Thursday, January 19, 2012

It is Time For Schools to Seriously Consider BYOT

This piece is cross-posted at the Huffington Post.

As we continue to move even further into the 21st Century, technology becomes more embedded in all aspects of society.   As a father, I see this firsthand with my son, who is in first grade.  The gift he wanted the most this past Christmas was an iPod Touch, which Santa was kind enough to bring him.  Then there is his younger sister who will regularly ask to use my iPad so she can either care for her virtual horse or dress Barbies in creative ways.  As I download all of the apps on these devices, the majority of their time is spent engaged in games that require thought, creativity, and sometimes collaboration. My point here is that many children across the world have access to, and are using, technology outside of school in a variety of ways.  Not only do many have access, but also older children possess their own devices (cell phones, smart phones, laptops, tablets, e-readers, etc.).

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As society continues to move forward in terms of innovation, technology, and global connectivity, schools are being stymied by relentless cuts to education.  This has resulted in the reduction of staff, larger class sizes, lack of follow through to repair aging buildings, and the inability to keep up with purchasing and replacing educational technology.  It is essential that we rectify all of the above mentioned impacts of budget cuts, but when it comes to technology the perception is that it is the least important area in which to invest precious funds.  This is why the time is now for districts and schools to seriously consider developing a Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) initiative.

The world of education is often defined by the “haves” and “have nots”.  It is this separation that ultimately drives decisions when it comes to educational technology.  Why should students in less affluent districts not be afforded the same opportunity as those with large budgets to utilize technology as a learning tool to create, collaborate, connect, communicate, and develop essential media literacies?  A BYOT initiative makes sense as we can now leverage a variety of devices that many of our students already possess.  It is how we utilize these student owned devices in schools that is the key to a successful BYOT initiative.

There are many well-respected educators that I greatly admire who feel that BYOT has no place in schools.  Their main reasons for this are equity in terms of students that have devices and the belief that it is each district’s responsibility to provide all technology to be used by students in schools.  I wholeheartedly agree with their positions, but those of us in the trenches must play with the cards that we have been dealt.  As educators, it is our duty to do everything in our power to provide our students with the best learning opportunities possible and in many cases allowing students to bring their own devices to school assists in meeting this lofty goal.

We launched our BYOT program at New Milford High School this past September after just piloting it with the senior class last spring.  There have been many lessons learned from this journey, the most important being that the students have greatly appreciated this shift.  Policies have been developed for students to bring in their own computing devices, a ban on cell phone use during non-instructional time has been lifted, and educational programs have been put in place to teach our students about digital citizenship, responsibility, and footprints.  We did not let excuses, such as equity, stop us from moving forward with an initiative that is turning out to have real value to our students and teachers.  Key components of a successful BYOT initiative include the following:
  • Begin to change the way students view their devices by changing the language when they are referenced.  Students need to fully understand that they are tools for learning.  Make consistent efforts to refer to them as mobile learning devices.
  • When using these devices in the classroom, the teacher must ensure that there is a specific learning outcome connected to the device.
  • Ensuring equity is important and we must be cognizant of those students that might not own a device.  Determining those that do not in a confidential manner is very important.  If using mobile phones, teachers can easily pair students up.
  • A BYOT initiative can actually supplement what a school might already have in terms of technology and increase access.  For example, let’s say a school has a laptop cart with only 20 devices because that is all that could be afforded, but there are 25 students in the class.  Student owned technology could then be utilized to close this gap.
  • Develop appropriate support structures that align with current Acceptable Use Policies.
  • Provide professional development and resources to teachers so that they can be successful in implementing mobile learning devices.
  • Treat students like 21st Century adolescents.  Many of them own and use these devices outside of school.  If we can focus use on learning, then why would we not allow them to bring these tools and use them in school? 
  • Unacceptable use is dealt with accordingly based on a school’s discipline code.  This should not be considered different than any other infraction.  When it comes to off task behavior in the classroom, this is most likely the result of a poorly planned lesson or ineffective classroom management techniques.
  • Promote use of student owned devices for learning during non-instructional time.  At NMHS, one can now routinely see students using their devices during lunch to conduct research for projects, complete homework assignments, and organize their responsibilities.  Additionally, we have seen a dramatic reduction in behavior issues.

Instead of bashing BYOT and coming up with ideas on how and why it won’t work or how it is unfair, we would be best served to brainstorm ways in which it can become an educational component of our schools.  The excuses to write off BYOT only serve to undermine the students that we are tasked with educating.  A BYOT initiative will be unique to each district and should be carefully constructed based on socioeconomics and community dynamics.  To begin the process students should be asked for their input.  What are your thoughts on BYOT in schools?  If it has worked for you, please share your experiences.


  1. Our schools are currently against it. I've tried using cell phones for discovery and text discussions. The kids love it. I continue to ring the bell with administration and am hoping for the reins to be removed soon.

