Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The Case for BYOD in Schools

There seems to be a significant push in the press lately to report on the distraction created by allowing students to bring their own mobile technology (smartphones, tablets, chromebooks, etc.) into the classroom.  A study published by the London School of Economics has prompted articles from many media outlets like CNN, The Guardian, and the Boston Globe looking deeper into the issue.

These articles are failing to acknowledge the reality that students walk into school with their devices.  It doesn't matter if the devices are banned.  They are still hidden in pockets and backpacks, and students are still checking them and using them to communicate throughout the day.  A ban only means they "get caught" sometimes.  Rather than students learning in an artificial environment where mobile technology is prohibited, let's acknowledge that it is already an important part of their lives and teach them how to use it responsibly.  While it is clear that mobile tech is not necessarily appropriate for every activity in every class, we shouldn't completely prohibit students from learning about and with this tool in school.

Smarter Schools Project researched the data
and created this infographic in preparation for the event.
Click here to see a hi-res version.
Recently I was part of a panel discussion at the U.S. Capitol meant to provide members of the press and policy makers with perspectives from educators.  We talked about how technology is being leveraged to create positive and active learning experiences for children in schools all around the country.  For my contribution, I talked about my teaching method and the benefits of a paperless classroom.

One of the most common and toughest questions asked of me when I speak at events like this was, in fact, asked by a member of the audience:
What about those kids who cannot afford a device?  In a paperless classroom, how can we avoid making the digital divide bigger?
I answered the question by talking about grant-writing to bring technology to my students, and communicating with school-leaders and parents to get access to as much tech as possible.  Using these strategies I have been able to guarantee that every student in my classes has access to a device.

Principal Daisy Dyer Duerr's answer was even more powerful.  She talked about the real data from her rural Arkansas k-12 school.  She surveyed her community, worked with her school board, and engaged students and teachers in a discussion on the proper use of mobile devices in school.  Her comments resulted in this impressive article from Examiner.com profiling her accomplishments as an administrator determined to connect her students with the world.

Schools with BYOD programs are acknowledging the reality that mobile technology has changed the way we live, work, and communicate.  Our children should experience an education that includes them in this reality instead of ignoring it. Topics like fair access to technology, responsible consumption of information, and sharing of carefully produced media must be a part of the planning in any school, but prohibition is not the answer.