BYOD at school is more than the latest buzz phrase you hear at every corner of the teacher's rooms or along school hallways. It's really happening. More and more schools adopt BYOD policies and allow students to bring their own mobile phones, tablets, eBooks, and other devices in the classroom, and use them as tools to enhance learning.
Success stories, like Forsyth County Schools from Georgia, Katy ISD from Texas, or Fairfax County Schools from Virginia, get to the ears of teachers and principals everywhere. But failure BYOD stories exist as well, and they rarely hit the headlines as often.
The thing is, change is not an event; it's a process. You can't have a traditional education system (that sometimes feel like it belongs to the dinosaurs era) become a modern educational system overnight. You just can't. Both success stories and failure stories of adopting BYOD policies and implementing BYOD programs in schools belong to this process.
The educational system needs pioneer schools to test the waters of BYOD and share what they find with everyone that wants to follow suit. But these pioneers have to be prepared for both success and failure. When enough schools adopt BYOD, and when enough of them are successful, the system will follow.
There are plenty of concerns about adopting BYOD in schools, and many of these are legitimate. But this shouldn't stop schools from giving BYOD at least a chance. Here are exactly 10 BYOD concerns, and some corresponding suggestions on how to overcome them.
Top 10 BYOD concerns [Part 1]:
1. BYOD deepens the digital divide
This is probably the most legitimate concern in my opinion. Students from low-income families may not be able to afford new mobile devices, or the devices they can afford won't be the top performing ones. Even when schools provide for these students — like making them beneficiaries of a BYOD funding program, or letting them check out a device from the school's library — the digital divide doesn't disappear completely. These students just don't need another social status symbol tied to their persona.
But denying all kids the access to technology because a part of them can't afford appropriate devices is worse. Schools and teachers need to work with what they already have, and increase technology access with time. There is no perfect solution to solve this problem, but solutions exist nonetheless.
Besides BYOD funding programs, and allowing kids to use school devices, more measures can be taken in order to standardize the software students use. It's the same idea that led to the existence of school uniforms; it doesn't matter how expensive the underwear is, because the uniform covers it, and all students are treated equally. Just the same, it doesn't matter that some students have top performing devices; what they all need is a medium-performing one to join the class activities.
2. BYOD will distract students from learning
Yes, mobile devices allow kids to play games, watch funny videos, or chat online on social media channels. But kids can also access educational learning apps, watch how-to videos on school subjects, and log in to the school's online learning platform, where they can enjoy attending a gamified course and engage in online discussions about different assignments or homework.
The teacher will not disappear from the classroom when students bring their devices to school. The teacher's role in a BYOD classroom is to guide students in their learning process, and encourage the use of mobile devices as helpful learning tools. Technology will actually grab students attention than distract them from learning.
3. BYOD encourages students to cheat
A device connected to the internet will always lure students on the path of cheating. They are still learning how to discern between right and wrong, so no wonder they will choose the easy way of getting a good grade and use their phones to give an answer they don't really know.
While this can totally happen, it doesn't mean that bringing a mobile device to school will automatically make this happen. Teachers can gather all the phones and put them in a basket or some other place in front of the class during a test. Students that will still want to cheat will have to do it the old-fashioned way, with cheat sheets. Also, they'll need to know the notions of digital citizenship, and discourage one another from any act of cheating when they do have their phones on them.
4. Students might forget to bring/charge their devices
They can actually do it on purpose, and push that as an excuse for not doing their homework. But technology can work against them the same way as it works for them.
If the school uses a cloud-based LMS, or at least a file-sharing solution like Google Drive, students can log in to their accounts from one of the school computers. Or they can work in small groups and share one device between two to four of them. Whether they actually forget to bring their devices, or they do it on purpose, only the teacher can determine is they can really get away with it.
As for charging the devices, a plan B should be prepared. A few extra power strips should be easy to find in the school, just like a few extra light bulbs usually are.
5. Parents may need to pay more for BYOD
The access to education may be equal and free for anyone, but any parent or care-taker can agree that keeping a child in school is anything but free. From something as cheap as an eraser to a yearly tuition for a private school, the education costs for any student amount in the pockets of their parents. A new mobile device that could fly a rocket can easily slip on the expenses list for parents to cover. Kids can actually try to upgrade their devices under the excuse "I need it for school" even though they don't really need the latest model of iPhone to access a learning app in class.
Schools need to support parents with this, firstly through a BYOD funding program, that offer the possibilities to acquire a new device at special rates. Another way for schools to support parents with making the best choice when buying a new phone for their child is through constant communication. Parents need to know what kind of learning content is accessed with the device, and what kind of configuration that device needs for a satisfying user experience. And this can happen only if schools keep parents informed about BYOD, through emails, phone calls, PTA meetings, and any other communication channel.
I know I promised to address exactly 10 BYOD concerns and here are only five of them. You can find the other five here.