Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Drivers of a Successful BYOD Initiative

Technology seems to be more accessible that ever before.  It is common to walk into a typical household these days and see a variety of devices being charged. One of the first things I look for when I go to a friend’s house is whether or not any charging cables are readily available in case I need one.  Even when we entertain guests I will go to charge my iPhone and find that someone has already commandeered my charger, much to my chagrin.  Many other people regularly take some sort of charging apparatus with them wherever they go.   Access to technology is by no means isolated to only adults.  As devices have become more affordable over the years, parents have bestowed a variety of mobile technologies upon their children.  We really are living in a digital age.

As a result of the advances in technology and an increase in Wi-Fi access, schools have slowly begun to respond to this trend.  The realization now is that many students possess devices and it only makes sense to harness and leverage their immense power. For many, even the most stubborn school districts that have fought this trend for years have begun to change course.  All one has to do is look to the largest school district in the United States, the New York City public school system, to see that they have just lifted a ten year ban on students bringing their cell phones to school.  The potential is there for schools and educators to empower students to take more ownership of their learning.  This has resulted in a growing trend of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) initiatives being adopted.  This has been the preferred option as opposed to 1:1 initiatives due to overall cost.  However, many schools and districts that have adopted BYOD have done so without proper planning and support.

The overall goal of any BYOD initiative should be to support and enhance student learning.  It should not be implemented as a way to just pacify students by allowing them to use their devices only during non-instructional time or to eliminate discipline issues. Don’t get me wrong, I believe that these are two important outcomes of BYOD, but firmly believe that student-owned devices in school have to be aligned to learning outcomes first and foremost.  Other important outcomes on behalf of the student include increasing productivity, conducting better research, becoming more digitally literate, and developing into a digitally responsible citizen. BYOD begins with trusting and respecting students.  The fact remains though that the cart is too often placed before the horse.  A rash decision is made to go BYOD without a sound rationale for how it will impact student learning.   The following are key drivers of a successful BYOD initiative:

  1. Infrastructure – Herein lies a common pitfall for many schools/districts that implement BYOD. Before going any further it is pivotal to ensure that the plumbing can withstand the stress of mobile technologies accessing the Wi-Fi network.  You need to expect that there will be more devices connected to the network on a given day than there are students.  Not only will some students bring in more than one device, but you have to account for staff member access as well.  There is nothing worse than developing and implementing a lesson that integrates mobile learning devices than to have the Internet slowed down to a snail’s pace. Or even worse, the network crashes or begins to negatively impact teachers and students using school-owned mobile technology.
  2. Shared Vision – This is extremely important, as you will have staff and community members on both sides of the fence.  Before going full steam ahead with BYOD, gather key stakeholders to establish a shared vision that includes rationale, goals, expected outcomes, expectations, and means to assess the effectiveness of the initiative.  Central to a BYOD vision is a consistent focus on student learning.
  3. Strategic Plan – The shared vision that is created by all stakeholder representatives, including students, will drive a plan for action.  As is the case in any successful initiative, sound planning is imperative.  During the planning process one must consider community outreach, budget allocations to improve existing infrastructure, policies, professional development (teacher and administrator), student trainings, and evaluation procedures (i.e. How do I know that this is impacting student learning?). Sound pedagogy must be at the heart of any BYOD initiative. To assist in this area check out these mobile learning frameworks.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  4. Policy Development – Part of the strategic planning process will be to develop policies and procedures relating to BYOD.  It is important that the resulting artifacts are not too overbearing and afford students the opportunity to be trusted and empowered to take ownership of their learning.  A sound policy addresses Wi-Fi login procedures, a focus on learning, acceptable use, equity, and absolving the school of any liability for lost, stolen, or broken devices.   
  5. Professional Development – As I work with schools and districts across the country on BYOD initiatives, I can honestly say that this is one area where mistakes are made. Teachers need proper support in terms of developing pedagogically sound lessons, designing assessments aligned to higher standards, exposure to web-based tools and apps that cater to BYOD, ensuring equity, and developing classroom procedures.  Prior to rolling out a school or district-wide BYOD initiative, teachers should know full well what the outcomes are as articulated in the shared vision and have a set of tools and instructional strategies that can be used on the first day. Another key to success is ongoing professional development to provide teachers with additional strategies and ideas so that devices are used to support learning.  In addition to teachers, leaders also need professional development in regards to the observation and evaluation process. They are the ones after all that have to make sure that mobile devices are being used properly to support learning while addressing higher standards.  Before implementing BYOD as a school or district make sure professional development has been provided to teachers and administrators. 
  6. Student Programs – Students themselves need a form of professional development on the expectations and outcomes of device use.  Successful initiatives contain an embedded component that includes educational programs for students before a BYOD initiative is rolled out and ones that are continued each year.  These programs, which can be held once in the beginning of the school year, focus on how devices should be used to support learning as well as digital responsibility.  As principal, I held annual assemblies in the early fall for each grade level, which focused on cyberbullying, creating positive digital footprints, and the tenets of our BYOD program.  The end result was that our students embraced the shared vision and device use was more focused on learning than off-task behavior. We were also in a better position to give up control and trust our kids.
  7. Budget allocations - Although BYOD initiatives are a cost-effective means to increase student access to technology in school, there are solutions available to help streamline teaching and learning devices.  ClassLink Launchpad is a fantastic learning management system (LMS) that can be purchased to deliver a uniform experience across all devices in order to assist with the teaching and learning. With ClassLink students and teachers can access a customized dashboard that is pre-loaded with a variety of tools that are used on a regular basis. Some teachers have even used it to help transform their classroom to paperless environments.
By focusing on these drivers BYOD can be implemented successfully in your school or district with the primary focus being on student learning. For the latest BYOD resources and tools check out this Pinterest board. Please consider sharing your thoughts on the advantages and perils associated with BYOD. By openly discussing both sides of the issue we can crowd source the best set of drivers to ensure BYOD success.


