Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Device Conundrum - 1:1 vs BYOD

Cross-posted at the Huffington Post.

As we continue to advance in the digital age schools and districts are beginning to re-think pedagogy and learning environments by instituting either 1:1 device programs or Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) initiatives. In my opinion, schools that wish to create the most relevant and meaningful learning culture will go in one of these directions. It is tough to argue the potential impact of either program that is implemented diligently and with a focus on learning that will not result in the enhancement of essential skills sets that our students need to succeed in today's digital world. Probably the most significant impact, either 1:1 or BYOD can have is in the area of teaching digital responsibility, citizenship, and the creation of positive footprints online. After all, in the real world that we are preparing our students for, technological literacies and proficiencies are the cornerstones of numerous career paths.

Image credit: Tony Vincent

The decision on which way to go is usually determined by finances, which is unfortunate for those schools and districts who have their hearts set on getting a device in the hands of each and every student. Competition resulting from the continuous evolution of tablets, laptops, and now Chrome books, puts schools in a better position to make large-scale investments in mobile technology. In theory and on paper, a 1:1 program seems to be the best program for schools wanting to integrate technology on a macro level to enhance teaching and learning. Advocates for 1:1 programs will claim that it is the only way to go as it ensures equitable access to all students regardless of socioeconomic status.

With each student possessing a device, collaborative work using Web 2.0 tools is a reality for all students, both in an out of school, provided there is Internet access at home. In this day and age, finding a location with free WiFi is not such a difficult task. Maintenance becomes less of a headache for the IT department, as they only have to worry about one type of device. It also figures to entail a more streamlined approach when it comes to providing professional development to staff so that the devices are consistently utilized to support student learning.

The general case I make for 1:1 programs above is compelling, but is it the best option for our students today? The more I read about others' thoughts on this and reflect on the BYOD program we have instituted at New Milford High School, I am beginning to think that 1:1 programs are not necessarily the best option for our students. My main reason for this shift in thought is why would we want to pigeonhole our students to one single device and/or platform? Is that reminiscent of the real world that we are supposedly preparing them to flourish and succeed in? The fact is many students own and are comfortable with their devices. The digital divide in schools becomes smaller when bold districts, schools, and educators work to effectively integrate the technology that has been available for years outside their walls. BYOD has the ability to save districts money, but the real impact comes in the form or engagement and empowerment of students to learn on their terms. I have grown quite tired of the myriad of excuses to not move towards BYOD because it can and will have a positive impact with the right mindset, training, and support.

It makes sense to me to create a technology-rich learning environment that leverages available technology with that, which the students already own. This is what we have done at my school and experienced a great deal of success. In addition to BYOD, students and teachers have access to three PC labs, one iMac lab, one Macbook cart, one PC cart, and one netbook cart. The equity issue with BYOD in classrooms has been overcome with school purchased technology and the use of cooperative learning after my teachers determine which device(s) each student possesses and brings to school on a regular basis. In my eyes we are accomplishing the same goals, for the most part, as we would if a 1:1 program had been instituted. Students have access to technology and are using it on a daily basis to communicate, collaborate, create artifacts of learning, problem solve, think critically, become more technologically proficient, and develop a greater global awareness. The should most certainly be able to use it to replace more archaic forms of technology (i.e. pencil and paper) if they wish.

I am extremely interested to hear what others think about 1:1 vs. BYOD in schools. Do you think one is better than the other and if so why? If you are considering going down one of these paths, which one would you lean towards?


  1. Eric,

    We are in the process of launching a 1:1 initiative in my district. I'll be writing more about it when we make our decision public. However, I can say that one of the things I've been advocating for is choice. Just because we are going to provide a 1:1 device, it doesn't mean that should be the only device our students have their hands on. That is why we will have a BYOD policy in place as well as a 1:1 device.

    I recently said to our school board that we live in a multi-platform, multi-device world. We do our students a disservice by only allowing them to work on one type of device on one platform. They might end up in a college that is all Apple. They might go to work in a place is entirely PC. Maybe Microsoft is in their future, maybe it's Google Docs.

    The point is, none of us know where our students will end up, and it's our job to work with our students to prepare them for their future. The best way to do that, in my opinion, is to provide a level of equity through 1:1, allow/encourage BYOD, and never settle on just one device/platform.

    Great post my friend!

  2. The one potential legal concern to BYOD is that California courts just ruled that schools cannot require students to purchase class materials or devices. In this recent case, the courts have declared that it is a violation of the citizens right to a "free" public education. Here is a link to the article I'm basing my comment on; copy and paste the link.

  3. Andrew,

    Maybe other schools have tried to mandate every student bringing their own device, but we and many other districts do not. Students can use their own devices as supplements to what we already have and for productivity purposes if they wish. In cases of learning my teachers use cooperative learning strategies to ensure equity if all students do not have a mobile learning device with them. BYOD should NEVER be mandated for the reason you state.

  4. Eric,

    I have been thinking about all of the points you address in this post. What I find in my district is that the students are not involved in any decision making concerning the types of devices/technology that will be purchased for their use. I am having my middle school students take an informal survey when we return from spring break because I want their opinion and perspective on the types of devices they prefer using.

