Saturday, March 09, 2013

10 reasons to leave them to their own devices - BYOD

BYOD isn’t a recommendation, it’s a realty. Everyone’s bought one, everyone uses one and everyone carries it around with them. When we organise a meeting or conference, we don’t send people an email telling them what device to bring, neither do we buy or lease a whole load of computers and hand them out. In our Universities few want to revive those expensive projects where every student was given a laptop or iPad. They bring their own. In business, BYOD is big business. Employees have access to enterprise software from at least two devices. Most employees would be frustrated if their employer did not allow access from their owned devices. Note that there's a big difference between allowing devices to access your network and enterprise software and using BYOD in schools to simply access the internet.
BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) v BEND (Buy Everyone a New Device)
Paul Hynes of the George Spencer Academy in Nottingham operates a BYOD policy that gives access to free, filtered web access (no passwords). He points out that there’s some underlying problems with a tablet-only approach; lockdown, updates, damage, iTunes, the illusion of personalisation, tech problems with displays, printers, wireless, also difficulties in storage and sharing. I’m with him on this and have real doubts about the rush to spend large sums on tablet projects in schools. There are several reasons for preferring BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) to BEND (Buy Everyone a New Device):
1. Reduces costs
The big BYOD advantage is cost, the total cost of BEND in terms of purchase, leasing, insurance, maintenance and sustainability is huge. Then there’s the often hidden costs of procurement and on-going management of owned kit. It may well be defunct long before its depreciated in your accounts. Parents and students have already spent considerable amounts of money on kit they researched, selected and use regularly. Surely we could use our education budgets better to focus on other things, like better bandwidth, teacher issues and learning.
2. Reduces risks
Why would you want to take a punt on untried technology that will bring fiscal, technical, insurance and pedagogic restraints, when much of the kit has already been bought and is in the hands of learners? Create a risk register, with scores for appetite, likelihood and impact, along with ways of making each risk manageable and you’ll see that BYOD, far from increasing, decreases overall risk.  You also head off parental criticism about wasting valuable school resources….
3. Existing skills
The fact that learners know how to use their own kit is a plus. If they don’t know how to do something on their own kit, what makes you think they will on a new and stranger one? In any case isn’t it important to learn how to use your own tools and not other, unfamiliar ones?
4. Motivation
The fact that it is your own kit means it’s less likely to get damaged or lost. There are some horror stories of damaged, knocked and lost kit, with substantial claims on insurance. You automatically tap into the care that personal ownership brings. I’d also wager that you’re far more likely to get students to use their own kit at home, rather than bought kit. One could argue that a wide range of devices may create a range of problems. This is offset by the fact that students are likely to know how to use their own kit and problem solve themselves to get connected, print and save data. They are more likely to own the problems and therefore solve them. Lastly, I suspect that the motivation to learn is more prevalent on owned devices.
5. Learning not leasing
Paul Hynes recommends “10 no-brainer uses with an impact on learning” for teachers and an approach that allows teachers to be confident, manage classes and defend the use of technology. Exactly! Let’s look at learning not leasing. Surely much of the budget would be better spent on teacher impact than capital expenditure.
6. Technology changes
There's advantages to adopting a fixed technology in terms of distribution but technology changes. Today's phone and tablet are tomorrow's antiques. As we dont really know what those changes will be, why lock oneself into long-term contracts?
7. More relevant
BYOD is more relevant in that it is more likely to mimic the real world and the workplace. Few workplaces have iPads or tablets, most have desktops, laptops and mobiles. If we’re creating autonomous adults and learners, surely we must recognise what’s actually used out there rather than locking learners into a consumer, tablet, look-up device.
8. Already happens
At home, school students already use their own devices to do their homework, communicate with their mates about assignments and exams, communicate with the school, even in the school, especially when the school kit is a bit crappy or too slow.
9. Safety
Like BYOD, students can get up to no good. The whole e-safety debate can freeze progress, yet students know the rules and teachers know how to get the rules obeyed. Let’s be clear here, the student should NOT be allowed to access unsuitable content. You need a policy or be brave enough to leave this to the teachers’ discretion. But it’s the same issue BYOD or BEND.
10. Inclusion
Inclusion can also be an issue, as wealthier students showboat their expensive laptops or tablets. However, we can use the money saved to help solve this problem. Data suggests that this is a bottle -four-fifths-full issue, simply needing a top-up. We can’t let the absence of a few pieces of kit cancel out progress. Some kids don’t have books at home, we don’t then say, let’s not use books in learning.
I should add that I’m not a big fan of parachuting computers in any form into classrooms. Classrooms are spaces where teachers interact with learners, places of dialogue and feedback. The introduction of tablets, notebooks, laptops and mobiles are, without very careful planning, most likely to interrupt and slow down learning. Flip the classroom and let students use these for assignments, homework (oh how I hate that word) and exposition. Let teachers teach and students learn.
Prescribed tablet and laptop projects are part of an old-world view that there is an ideal or optimum technology in learning. To be frank, many of these projects are driven less by reason than desire. You can free yourself from idiosyncratic projects, Apple fanboys, large vendors and horrendous insurance and maintenance problems through BYOD. Most of all, the BEND approach is damn EXPENSIVE. What if almost ALL of that money could be saved or spent on learning, teachers and problem solving? Want to help student learn? Leave them to their own devices.


