Are BYOD programs simply an excuse not to fully invest in 1:1?

Portrait of a young man

I was talking with a fellow professor yesterday who expressed some real concern and skepticism about BYOD / BYOT programs. I know that Gary Stager has some concerns as well

In the words of my colleague, are BYOD programs simply an excuse by administrators not to fully invest in 1:1? To say it another way, are BYOD programs just an easy way out for school leaders, who can then pat themselves on the back for creating opportunities for students to use technology without allocating significant resources to make it happen?

Image credit: Portrait of a young man

26 Responses to “Are BYOD programs simply an excuse not to fully invest in 1:1?”

  1. (first time long time)

    As an IT executive in a business setting, BYOD is a daily topic here in my world. Employee BYOD has also emerged as a trend in the business world. So with that background, I’d like to offer some insights from an IT perspective.

    I can see where some administrators think this makes sense. If a student has a $1500 MAC at home, why not allow him/her to use that device? The school has zero liability and the student is more comfortable using a familiar device. No school cost – student is happy – a win:win scenario.

    However as you and Gary have pointed out there are huge pitfalls here and it makes no sense at all.

    – first I would have to assume that adequate technology will be provided to those “have not’s” so that everyone would be on equal terms – if not this idea is doomed before it starts. Just wrong!
    – so how will a BYOD device attach to the school’s network to access lessons, media, internet? The teacher will spend 90% of class time just trying to get everyone connected. Bad idea.
    – what if a BYOD device is lost/stolen? Trust me the school will be liable no matter how many forms are signed. How long will a $2000 MACBOOK AIR last in a locker? Huh?
    – what software programs on the BYOD device are required? what if they are not there? How do they get there? Who pays?
    – Your School IT department can ensure that all school computers are free of virus or malware. What about a BYOD device? Your entire school network could be compromised by one bad virus infected device.

    Bottom line is that modern computers in schools are an essential and critical part of the learning process in 2012 and forever. BYOD makes no sense in this setting and any administrator considering this option is naive and uniformed.

    Not totally on topic but – colleges and universities of course do allow this BYOD phenomena and indeed, if some students have inferior technology – too bad for them.
    College IT departments are funded and staffed to deal with all of the technical issues as well – via the rising tuition. Lost or stolen devices from a dorm – too bad as well; guess you won’t pass that test!. So if any school system is even considering this BYOD program – please visit your nearest college campus and see what BYOD life is really like.

  2. I’ve been wondering about this myself. It especially seems relevant when many proponents of BYOD talk about the cost savings they get out of it. Even if not financial, though, there’s still a real cost in terms of teachers not really being able to know exactly what the devices in any class are all capable of.

    I honestly believe that a hybrid approach is ideal. Every kid gets a school-supplied device. They can then supplement that with their own devices if those devices have additional tools or capabilities they’re comfortable with. But there’s significantly less friction on the parts of all staff and students when everybody has access to one device where everybody understands its capabilities and limits.

  3. I’m wondering if this is false dichotomy? Given the options a local school district may have…1) BYOD with limited funds 2) Doing nothing, which one creates additional opportunities for students to participate in our increasingly digital society? increases student agency and voice? provides teachers with additional tools to increase the rigor and relevance of their students’ learning?

    BYOD seems to be the winner. I see this discussion as an example of “letting perfect get in the way of progress.” Equity issues aside, what am I missing?

    • Matt, I don’t see it that way. The question posed is exactly aimed at your Option 2. Does Option 2 only exist because policymakers have not taken a hard look out how they might actually finance a 1:1 implementation? In other words, those aren’t *really* the only two options.

      Also, I don’t see how we can just say “Equity issues aside…” That’s too important to just brush off.

      • Hey Jon,
        I read the post to be geared towards school administrators, “are BYOD programs simply an excuse by administrators not to fully invest in 1:1?” Yes, school administrators are policy makers, however we’re not the only policymakers. In my experience, school districts would need state legislators to modify their funding decisions in order for school administrators to truly have two options: BYOD or 1:1. Until *those* policymakers change, school administrators may be left with two options 1) BYOD 2) Doing nothing.