  1. Great post Eric. I think that so much of the discussion gets caught up with the devices and misses the real purpose to it all, the ability to support learning. I read a post recently ( which suggested that "BYOT is just another facet of differentiation. Sure adjustments are needed, but these are less challenging than you might think. There will be no chaos. For teachers, there will be less focus on the technology and more on learning. Like the sound system at a concert, the technology will be present as an enabler, but not the focus."

    1. Thanks for the comment Aaron! Like many edtech initiatives, the is more of a focus on the "tool" and the result is it drives instruction. There has to be more of a focus on learning and how student owned devices can support and enhance that process.

  2. Hi Eric,
    Great post indeed. I have been following your work for some time now and tremendously enjoyed reading your book on Digital Leadership. It is my go-to guide for everything technology in education, and I am now slowly attempting to transform the learning in my classroom and hopefully eventually in my school.

    Two years ago, I had attempted to initiate the BYOD program in my classroom for the first time, only to realize I was, like you said, placing the cart before the horse. I used to think that learning devices such as iPads would transform my teaching and learning, but after reading your book, realized that it was all about the curriculum and that the learning outcomes have to be aligned first and foremost.

    I have now began to plan and focus on the pedagogy, with hopes to implement the use of technology into my units of teaching first, and then integrating the learning devices second. I have learned a great deal on how to use devices and various apps and still ask my students to bring their own devices, but only once a week for now, so that they are used in a meaningful and engaging way, giving me time to reflect and improve as I continue to plan for the betterment of their learning.

    For the time being, I will continue to seek personal and professional development and want to thank you for contributing to this field in such a significant way. I only hope that one day I will be as effective as you in the use of technology in education.

    My question to you is, how did you initially convince your school administrators and fellow colleagues that technology was the way to go? What was your greatest obstacle in transforming the teaching and learning at your school?

    Thank you for your time,

    Yuri Halushka

    1. Yuri - We started off at the school by going rogue and basically ignoring district policy. I had received permission from the superintendent to allow some teachers to integrate devices in their classes on a case by case basis. After witnessing success I then asked central administration if I could run a grade level pilot with the senior class. At the conclusion of the 2 month pilot I presented the results and was given permission to go BYOD across the entire school the next fall. The greatest obstacle was initial resistance by some veteran teachers as they were not keen on us lifting the mobile device ban. However, we followed the steps listed above in this post and the rest is history.

    2. Hi Eric,
      Thank you for your reply. I too often find that I have to ignore what others think and create my own path as I undertake this challenge. At times I feel like I'm the only one in my school who thinks this will benefit the students and the school, and so it is really reassuring to hear from the voices who have made this possible in their schools/districts. From my experience, I find that most teachers are mainly uncomfortable with the "extra" work that they will need to initially put into their curriculum, in learning how to properly utilize the devices, and continue with their professional development in order to be good at what they do. I just hope that I will be able to convince others and lead by example.

      I am now in the process of collecting data and closely working with a few colleagues who are also interested in integrating these devices, with hopes to present our findings in the near future. The above "drivers" have definitely given me a clear picture of needs to happen and the next steps to take.

      Thank you again Eric!

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