Bring your own device: The evolution of technology in education

Bring your own device: The evolution of technology in education

The world is changing and growing into an ever more mobile and digital world. The economy is improving and technology is becoming more affordable to more people.

At the same time, school budgets are remaining tight, while more and more is expected of them. It is increasingly a school’s job to instruct their students in how to navigate this new terrain before they join the job market.

As technology costs lower and more of our students are able to invest in personal laptops, tablets and smartphones at the secondary level, while at the same time districts are often unable to provide technology to each individual student,

Bring your own Device (BYOD) policies are the next and best logical step for districts wanting to embrace the near-boundless capabilities of technology in the classroom.

Financial Considerations BYOD is an idea that is relatively new in schools simply because the reality of readily available technology in the hands of a sufficient number of students is relatively new.

It is gaining traction as schools are finding they are unable financially to keep the newest and best technology in the hands of their students. In higher-income districts, 70% of teachers say their district provides adequate resources, while in lower-income districts only half say the same. (“The Realities of BYOD,” 2014) As the economy improves and more people are able to afford technology in all schools, districts are able to ask students to bring devices to supplement their education.

Given the financial constraints in public schools, they are generally unable to provide to all learners.

However, most are finding they are able to provide enough to fill the gaps with school resources for those who do not have their own device to bring. (Nielsen, 2011) In Douglas County, Colorado, Rocky Heights Middle School this fall recommended a specific device for students – a Chromebook. (Robles, 2014) District officials cut family contributions in other ways – not asking for classroom supply donations – and recommended that families invest in this device instead.

At the start of the school year, 80% of students came to school with the device.

Those who did not or could not provide their own have been able to borrow from the district.

Districts are hesitant to mandate, but they are finding ways to supplement even outside of the school day.

Forsyth County in suburban Atlanta has partnered with businesses around the county to advertise free Wi-Fi. This allows those in the community without Internet connectivity at home to easily find Wi-Fi for their child near their homes. (Flannigan, 2013) Technology Considerations One of the first things to consider when beginning a BYOD policy in a school is whether a school’s wireless network can handle the increased traffic.

Very few years ago, schools were concerned about their wireless networks simply covering their entire school. With BYOD, schools are now beefing up their systems to handle the number of devices demanding bandwidth.

Some schools are going so far as to offer separate wireless networks – one for students and one for staff.

This ensures bandwidth is available for staff when needed and that sensitive data, such as payroll and human resources data, is not accessible by students. (Raths, 2012) In Alvarado, Texas, the executive director of technology in 2011 planned to segment their wireless network to function much as a network does at a hotel.

Students would be asked if they would like to logon and the network would verify if student computers had required virus software and other specifications before allowing connection. (Ullman, 2011) Districts such as these that work ahead of the curve with wireless issues, avoid problems down the road with teachers, students and parents becoming frustrated and giving up on this promising and essential next step in education.

At such an early stage in the trials of BYOD, there remains an issue in what Norris and Solloway call “heterogeneity.” (2011) By this they mean that students have devices of various shapes and sizes across several different platforms. Issues will come up that will require schools to be a bit creative until all software developers catch up to the true potential of BYOD and develop all software to be useful across all platforms. As it stands, districts can work on network neutral software, such as Google Apps, that function the same on any network, regardless of provider.

Even after that is no longer an issue, there remains the matter of cost. With pay applications on mobile devices owned by students, who pays for those apps?

There are great applications with costs attached, but districts certainly may have to answer that question or work simply with free applications. These are questions most districts have not yet had to address in this burgeoning area of technology in education. Student-Centric BYOD Policymaking An argument against BYOD can be made that when students are allowed access to personal devices they will be distracted and engage in personal activities on their devices rather than their academics. People are also taking pleasure activities like Racing and touring iSUPs.