        Here’s an example from Iowa: some/many districts receive money via a physical plant & equipment property tax levy (PPEL). This can be a great source for schools to purchase computers, but the “catch” is that computer hardware units must be >$500 each in order to be considered part of the physical plant/equipment. (Note: the $500 threshold was higher several years ago). To respond to Justin B’s comment below, schools depending on PPEL funds can not purchase $300 netbooks or $200 Nexus 7s. We’re limited to more expensive devices and with limited funds, this means fewer computers.

        You’re right about the equity issue. It shouldn’t be brushed aside, but given the two options BYOD or nothing, would an “inequitable” BYOD be better than no progress at all?

        • (Re-reading Justin’s reply)

          “You can’t find $150 a kid when per pupil spending is over $10,000 per kid these days. If a school cannot find that, seems like a failure of leadership to me. I get that everyone is tight on money and different funds for different purposes, but at the end of the day we are talking $150 out of $10,000.”

          Good point about leadership in the local school district. I can’t speak for other states, but I’m wondering how many districts in Iowa are funding their 1:1s through non-categorical funding streams? I checked with a few contacts and none of them were, although it could very well be isolated data.

          It would no doubt be a courageous leadership effort to postpone renovating a school or purchasing a school bus in order to buy more computers for students, given the limited resources and restrictive state funding.

  4. In the case of our school district, the answer is no, simply because we will never have the money to give a computer of any kind to 180,000+ kids. Never. Unless our community suddenly wakes up one day to realize that connected portable devices (let’s face it, the term computer is obsolete!), and an understanding of how to use them effectively, are essential parts of being literate in the current age.

    I am a big advocate of BYOD programs because I think it will help move us in the direction of making students, especially in high school, more responsible for and independent in their own learning. The hard part will be getting teachers, schools and districts to share control over computing and networks with the kids. We spend far too much time being afraid of what they might do wrong with their devices instead of helping students understand the good stuff they can do.

    • I don’t believe the comment “we will never have the money.” A Nexus7 is $199 right now, in bulk probably $150 (price if a Kindle Fire now anyway). You can’t find $150 a kid when per pupil spending is over $10,000 per kid these days. If a school cannot find that, seems like a failure of leadership to me. I get that everyone is tight on money and different funds for different purposes, but at the end of the day we are talking $150 out of $10,000.

      Now, whether BYOD or 1:1 is better is a different discussion, but I think it is an excuse to pull 1:1 off the table because of “we will never have the money.”

      • No, “we will never have the money” is correct, no matter how inexpensive the tablets get.

        One major problem is that the state of Virginia requires that all students take their standardized tests online, which means that the district must come up with enough equipment to make that happen for 150,000+ kids. Computers that cannot be used in a 1-1 program for “security” reasons.

        And standardized testing is not only sucking down increasing amounts of school time (with more and more test prep), it’s also taking more and more tech away from instructional use (that test prep is being done online as well).

        Is the fact that we can’t provide a connected device for every kid a “failure of leadership”? Definitely! But that failure goes way beyond the school level.

        • Tim, before we had public schools, one would have said “we will never have the money.”

          Before we had a professional corp of teachers, one would have said “we will never have the money.”

          Before we had gyms, football fields, tracks, one would have said “we will never have the money.”

          Before we had kindergarten or preschool, one would have said “we will never have the money.”

          In fact, before we had the school building you are working in right now, one likely said “we will never have the money.”

          How many generations has it been since public schooling started in Virginia? Your generation, your fathers, your grandfathers, great-grandfathers … wherever you choose to stop, I bet it would be no more than 6-7 since the very idea of public education would have resulted in the reply “we will never have the money.”

          But, they found the money and more importantly they found the leadership. Each generation has found the leadership to do things the previous would have considered impossible. By some miracle, perhaps? Divine providence? I think it is simpler. I think it is because people were not willing to settle for “we will never have the money.”

  5. Tim-what is the useful life of 1:1 devices? Are they holding up as long as traditional desktops? What are the opinions on the long term viability of 1:1 nationally? For example, a small high school in my area spent roughly 250k on a 1:1 program funded by a referendum. What happens at year 5? How are the first gen ipads the early adopting districts implemented holding up? Are districts able to keep using those devices or will they have to plan to go to voters every 5 years? I just wonder if BYOD has to be the preferred model simply due to the unsustainability of district financed 1:1?

    • I don’t have any statistics handy but in my experience, portable devices have a shorter lifespan than ones that stay put, and ones carried by kids are a little shorter still. Our district IT department claims a five year life span for the “standard” Dell laptops we buy (rather crappy equipment IMHO) but the reality is closer to three.