  2. I would love to be able to use cellphones in the classroom as student response devices or so students can tweet me questions during class. Next year 8th graders will be allowed to use cellphones during class changes (non-instructional times), so I figure that is progress. Slow progress, but I'll take it.

  3. Now that I have technology of my own, this policy makes a lot of sense to me. I prefer to use my own tools over those that are provided. I prefer my own environment. However, there has to be ways for students to get access to technologies if they aren't available at home.

    If everyone is bringing their own device then it must be tough to plan activities. Is that an issueat New Milford?

  4. c_barret: It has not been an issue up to this point w/ computing devices. About 1/3 of our students have registered their devices with us and are using them during non-instructional hours and in some classes. Virtually all students possess some type of mobile phone, so incorporating this into lessons has not been difficult for my teachers.

  5. I do not understand how people can be against BYOT/BYOD when contextually, so many kids have no acess to a device provided by the school. I want to use my own laptop at work and so do students. I understand Gary Stager's equity argument but think greater good can be done by allowing students to use their initiative.


  6. If we can come up with reasons why BYOT is unfair or won't work then why should we ignore them in favour of brainstorming more ways to make an possibly unfair, flawed program work? Your last paragraph stifles discussion which to me is akin to our administrators quashing technology usage in the classroom, many times without allowing discussion. Healthy skepticism is a necessity if we are to reform education and not repeat mistakes that are currently plaguing us.

  7. Matthew,

    Many diverse groups never seem to have an issue coming up with a variety of reasons why certain educational ideas don't work. That is a fact. However, I am more concerned with looking at certain ideas that do have merit and figuring out how to make them work, if possible, to benefit students. Healthy skepticism is necessary, but quite often that skepticism doesn't address the other side and potential benefits. In the case of our BYOT program, we had intense discussion from all stakeholder groups before moving forward. With any new initiative discussion is a must.

  8. When you look at iPad initiative research and even brain research, BYOT just makes sense. Students feel comfortable and work better using what they know - their own devices. Great post!

  9. The biggest hurdle I see, at least in my area, is the "fairness" argument - that allowing kids who have the devices to use them is unfair and degrades the kids who can't afford them. Even though we could better use our limited tech dollars to provide devices to the kids who can't afford them (instead of to all the kids), somehow this is still seen as unfair. There is also a practical concern about less-than-scrupulous adults taking the kids' devices from them at home. This was a big problem with our laptop initiative - we had a lot of our laptops end up at local flea markets and pawn shops.
    I am not an educator, but tech support specialist for a school system. Tech support challenges for a BYOT initiative in a system the size of ours would be substantial, especially on the back end. But I think that front end challenges would be less than anticipated, if only because students will take better care of their own devices than they would a school-owned device. And familiarity with their own devices would reduce the basic "how do I use this?" training time.
    If anyone is doing BYOT in their systems, I would be interested in hearing about their approach to tech support. If you're in a large system (40000+ students), I am even more interested.

  10. What types of training/lessons are provided to your staff and students regarding digital citizenship, responsibility, and footprints?

  11. Rogginator: I provide assemblies to students throughout the year and those topics are also embedded in our Digital Journalism curriculum. Staff members are provided information on those topics at faculty meetings and through resources that I routinely send them.

  12. Agree with this idea/policy fully, particularly if a plan is put in place for reduced/free lunch qualifying students to be lent something for free (Ipod Touch or equivalent). An affluent district near me is going one to one by charging a $400/student fee to provide them with Macbooks that are at the end of production. Parents are going wild about it because most of these families have a laptop at home already, and it seems wasteful to impose a mandatory fee to pay for a device that most students already have (or they have the equivalent, or have a better device).

    Please keep updating about BYOT successes and pitfalls, I think that we can learn a lot from this!

  13. To facilitate BYOT schools must give students and staff easy but secure access to the school's applications from various devices (including iPads, iPhones, Android devices and Chromebooks), while minimizing the intervention required by IT staff. An ideal solution for such a scenario is Ericom AccessNow, a pure HTML5 RDP client that enables remote users to connect to any RDP host, including Terminal Server (RDS Session Host), physical desktops or VDI virtual desktops – and run their applications and desktops in a browser. AccessNow works natively with Chrome, Safari, Internet Explorer (with Chrome Frame plug-in), Firefox and any other browser with HTML5 and WebSockets support.

    Here's an example of a large school district that is using Ericom AccessNow to provide thousands of students and staff access to Windows applications from Chromebooks, iPads and other devices:

    Ericom also offers special pricing for education customers.

    For more info, and to download a demo, visit:

    Note: I work for Ericom

  14. I had the oppportunity to attend the 20th bus trip across Georgia with the GPEE and visited South Forsyth High School that was on a complete schoolwide BYOD. It was AMAZING to say the least!! I came back to my own school excited and ready. I have 3 children of my own and they all have IPADS, Iphones, & laptaps. We cant stop technology so why try? Lets embrace it!!