Anonymous said...

My wife, who does network operations here in South Carolina at a huge school district, calls this "Bring Your Own Virus".

But the big question in this extremely poor area is where will they be getting these devices from? Very few students have the money to buy a tablet.

That leaves you and me -- taxpayers. And my wife, ever the realist, pointed out that (more than likely) a thriving system of stolen tablets will soon spring up.

Ah, Capitalism!

Donald Clark said...

I'm dead against the large scale purchase of tablets for schools see "Too cool for school: 7 reasons why tablets should NOT be used in education" In the UK we have a relatively high level of device ownership among pupils. In terms of the bottom line, I think BYOD topped up with support for poorer students is the way forward.

Unknown said...

Thanks for your article, it's agood summary of the attention areas for the debate around BYOD. I'm a parent of a kid at local primary school, that currently has a netbook lease program for senior students - I plan to make a pitch to school council to evolve that program into BYOD program (enhanced by use of cross platform (or cloud) open source software tools), but one of the greatest challenges I think I see is the reluctance of educators to embrace the culture of varied technology. They seem to freak out at the thought of teaching across different platforms. Personally I think that it enhances the focus on teaching concepts and generic approaches, rather than point and click lessons, but DOES require teachers to be technically confident. But I think a large majority of primary teachers are not "tech savvy" and are intimidated by the variance in technologies that BYOD would bring to the classroom. I'd be interested in how schools have addressed curriculum development in a BYOD environment?

Donald Clark said...

Thanks Jason. Teaching is a top down activity and to be fair teachers do have to maintain some degree of control over students and their classrooms. However,many of their fears around tech are, as you state, a bit irrational. On the curriculum, if they look at what they want to teach and select online resources and tools that are generally we-based, they should have no problem. This is the problem with the current vogue for APPS - it locks you into one system or another. The web has more than enough resources for good content without these lock-ins. Good luck with you efforts. I hope my arguments can be used as grist for the mill.

Amit said...

Excellent post. Point 2 stands out as I find most often it is 'considered' riskier going BYOD way.

In the classroom, guided by the teacher, students could explore topics in greater detail and that's very powerful for learning.


Dew Drops said...


For me, the biggest problem with BYODS is to ensure that online University services and learning resources are accessible from any device (i.e cross-platform). This cannot always be the case. For instance, there is a huge bank of educational resources that have been developed in Flash. Anyone using an IPad will not be able to access these resources as Flash is not supported. My institution does not have the time and resources to convert all our in-house resources into HTML5. However, our students can always fall-back on our University's IT facilities to access these resources.

Similarly, some of the technologies we subscribe to take time to catch-up with the rapidly changing world of IT. For instance, our VLE (from a commercial provider) has only now introduced option of Mobile-compatible quizzes and its still limited to a few question types compared to the desktop version.

What are your thoughts on this?

Donald Clark said...

These are reasonable thoughts and need addressing. First, I'm not so sure that iPads are such a popular choice among students. In my experience netbooks and laptops are far more common, for reasons I outlines in another post (see my recent post on tablets). In any case, rather than spending huge sums of new hardware and software you can help those with iPads use workarounds for Flash on iPads - there are browsers and other solutions that allow Flash to be played on iPads. Most students, I guess, would know this and how to get it done.
The second point is more serious, but even them most students have notebooks or laptops, so the VLE is not a problem. In Universities I am not suggesting that BYOB means all mobiles. In fact, I suspect that most Universities already have a BYOB behaviour and that a reasonable analysis would show that your limited IT spend would be better spent on supporting owned BYOB kit than spending and maintaining large numbers of new devices. Hoep this helps - you raised a couple of good points.

JM @ ClassLink said...

Thanks for putting this together, Donald. While some may argue if BYOD is really worth it, an important realization here is that it's today's reality. Then again, accountability and responsible use should be upheld.

Donald Clark said...

This 'reality' argument is key. Buying truckloads of tablets and laptops is, in my opinion, a thing of the past. Unfortunately, schooling is still very much a command and control culture (at any cost).