    At a recent technology meeting, the adults debated the "best" technology tool. They projected their preferences instead of considering/requesting student preferences. My preference is a BYOD program which allows students to teach each other about the various devices.

    I am going through the process of researching a new phone since my contract is up. I have a handful of students who are actively "helping" me research and find the right device. It is such a great learning experience. The smart phone options are overwhelming and require thoughtful consideration. Instead of imposing a device on students, we should be teaching students online responsibility along with evaluating and comparing various devices and their strengths and weaknesses. There is no such thing as a perfect device so it is important for students to understand the attributes of various devices. If there is a BYOD policy in place the students compare and contrast the technology that is in the room and become knowledgeable consumers.

  5. The debate might be as important as the decision. I encourage the districts I talk to to dive as deeply in as they can. I don't think there is a correct answer, but the process of debating it can help us reach a deeper understanding of technologies place in our schools/classrooms. I recommend creating an affordances and constraints chart as a part of that process and a list of questions the discussion then raises.

  6. So excited to read this! I work at a primary school (Years 0 - 7) in South Africa and we are one of the first schools in SA to go BYOD - from June last year - for the very reasons you've outlined . We strongly believe in a multi-platform approach and have had an almost 100% uptake for our Year 6 and 7 students. Students seem to insticntively know best device for each task and share when task demands dont suit their device. Follow up surveys with parents students and teachers have also been very supportive and positive

  7. I think it is critical that the socio economic status of the school's demographic be included in every conversation about whether BYOD or a district provided device to support a 1:1 learning environment is the right choice. In schools and communities where not every student has a personal computing device, let alone a home Internet connection, it is imperative and the responsibility of the school leaders to insure equitable access is provided, which in many cases necessitates a district-purchased solution.

  8. Joshua,
    I agree with your comment about the importance of school demographics to the 1:1 vs. BYOD discussion. I believe that a 1:1 plus BYOD is ideal because it provides every student with a common device and levels the playing field so that every student has equal opportunities to engage with the technology. I just can't believe, and have never seen it proven (or at least convincingly argued otherwise) that students with iPod touches/Nintendo systems, Android phones/etc. will have the same powerful creation capacity as students with iPads, Chromebooks, laptops, etc. It just doesn't make sense to me. Even if a class is differentiated where students can work on a variety of learning activities and demonstrate their learning in multiple ways, having a 4" phone does not provide the learner with the same opportunities as a student with a more dynamic machine. Having said that, I also agree that students should be able to bring their own devices to use when appropriate or desired. This is such a rich and engaging topic, and I love that some of my favorite educational bloggers (Eric, Bryan Weinert and Jason Markey of Leyden H.S. near Chicago, Patrick Larkin, among others) all have differing opinions on this topic!

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  10. I also don't think there is a right answer in the debate between 1:1 and BYOD. I think 1:1 makes it easier for teachers and staff members when they are using one device. I think BYOD is more student centered but you have the demographic issue to think about. If considering BYOD, what about BYOD programs where students are given the specifications of the devices they need to bring? This gives students a choice and staff the ease of knowing that the devices will have most of the same capabilities.

  11. Eric, I think that we need to be device agnostic. I have a 25+ year corporate technology background and one of the buzzwords that I just started to see peek out is SYOD (Select Your own Device). It may be 'yet-another-acronym' ploy by someone of the consulting and lecture circuit to gain some press buzz -- but I think there is alot of truth to the fact that you need to use the tools you have and can afford.
    I am also on my schools board and run its technology committee -- and 90% of what I want to see us implement is in the cloud anyway. So, yes -- it would be nice if everyone had a school provided Mac Airbook -- but you certainly wouldn't make that an obstacle to getting Chromebooks or iPads into the fray.

  12. I don't teach in the US but in a private international school. 'We' want to go BYOD - but my concern is the consistency and compatibility of devices - eg a smartphone can't count as a device because it's useless for typing. Is it possible that you have a BYOD device program which is regulated by rules - eg 'you must have a device with a functional keyboard'...? Any examples of such ?

  13. Jon - You can implement a BYOD initiative anyway you want, but imposing that requirement might be a bit unrealistic and increase the divide between the haves and have nots.

  14. Great discussion and I applaud to the statement that perhaps the discussion is equally important as the decision.
    I generally support a BYOD with a support policy for those who can't afford an appropriate device from home. The reason for my support is that devices very quickly become obsolete and continuing a 1:1 with ever new devices will be to costly - I think. I'm afraid that the solution to the cost of renewing devices every two to four years will be that schools will work with too many outdated devices.
    I don't think that SYOD will have much chance in most school districts - there will be the same arguments against as for the BYOD from a technical point of view. There will also be a challenge of how informed in respect to support for learning many of the 'selections' will be after all.

  15. Has anyone noticed this article by Gary Stager, BYOD – Worst Idea of the 21st Century?
    Why are students and families being asked to provide materials needed for a world class education? What next? BYOC (Bring Your Own Chair). If finance is the issue, it should not be. What's happening to a "free" public education to "all" citizen?