According to the Consumer Electronics Association, the average American household has 24 electronic gadgets. This may seem extraordinary at a time when device convergence is all the rage but practically speaking, “true” device convergence remains ahead of us. This, not only because we’re carrying multiple devices for multiple needs – I read on the iPad, make calls and take pictures on the iPhone, listen to a vast music library on the iPod, and undertake other more involved tasks on the Macbook – but because by necessity we also have mirror devices for work such as a laptop and a “work phone”.
Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) refers to the growing trend for employees to bring their personal mobile devices to work, and using them to access company resources such as email etc. Bring Your Own Tech (BYOT) is a broader term that covers both personally owned hardware (the device) and the software (antivirus, word processor etc.). While this is a growing trend, especially among smaller businesses, there are serious implications for employers and employees both. Employers save on device costs but leave themselves open to accidental breaches, malicious attacks and security violations that can ultimately be more costly in the long run. Employees meantime have the convenience of using the latest devices (their own) but at their own expense. Plus employees also have to put up with spyware, usage policies and general loss of control and privacy.
Employees seem to be losing rather more than they’re gaining in the bargain so it was with some surprise that I learned that as of December 2011, 41 percent of employees in the healthcare sector reported support of personal devices by their organizations. Other sectors, with the obvious exception of financial services, cannot be far behind. Imagine the sound of blood vessels bursting and eyeballs popping as IT Managers grapple with the security implications.
While BYOD at work is interesting, BYOD in the classroom has infinitely more potential. There are two main factors behind this new shift in schools. First, schools are having to do more with less – at least 30 states are giving less funding to schools today versus four years ago. Second, kids are already using mobile devices outside the classroom and sometimes inside, on the sly. In fact, according to SEO.com 93% of students search online rather than go to the library, many of them because the library happens to be closed (surely a commentary on the importance of convenience in the “digital age”).
Some interesting BYOT/BYOD experiments being conducted in education include:
- Celly is a group texting service that is used as a messaging board by teachers allowing them to remind students of upcoming assignments, post exam dates, share polls etc. The service is being watched closely by educators to ensure texting in class is not being abused and does in fact improve class participation – one in four teens has a smartphone, 63% of teens text daily according to a as Pew Internet & American Life Project study published in March 2012.
- Glenwood Intermediate School in Chatham, Illinois is doing an eight-week pilot where students are allowed to bring their personal laptop, iPad, iPod Touch, Kindle Fire, or NOOK Color. Students who don’t have a device are provided one by the school. Similar test runs are being conducted by schools across the nation.
- Australian schools are practicing a version of BYOD…in reverse. All students are given the same device and model for the entire year, to use at school and home.
- Technology has been found to be especially helpful to meet the needs of special education students. It is also helping teachers identify more quickly how they can encourage participation and learning from students at all levels.
That said, there are serious concerns BYOD may exacerbate the digital divide between the “haves” and “have nots” and is in fact shifting the financial burden of providing basic education to parents rather than the federal, state or city governments. I have to agree with both concerns. And then there are teachers (in fairness, mostly those who haven’t implemented BYOD themselves) such as this college professor who argue that this may make the classroom environment even more chaotic -
Students nowadays generally have the attention span of a gnat. They cannot spell or write a complete sentence much less a complete paragraph. They couldn’t add, subtract, multiply or divide their way out of a paper bag…This is just another screwball idea giving into the children who, probably at home, get to choose what fast food they get to have for dinner each night. They will never learn discipline or respect or the value of education if this idea becomes the way to teach.
And then there are students like this senior at a Texas university -
…as an elementary and special education major, I have had three years of student teaching experience, being in Texas classrooms every semester, watching students use computer programs, Kindles, and iPads. They DO use them responsibly; it’s so amazing to watch. The students are very honest and you can ENGAGE the kids! They enjoy being independent learners, they are so computer literate, and I think it’s a wonderful program.
While BYOD does make education more fun for students, several things must happen first for BYOD programs to work:
- Schools should democratize access to devices, critical for students from a less affluent background. The quality of one’s education should not be dependent on how much one’s parents can spend on a device.
- Schools should bear more of the cost for providing a more tech-oriented education – it is part of their charter after all. Mobile devices do have a higher upfront cost but can be quite economical over time given savings from not buying (and carrying!), printing or transporting text books.
- Both parents and students should be asked in advance to agree to rules on where said devices may be used, and how. Schools will need to actively monitor usage.
- Institutions should closely monitor to ensure teachers are not misusing closer communication with students. New York City recently released new social media rules for teachers; an important precaution at a time when underage students are on Facebook, connecting with their teachers.
- This is a big caveat – teachers will be need to train themselves, before they can teach their students (who are digital natives).
So tell me, would you send your children to a school with a BYOD program?