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Going Mobile

Tips for BYOD K12 Programs

Critical issue in moving to "Bring Your Own Device."
Kids texting

Make no mistake: 2015 is the year in which each and every student in America's K12 public school system will have a mobile device to use for curricular purposes, 24/7. For the majority of schools, one-to-one will be achieved because they will have adopted a BYOD policy: Bring your own device. Schools simply can't afford to buy a computing device for every student: Bonds aren't passing, and budgets are being slashed. And most school-age children are acquiring their own mobile computing devices for entertainment and communication. But there is no free lunch—surprise! Building on our previous column on the inevitability of BYOD, in this column we dive more deeply into the specific issues that schools will face as they adopt BYOD. Here we present a checklist, and we urge administrators to write down their position on each of these issues. Remember that no position is still a position, albeit a dangerous one.

Functionality: Texting Is Not Sufficient

School boards must ensure that all the mobile devices in each classroom have a minimal level of functionality. In today's BYOD classrooms, texting is that minimal level, since it is just about the only functionality common to all the students' devices. But "minimal level" doesn't mean "low level!" Frankly, today's BYOD level of functionality isn't good enough for 21st-century, inquiry-based projects such as researching "Why does the air in my community smell bad?" Each student needs a serious computing device that supports media creation and manipulation and 24/7 Internet access. BYOD shouldn't be a license to let student-provided devices set the bar for what is pedagogically necessary.

Equity: BYOD and the Law of Unintended Consequence

What devices will schools provide to students from low-income families who may not have an adequate device? We might learn about equity pitfalls from an experience at Abilene Christian College. In 2007, the college mandated all students to use an Apple mobile device for class work, inadvertently creating two classes of users. There were those who could afford the data plan associated with the iPhone and those who could not. The students in this second group had to use the iPod Touch, which uses Wi-Fi for connectivity. Similarly, is it good enough for schools to provide low-income students with devices that only support Wi-Fi and thus enable them to access the Internet only on the school campus during the school day? On the other hand, what about the students who are not classified as low income but whose devices are less powerful than the ones given to the low income students? While dress codes didn't completely eliminate inequities in dress, we can't use these equity challenges to hold BYOD back.

Responsibility: The 800-Pound Gorilla

How far can a school go in controlling what students do with personally owned devices? For example, we are seeing some BYO D schools require students to use (1) only the school-provided network for access to the (filtered) Internet, and (2) only school-provided software on their devices. Violation of those conditions results in loss of device use for school - and the student must go back to using pencil and paper for some period of time! To our mind, those districts need a legal fund to deal with the inevitable court challenges. This issue—what the kids can and can't do with their personal devices in and out of school—is the 800-pound gorilla.

They Are Still Children —OUR Children

How far must schools go to project their charges? Schools provide street-crossing guards along the route to school. What types of protection should schools provide on the information highway? Cyberbullying, virus protection and Internet filtering are issues BYOD can't dodge. After all, the students are still children, and keeping them safe is absolutely our adult responsibility.

While BYOD is not a simple means of getting to one-to-one, it is still the only viable, long-term solution. Are you going to let the challenges stop BYOD from coming to your district? By 2015, it will happen.

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.