To combat these very real issues, classrooms may need to adjust and need to be student-centric. Rather than the “sit and get,” students should be involved in their learning, using their devices as tools to collaborate, to seek out knowledge in a way that prepares them for a world and a workforce that will expect them to be able to do all of these things when they leave their classrooms. (Norris & Soloway, 2011) BYOD is only part of a transformation that must be happening in classrooms in 2014 and beyond, preparing students to become seekers, not just receivers, of knowledge.

Beyond remolding classroom structures, some school districts are going a step beyond to ensure students are responsible for their device usage during the school day. Some are incorporating technology agreements for BYOD, much as they would for district-owned technology.

Fayette County Schools in Fayetteville, Georgia has students and parents sign a two-page agreement that has families agree to things as broad as adhering to the school’s code of conduct, but as specific as “Personal technology must be charged prior to bringing it to school and runs off its own battery.” (Protocol for the Use, n.d.) At George C. Marshall High School, in Fairfax County, Virginia, the district has a color-coded system set up that all students know divides the school into device use zones, where green means free device use at any time, blue for teacher directed device use in the classroom and red for testing time where devices are forbidden. (Flannigan, 2013)

Both of these systems give hesitant school districts options when giving students more broad access to devices in the school day. Other BYOD proponents advocate for more open policies for device usage, involving students in the policymaking process. Nielsen encourages involving students in the discussion of how and when to best use their devices. (2011) This, she argues, allows students to learn the abilities of the tool they are using, beyond the socializing most use it for now, and how best to use it for their education.

This is part of the responsibility of a school, to teach students about digital citizenship, their digital footprint. Lenny Schad, former chief information officer for Kady Schools in Texas, understands that there is risk involved but encourages schools to move forward. According to Schad, We focus on the fact that these are learning opportunities to help our children understand what it means to live in this digital world they’re going to live in for the rest of their lives. Yes, it’s risky, but I think it’s riskier for us not to do this and then have kids try to figure it all out on their own. (Flannigan, 2013) Change isn’t Coming, It is Here An article written on the subject of BYOD a mere three years ago, stated, “While today 99 percent of schools ban cell phones and other mobile devices from the classroom, there will be a 180-degree turnaround within four years.

This coming shift is inevitable.” (Norris & Soloway, 2011) They were absolutely right. In my own high school in Haslett, Michigan, even last year there was never a broad conversation about allowing cell phones in the hallway or cafeteria, let alone a classroom. Some teachers used them in classrooms but to a very limited degree, without any conversation with other staff or administration. Beyond that, they were to be put away at all times or confiscated.

At the start of the 2017-2018 school year, we have begun a conversation about a school-wide policy on cell phone and other device usage in classrooms. It was a shift that could not be avoided, a battle that could not be won. It is no longer feasible to fight the fight. Principal Jay Pearson in Fairfax County has found the same thing in his high school. He says that their BYOD system has, “freed us from a whole lot of energy that was going into suppressing devices, taking them away, and applying consequences.” (Flannigan, 2013) My Experiences with BYOD In 2017, I applied for and was granted five classroom iPod Touch devices.

The idea was to use them for in-class activities. I found great applications, such as StoryKit, that allowed students to create using the target language using mobile devices. When I actually began to use the devices in my classroom, I ran into a couple of problems.

To begin with, not enough students had their own devices, so my five devices did not make up any gaps. In classes of 20-30 learners, we were constantly working with at least three students to a device. Secondly, we did not have a wireless network over the entire building, so student work could not be sent to me directly from a device. If work was not done on one of my classroom devices, I had to grade work on a student owned device, which was far from ideal for anyone involved.

Eventually, these problems led me to abandon my use of the iPods in my classes. Now that wireless is a reality in my building, ninety percent of my student body comes to class every day with a device, and my building is on its way to a more concrete policy, full implementation of BYOD may be a reality in my building soon. This is only going to benefit our students, as we fully embrace the lessons of digital citizenship and engage them in the conversation as we all start on this new way of teaching and learning together.


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