom.  But what if the family can’t afford a 64GB iPhone, and opts for the 16GB one?  What if an Android device is the preferred technology, but the family all uses Apple products due to an employer discount?  IT directors require standardization of technology for security and maintenance purposes.  Teachers favor it so that class lessons don’t need to be optimized for users relative to their device’s platform.

Device standardization is incongruent with the flexibility necessary for BYOD to be an effective solution for personalized learning.  For instance, if a student is used to an Apple device, if they’re required to use an Android device that’s provided by the district or school, learning to use the technology can be viewed as the same type of requirement as learning to type or, for that matter, learning to read a textbook.  But, if BYOD is implemented so that the student may utilize their existing technology for classroom work, then the work of the teacher is compounded.  Similarly, if the district or school requires a certain type of technology to be purchased by the parent or student, now the student may have to learn on a device that is unfamiliar to them, and lessons that were prepared with the hope of expedient completion may actually require more time to finish due to the learning curve involved with the new and unfamiliar platform.

The same issue can found in the business world, when a company changes from one software program to another.  Those using the program need to have exposure to the platform, but management is aware that there may need to be a “break-in” period to adjust to the learning curve necessary with new processes that may need to be implemented and followed.  Because the school year is finite, there is no time to allow for such potentially steep curves.  The work of the school is learning, but learning is simply a part of the workplace.

This year, with the pandemic shutdown, this may have been one of the most “not talked about” reasons for a decrease in academic advancement.  Yes, some children may not have had access to technology, but this point in history surely answers the question, “What about those families that don’t have a computer?”  Then, those that got them may not have been savvy enough to know that their Internet needed to be faster, or in come cases, present.  Providers ramped up their ability to provide multi-access streaming capacities, but if the Internet is out at a user’s location, or, as we saw in the Midwest a few months ago, rolling power outages occurring, computer-based Internet access’ reliability goes to zero…showing the importance for some serious thinking to be put into “Where do we go from here” issues.

With that realization, could BYOD succeed in an educational setting?  Perhaps…if grade levels don’t have year-long restrictions, and advancement to the next level is achieved by successfully completing the tasks associated with the level at an acceptable mastery tier, regardless of age.

Come to think of it, that’s how videogames are designed….