BYOD: Underwhelmed but Excited

Two years into Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), I’m underwhelmed.

It isn’t because I think it is unsuccessful. Quite the opposite. BYOD has done exactly what it was targeted to do:

  1. empower students to leverage their devices for learning
  2. trust students to utilize their devices openly and responsibly instead of punishing them.

Yet, I’m underwhelmed because it doesn’t compare to the EduHype I read about regarding BYOD as a second coming.

BYOD and 1:1 are not the Same

Just a little context. BYOD and 1:1 mean the following to me:

  • 1:1 is a organizational movement that guarantees each student has access to a similar if not the same device.  The use of the device is a learning and teaching expectation guaranteed at the school level.
  • BYOD is an organizational movement that empowers students with the choice of using his or her own device during the school day. The use of the device is a student choice with no guaranteed expectation.
  • Side Note: Open Cell Phone Policy is not necessarily the same as BYOD. You can have one without the other. In fact, I find it quite important to distinguish between the two.

There are obvious cross overs and modifications, but this general view on these two is why I don’t see them as the same. However, I continue to hear BYOD and 1:1 used interchangeably which is part of the reason I’m underwhelmed.

Student Initiative Not a School Initiative

Mostly, I see much about BYOD being a school initiative to add more technology into the school, assist with funding issues, create 1:1 classrooms, supplement or supplant labs, and assist with other school needs. This causes me to sit back and go, “Wow… that is what BYOD is suppose to do?” and it makes me feel underwhelmed.

But, I’m actually proud of this not discouraged by it because I see BYOD as a student-focused initiative not a school-focused initiative that affords the following:

  • student choice in their learning style and needs
  • student engagement and empowerment with their learning
  • learning beyond the classroom space
  • freedom to play, experiment, and relax (yes… it is great to see students just playing)
  • formal and informal learning independent of time, space, place, and device
  • an authentic look at how students customize their devices for learning
  • student ownership of the classroom space (albeit it requires teachers to be open to this)
  • a taste of what a 1:1 environment could mean to learning and teaching

Not Without Challenges

BYOD is not without challenges no matter how good the above sounds. The frustrations with BYOD are numerous and fairly obvious. These are not to be dismissed or minimized. However, these challenges provide critical opportunities for actionable discussion about equity, fiscal responsibility, learning, teaching, and technology.

Beyond addressing BYOD concerns, there are two other items that I find so important to the BYOD discussion.

1. Student Buy-In
One area that I rarely see discussed is student buy-in.

  • Do students want BYOD?
  • What would/does BYOD mean to them?
  • Beyond cell phones, would they bring their devices?
  • How often would they bring their devices?
  • What would they do if there was no direct need for technology in the classroom (teacher directed use of it)?

2. Chicken or the Egg
The other area is the classroom. If students don’t see a need, they won’t bring their devices. If teachers don’t have a guaranteed environment, it is hard to create experiences that create a need.

leaving empty handed

Yes, part of this is professional development for teachers and students including understanding a multi-device learning environment. Part of it is just the challenge that BYOD is not synonymous with a 1:1 environment. It is a challenge for teachers whether perception or reality, and this makes it difficult for teachers to embrace it. This in turn makes it difficult for students.

A Piece of the Puzzle

I’m underwhelmed by BYOD when compared to what I read about it because I see BYOD as just one piece to the puzzle not the entire puzzle like some in education would have you/want you to believe. Looking at it as just a piece of the puzzle, I continue to be excited by what I see and the challenges it produces.

(Image: leaving empty handed, a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial No-Derivative-Works (2.0) image from will-lion’s photostream)

  1. Chris Hyde01-23-2012

    Thanks for sharing, Ryan. We are about to launch BYOD in our district very soon – we’ve put a new network in place, surveyed students, surveyed teachers, and are now about to meet with parents. I think my biggest concern is PD for teachers and how they approach this in their classroom. I have been advocating for teacher PD over the summer…we’ll see. Thanks again for the insight from someone 2 years into the process.


  2. Scott Meech02-12-2012

    Nothing will change if we don’t change the way we teach and organize our schools. I would love to see your thoughts laid out on what a math class looks like with BYOD. What does a math, science, and social studies class look like? Do teachers really have a vision of what that looks like?

  3. Celina02-12-2012

    Your ideas are inspiring! I recently blogged about our recent classroom experience with allowing a couple students to BYOD. The assumption by many within our district is that these devices will cause distractions. I would agree with the thoughts within your post and Chris and Scott’s comments: the success of BYOD relys on how learning is approached. Students must be involved in a personalized environment for the use of the devices to be purposeful and meaningful. Our students who participated in this trial run cannot even imagine the math and literacy blocks without them now.

    Many people also worry about theft… What parameters do you suggest to safe guard the devices? This is the piece we are currently working on as we continue to prepare information regarding BYOD to share with colleagues. Any suggestions would be appreciated. ~Celina

  4. Russell Okamoto02-13-2012

    We see schools in all 50 states utilizing mobile devices (especially low-cost featurephones with only texting) to transform learning inside/outside the classroom. Students reticent to speak out are becoming more “vocal” via mobile phone interaction/texting. Parents are also more engaged as they discover they can message with teachers and admins in realtime via their mobile phone. BYOD and 1:1 are definitely not the same. Many schools/districts can’t afford 1:1 iPads. Even if they can, there’s still the remaining challenge to include parents and families into the school/learning ecosystem. Since it’s very unlikely a district will pay for an always-on tablet plus web data plan for each parent, BYOD and 1:1 programs are both required to bridge the digital access divide.

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