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Going Mobile

From Banning to BYOD

This inevitable shift is at the heart of school change.
Members of the 2009 YouthBuild graduating class of Brockton Mass. worked toward their GEDs or diplomas while learning job skills by building affordable housing for homeless and low-income people.

In your schools, In your classrooms, you will soon allow students to use computing devices they already own. While today 99 percent of schools ban cell phones and other mobile devices from the classroom, there will be a 180-degree turnaround within four years. This coming shift is inevitable.

Why? Because banning will no longer be practical. Each and every student will have at least one mobile computing device (e.g., smartphone, media player) with them at all times. Wireless devices will be embedded in watches, in necklaces, in eyeglasses, in notebooks. school entrances would need to become more intensely guarded than an airport to enforce any sort of a ban. Parents, increasingly, will put pressure on schools to allow their children to have mobile devices. And students increasingly will say, "let me use my own tools." Banning is not going to work.

The Only Practical 1:1

Furthermore, here in the 21st century, not having one-to-one computing in schools is simply not acceptable. Unfortunately, rare is the school district that can afford to sustain a one-to-one laptop program year after year. How many times will voters approve bonds for purchasing laptops? But if students could bring their own devices, that would mean a district could implement one-to-one without having to purchase computing devices for every child.

Now for the bad news: The heteroge- neity of devices that will exist when students bring their own will cause teachers and curriculum folks migraines, cause IT staff nightmares, cause school legal staff angina, cause business managers apoplexy and cause principals and superintendents (more) sleepless nights.

The Heterogeneity Challenge

What do we mean by "heterogeneity"? In any given classroom full of students with their own devices, there will be feature phones that do not run apps or connect to the Internet, iPhones that use different cellular carriers for Internet connectivity and therefore have different functionality, iPod Touches that need Wi-Fi to connect to the Internet, as well as smartphones, tablets, netbooks and laptops running a cornucopia of operating systems, from Windows, Mac and Android to Windows Phone 7, Webos, symbian and MeeGo. Despite all that technology, there is currently no way a teacher can make an assignment that all the kids will be equipped to carry out. There is no functionality common to all those devices!

The good news is that the heterogeneity challenge is being addressed today and will be solved over the next few years. Just as there is software today that supports professionals in a variety of industries and on a variety of devices (e.g., QuickBooks supports accountants, salesforce .com supports salespeople, sabre system supports travel agents), soon there will be companies that produce education software that runs on that cornucopia of devices, making the disparate devices appear homogeneous while helping teachers and students do their jobs more efficiently and more effectively.

But who is going to pay to put that education-specific software on student- owned devices? Who is going to pay for the software to make the student-owned devices CIPA compliant while they are at school? And when the students are at home, must their devices still be CIPA compliant? What about the students who can't afford devices, who will buy them? These are important questions that will have to be answered, but they don't change the fact that a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) future is inevitable.

At the Heart of School Change

With all the other challenges that educators—particularly administrators—are facing now, one might be tempted to put the BYOD issue on the back burner. This is a big mistake! BYOD leads to improved student achievement, and that means happier teachers, parents, school boards—and students. BYOD is about more than just computing devices; BYOD is at the heart of the educational change that needs to take place. To prepare our children for the global 21st-century marketplace, they need to become self-directed learners and collaborative team players. This is what BYOD does; it puts the means for "coming to know" in the palm of each child's hand, making classrooms student-centric instead of teacher-centric. Education will then move from "I tell" to "We find."

Cathleen Norris is a Regents Professor at the University of North Texas and a past ISTE President. Elliot Soloway is Arthur F. Thurnau Professor at the University of Michigan and Chair of ISTE's Special Interest Group on Mobile Learning (SIGML). For the past 10 years, Cathie and Elliot have been circumnavigating the globe, advocating for the use of mobile technologies in classrooms.