B.Y.O.D…Is it G.O.O.D. or B.A.D.???

B.Y.O.D.(Bring Your Own Device) is a technology concept that is sweeping through schools all across the country and the basic premise is this…allowing students to bring any computing device they might already have to school for use in the classroom. Sounds reasonable on the surface, right? Sure. But the way you answer the G.O.O.D./B.A.D. question is likely dependent upon a few factors, foremost of which is undoubtedly the position you hold at your educational institution. My answer? Well, at the risk of alienating my readers before we really get underway here, I’ll reveal how I really feel about B.Y.O.D./L./T.

B.Y.O.D. is what I would call an unfortunate reality…

…a reality being driven by primarily one thing…

…the school budget.

And really, when has letting the budget “drive” ever been a good idea?

So for me, the answer is…B.A.D…

Now don’t turn me off just yet. Let me clarify a few things and then get to my reasoning. First of all, my opinion here is primarily related to a K-12 school environment. I do believe there are other environments that may be more suited to a B.Y.O.D. initiative…more on that later. Secondly and very importantly, I know there are many really great teachers out there doing really great things in the classroom within a B.Y.O.D. environment and I am not about to take that away from them. In-fact, I’ll applaud them until my hands fall off. My problem is with B.Y.O.D. as an administratively mandated technology initiative, not with those wonderful teachers who are making it work for them. My issue is a bit higher up the school’s organizational food chain.

B.Y.O.D. programs exist in schools today because of an administrative/managerial unwillingness to commit to a bona fide, standardized, one-to-one, curricular-integrated computer initiative.

You see, I don’t believe it’s an issue of schools being “able” to support (read ‘pay for’) a cohesive technology program, I believe it’s an issue of schools being “unwilling” to support a program. And really, we all exhibit this kind of behavior in certain aspects of our lives. We all find a way to do the things we really want to do and we rationalize away everything else that we don’t want to do. But I believe if a comprehensive, cohesive, fully curriculum-integrated technology program was a priority for school management, it would happen. I think we still have a generation of leadership in schools/districts who have not yet made educational technology a priority. And it’s these folks who are hiding behind B.Y.O.D.

Why?

Simple…

It’s the easy way out.

They can say “yes, we have a technology program” when in reality they’ve simply changed one policy…a policy of “Don’t you dare use that (insert your prominent mobile device here) in our classrooms” to a policy of “If you have it, bring it”…

This does not a program make! This is simply the low road, taken to quell all those educators clamoring for an authentic educational environment while providing a scapegoat in the event no measurable educational impact occurs.

Shouldn’t Boards and school administrations still be responsible for successful educational outcomes of their students? B.Y.O.D. shifts that responsibility to the IT staff and more importantly to the classroom teacher. Administration says, “B.Y.O.D. is our technology program. Now, IT and classroom teachers, go make it work.” But the challenges the schools will encounter within these two departments are significant and will likely lead to program failure if not led by and fully supported from the top down. Let’s dig into a few of the challenges by department.

The IT department…

There are IT departments who truly get “it” or “IT” in the educational space…and to all of them I give a virtual “high five”! These guys go to work every day with the educational objectives of the students and teachers written on their sleeves and spend their time clearing a path on the Information Super Highway so that resources are available and learning occurs.

But for every one department that gets “IT”, there are two (and this is likely a conservative number) who build roadblocks to prevent any and all educational excursions across “their” networks. I like to refer to these guys as “old school” and their primary objective is to lock down the network at all cost. These guys suffer from a fear of the known…did you catch that twist on that old phrase?? This fear comes from years of dealing with the underbelly of the Internet. And their experience spending years blocking and locking out the dark side has jaded their opinion of the bright side of technology and the Internet and the benefits of all of this in the educational space.

Most of them have worked hard to get where they are and believe there is no way kids can have their level of understanding and knowledge to safely traverse the Internet. Their comfort level with technology stems from years of hands-on experience. What they need to understand is that in the next few years, kindergarten students will arrive at class on the first day of school with years of hands-on experience already! And those students’ level of comfort is also intuitive to a major extent. Just hand a two year old and iPad and be prepared to be amazed. What is a struggle for many of us over the age of 50 is second nature to that two year old.

I also believe these old school guys suffer from a lack of vision…or maybe it’s a lack of peripheral vision. It’s as if they have blinders on that force them into a tunnel vision approach to managing and maintaining the school’s network. In all honesty, I don’t think it’s the IT department’s job to “have” the educational vision but rather to catch and facilitate the vision of the Board and administration. Successful IT shops focus on the peripheral and facilitate the educational vision at large. Running an IT shop is no longer a driver’s seat position. Picture yourself as a mechanic and the teacher as the frustrated car owner who just wants their car to work and they come to you saying, “It’s making a ‘carachetta-carachetta-click-click-bump’ sound, can you fix it?” And your answer, as an IT department, more often than not should be, “Yes”.

