As BYOD sweeps across the world as the saviour of school budgets, it’s worth reflecting on the longevity of such an approach. Can it really be that simple? Ask kids to bring what they have at home and then ‘BANG!’ all our tech-problems are solved? Perhaps. But there are a number of reasons why I think that BYOD is just a stop-gap whilst schools prepare for the inevitable…
1. It’s a one-trick pony
BYOD is a great idea, but it only offers you one thing – internet access. If that’s what you need, then look no further and go no further. As a starting point, instant, constant access to the internet and all its wonderful resources absolutely where you should be. But, as students and teachers adjust to this change, they will want to go further; they will want systems that they can share, to email each other all sorts of file types, to share work completed in an app, to show a website that uses Flash, and this will be the stumbling block. Without the uniformity of a device that everyone shares, file-sharing becomes really quite difficult and frustrating.
2. Apples are from Mars and Androids from Venus
As mentioned above, the fact that the two primary platforms that students will choose from are almost polar opposites when it comes to compatibility is a real headache. There’s probably no faster way to upset you IT department than telling them that you have a problem getting your Apple device and Windows-based device talking. Like men and women, they seem like such obvious partners, but the fit just isn’t there sometimes.
3. I have a dream… but still there’s no equality
For all the good things that BYOD does (and despite the title of this post, I do think it has many benefits), it does not help bridge the gap between those that have and those that don’t. In fact, in many ways, it only makes the problem more obvious. Even if the device is good, nobody wants to be the kid who had to get the ‘loaner’ from the school’s IT department. Ownership means a lot to kids and in a BYOD school you are taking away the benefits of school uniform as a great equaliser and saying ‘Kids, stick a number on your sweater to tell us how rich your parents are out of 10.’
4. Teacher →Fire-fighter
Teachers don’t really like change. You only have to look at the fact that we still lay our desks out the same way we did 100 years ago to realise that. Bringing technology into the classroom is a big step forward. It’s a huge, important, exciting change. But if you go down the BYOD route, you’re asking a teacher not to master one new thing, but potentially 10 or more. Every operating system and every device has its nuances and a teacher can’t possibly be expected to know them all. If a student gets stuck and the device is unfamiliar, who is going to help them? Who will make the lesson work? And if multiple devices develop issues of incompatibility in a lesson, the lesson will never get taught as the teacher will be too busy fire-fighting.
5. Support? More like up the creek…
Preparing a wifi network for mobile learning is such an important thing. Getting the right filtering software is another. Making sure the coverage and security work together so that everyone is ‘on’ all the time as another exciting, but hugely daunting prospect for an IT department. It can be done, indeed it should be done, but once this is done, there’s maintenance and monitoring to be done. It’s not a popular decision to tell an IT department that they are going to be in charge of the 1000 BYOD devices that come into school on a daily basis, should they go wrong. In fact, I’ve not heard of a school that operates this policy. So, if things do wrong, whose problem is it? Well, in theory it’s the students’, but all too often it will become the teachers.
Whilst this seems like a pretty negative assessment of the situation, it’s worth pointing out that BYOD has many benefits. The most important is that you are giving students 24/7 access to the internet; the greatest resource of information we have to offer. And, if you want to look at the problems I’ve outlined in a different light, then you can see BYOD as an opportunity to empower your students; to tell them that they are in charge of their own learning and part of this is looking after their devices and ensuring that they are always fit for purpose.
I think BYOD is a great thing, but I do also believe that it is not the final solution. I think students will benefit from a uniform device, whatever it is, that they know will do everything that their teachers need it to do, and I think the same is true for teachers; it’s important that they know they can set work that their students can complete, no matter what.
A good halfway house is to offer a list of acceptable devices. Obviously the wise thing to do here, would be to start with a single operating system and work up from there.