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Tech Update: BYOD


Tech Update: BYOD

The latest developments in hot areas of school technology. 
By Calvin Hennick

At a recent workshop on digital education, the presenter threw attendees a curveball and asked everyone to complete a brief survey using Google Docs.

“In this room of 50 tech-savvy adults, you’ve got tablets, Android devices, phones, and a handful of people with nothing,” says attendee Ann Lee Flynn, director of education technology for the National School Boards Association. “A lot of people couldn’t get [the program] to open.”

The point? This is what bring-your-own-device initiatives look like in schools without adequate support systems. If implementing BYOD means stopping a lesson to make sure that students’ operating systems are up to date, that they have the correct app installed, and that they’re all able to connect to the school’s network, it’s no wonder some teachers drag their feet when it comes to BYOD.

These difficulties make Flynn skeptical about BYOD as a long-term solution. With device costs coming down, more schools will be able to afford to provide all students with district-owned devices through one-to-one initiatives—a move Flynn says is vital for ensuring ­educational equity. “The current belief is, all kids have devices,” she says. “Well, no, they don’t. And trying to type a term paper on a smartphone is very different from typing on a laptop. It’s not a level playing field.”

Even if BYOD proves to be just a step on the road to one-to-one, it’s a current reality for many districts, some of which have found ways to both narrow the digital divide and make it easier for teachers to incorporate student devices in their lessons.

In Katy, Texas, the district buys its own devices to supplement its BYOD program, so teachers don’t find themselves in a bind when students don’t own devices, leave them at home, or forget to charge the batteries. The district provides enough devices for 30 percent of its students, and also allows kids to check out tablets and use mobile Wi-Fi hot spots. The wide availability of devices has increased teachers’ willingness to implement BYOD, says Darlene Rankin, director of instructional technology for Katy Independent School District.

The district also encourages BYOD implementation through continued PD opportunities for teachers, and recently adopted a single sign-on system where kids can access learning apps through the school’s network.

Previously, students had to download apps onto their own devices, which proved problematic. Some students’ devices were running on older operating systems that didn’t support newer apps. Some parents had locked the devices, making it impossible for students to install the apps. And, Rankin says, even when kids did have the apps, they sometimes forgot their passwords and couldn’t log in.

With the new system, students don’t have to worry about installing the apps, since they can access them through the Internet. Rankin expects the single sign-on system to drive BYOD adoption among teachers. “I think it will definitely go up,” she says.

Illustration: Viktor Koen


We have seen the impact of the internet age in our schools, now that the internet is 20+ years old. Students from Stanford to MIT are unable to truly focus on a single project/problem for any sustained length of time. Instead of essays we get paragraphs of disjointed ideas.
I believe that we need the internet and technology in general in the classroom, specifically for teaching how to use it responsibly. However, the definition of responsibly has yet to be aligned with measure results for its efficacy. I strongly urge any district considering a BYOD initiative to severely limit access via wireless, and cellular. In one study kids who had been avid book readers in elementary grades, had no interest in reading books by the time they where in 7th grade. The internet had provided cliff notes, shortcuts, and methods for expediting the process of getting an understanding of the story rather than requiring them to read and appreciate the authors ability to tell the story. It was devastating to see.

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