To the “old schoolers” I would like to point out a few things that might help the transition into a 21st century educational institution. First, it’s a bit naïve to assume the school’s network is the only network students will encounter on any given day. Even McDonalds’s has free WiFi. Next, students are naturally inquisitive (although some educational institutions often squash this inquisitiveness) which means a locked down network becomes more of a challenge than a deterrent. Students will often spend more time trying to find out what’s on the other side of that road block and less time on their class work…not an optimal outcome unless your school offers a Hacker’s 101 elective. And finally, society has become a bit twisted up from an ethics point of view…but the bottom line, you do not need to embody the moral compass of the students you support and tell them where they should and shouldn’t go and what they should and should not do…that is still their parents’ job. And parents need to own this, if for no other reason than the first point above. Students must learn to make wise choices rather than have all possible wrong choices taken off the table. As my boss wrote some time ago, “Yes, failure is an option.”

On To the Classroom Teachers…

Here is where the rubber meets the proverbial road. And it’s here that the most unforgivable side effect of B.Y.O.D. exists. There aren’t enough professional development sessions on the planet to keep a traditional classroom teacher up to speed on all possible flavors of all possible devices a student might bring in to the classroom. In a traditional middle school class of say 25 students, some 50 to 55 minutes long, if a teacher has to take 5 minutes to help even half the students bring up a website, print a document or update a wiki, that is likely all the learning that will occur in that class period.

The tools, like the IT network discussed above, should support learning, not get in its way. Learning is no longer memorization and regurgitation…it’s about topical understanding through information discrimination and the deployment of critical thinking skills. It’s about using tools to do the mundane and allowing your brain to take the fast lane…to go to a higher order thinking place. Forgive me if I don’t believe a cell phone, iPod or even and iPad can take a student to that level…but, I don’t believe it. In fact, I’m with Russell Kirsch when it comes to the majority of Apple’s products and their heavy-handed tactics that tend to pretty well squelch creativity of any significance by the average individual student.

Oh, don’t know who Mr. Kirsch is or how he feels about Apple products?? Read this cool story…An Unexpected Ass Kicking

I am also a big proponent of Google Docs and Google Drive…and cloud-based tools in general. The collaborative aspects of these tools have great implications for the classroom. Additionally, the hardware independence of cloud apps adds to the simplicity and greatly enhances the classroom functionality and experience if nothing else but by reducing what the teacher needs to know to assist the students’ usage. However, many of these tools are difficult to use within a mobile browser environment…some simply will not work at all outside a traditional laptop browser environment.

If, however, in a B.Y.O.D. environment, a student brings a laptop, that is at least a step in the right direction. Laptops will likely have the same operating system among the various brands which greatly reduces the “D” in B.Y.O.D variables a classroom teacher will encounter in a day. Additionally, a laptop brought into class will also accomplish a primary goal of a true technology plan…that is to create an authentic learning environment utilizing 21st century tools that are critical to a student’s success beyond the classroom. I have an iPhone and an iPad and while I may use them on the periphery of a project, I still use mainstream, PC-based tools to create things for my job…as will students at least in the foreseeable future.

 

So to recap, I am of the opinion B.Y.O.D in a K-12 school environment is B.A.D. as an administratively mandated technology program…for any number of the reasons detailed above. Do I understand why schools choose this option? Yes. Is it right? No. Can it be beneficial to students? If done well, yes. Are there IT departments and classroom teachers making it work in the best interest of their students?  Absolutely!! But seriously fellow administrators, grab your pencils, erasers, computers and spreadsheets, your sense of what is right with respect to creating a relevant, authentic learning environment and lock yourselves in the conference room and don’t come out until you figure out how to do a standardized one-to-one technology program. Oh, and make it one that is centered around a traditional laptop, not an iPad.

I will end with a “however”.

However, I know there are educational environments where B.Y.O.D is more reasonable.

Here are a few:

Colleges and Universities.

Here, student instruction is less individualized and professors take a decidedly “hands-off” approach.  A student of college age:

…will likely be fairly well set in their ways regarding personal computing devices.

…will know what works well for them and what doesn’t.

…will have found their stride with on-line resources, social media and the like.

…will know how best to deploy a variety tools to accomplish their educational goals.

…and will need little input from a teacher/instructor/lecturer/professor on the “D”evices they choose to use.

Additionally, higher education is lagging in the technology integration race…often feeling the pushing up from elementary and high school educational programs. They have been somewhat hasty in their deployment to play catch up so a wide variety of “D”evices may be required even within a single institutional environment.

Flipped Classroom.

Here the bulk of the core interaction with the device occurs at home. That interaction is most often streaming video or audio and those tools have become standards compliant across virtually all devices.  Class time is then devoted to topic issue discussion and is a bit more one-to-one with and between the students. Want to know more about how to flip a classroom?  Go to twitter and search flipped classroom and you’ll find tons of resources.

Virtual Classroom.

Here support for devices is almost completely up to the student. Hardware and software requirements are specified up front by the educational institution and detailed device knowledge is required prior to enrollment. Class interaction is web-based and standards compliant so that most devices can access course content but the creative aspect of assignments and projects is still best achieved using a traditional laptop. For more about virtual schools, check out what schools like The University of Miami’s Global Academy are doing.

 

Want to know more about how we did it at Fort Worth Academy? Let me know, I’m happy to assist any school leadership who are earnestly seeking to create an authentic, technically focused educational environment. Find links to me at www.about.me/darrylloy

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About Darryl Loy
I am into all things technology…especially education technology. I am currently Director of Technology for a private school in Dallas Texas…previously 13 years as Associate Head of School for Operations at a private school in Fort Worth Texas.

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