      The major problem with most 1-1 programs I’ve observed is that the budget includes little or no planning for the long term. Everything is in the start up costs, usually something for normal repairs, and mostly ignoring what happens 3-5 years down the line when those devices are failing or not able to adequately run newer software. It’s too early to make the same assessment of tablets but I suspect their effective life won’t be much different.

  6. BYOD is a mindset wherein students are treated with respect. Have a device? Yes, of course you can use it in school.

    BYOD is not a program. Relaxing a restriction the school put on students is not a program. It is recognition that the restriction shouldn’t have been there in the first place.

    • I’m with you in theory, Russ. But, what if the answer to “Have a device?” is “No?”

      • This is my fourth year with a wide open BYOD classroom “policy.” Besides what students bring, I’ve brought in two netbooks and a desktop. Students use my school-issued “teacher” MacBook. We also have a MacBook Pro and an iPad from our school. In the past, students have brought in all forms of e-readers, Kindle Fires, Nook Colors, netbooks, iPads, iPods, and laptops.

        So that’s my context. I have not once had a student say anything to the effect of, “But I don’t have anything to bring in.” They’re too busy sharing with each other. I’ve had to add a new direction to our classroom, “The bell’s going to ring in a minute, please get all the devices back to their owners.”

        In my experience, “What if not every kid has something to bring in?” has been a theoretical issue, not a practical one. I’d say that my students were learning a real world skill, but I think the reason adults see that issue in BYOD is that many adults don’t see sharing as a viable option, either for themselves or students.

  7. Students possess these high powered devices but think of them as toys. Allowing students to use their personal devices in an academic setting can expand their view of this toy to a tool for organization and productivity. Being allowed to use their own devices in the classroom will also allow parents and students to leverage their investment in these technologies for targeted academic purposes.

  8. 5 years?

    You can’t get a laptop to last 5 years in a corporate environment. An ipad? I’d expect to lose 50% of them within two years.

    Can someone point me to information about how existing programs are handling failure, loss and liability? I have witnessed more than a few employees break their equipment in order to get a newer replacement. How do you keep kids from doing the same?

    BYOD is a technology buzzword right now. Everyone is using it, and in a variety of different ways. I suspect that those bringing it up for schools genuinely feel that they are promoting a new approach, rather than consciously trying to undercut spending.

    As far as security, BYOD doesn’t concern me that much. If you have the ability to secure a school network, the most hostile environment most IT people will ever experience, external devices shouldn’t change much.

  9. As chair of the Digital Learning Committee of Region 19 in Connecticut, I can assure you that BYOD and 1:1 are entirely compatible.

    BYOD means that individual students can use the device best suited to follow their calling in life. An art student may like a widescreen laptop. An English major may love physical keyboards. A math major a tablet.

    We have wired the school so that the internet is available throughout. Grades are online, lesson plans can be online, and the teaching staff is preparing for digital lesson plans starting in January though many are already taking advantage of the existing opportunities.

    Our blog is here:

    – Frank Krasicki

  10. The broader misunderstanding of BYOD is that the digital world augments the human experience. These devices are personal computing prosthetics that will be inseparable from their lives going forward.

    Is there anyone here who can do without their smartphone?

    • This is short sighted, and some of the dangerous talk every school district in the nation must be wary of when deciding how to spend taxpayer money. These devices are one point in the technology time continuum. No one piece of technology at any point in human history is “inseparable from their lives going forward”. The abacus was an indispensable tool in mathematics at one time. The value of today’s technology in the classroom cannot be understated. Neither can the fact that in a relatively short period of time it will be replaced by something better.

  11. I agree with Tim. Most of our students already bring their own devices. Our network is open, though filtered. Right now, because we don’t have an official way of dealing with the have nots, it’s sort of hodge podge. Some students take the initiative, and end up getting a school computer to take home. Teachers will borrow laptop carts for classes to provide access for the few students who don’t have computers. And I usually help teachers create assignments where there are multiple software options, including free ones, for completing the assignment.

    I’d rather see the school invest in network infrastructure, cloud computing, and teacher training than the cost to replace laptops every 3 years.

  12. Laura, you bring up a sticking point at the high school level. The nanny state dictates that schools filter websites and in the younger grades that may be fine. But at the high school level, our philosophy is that we want the students to begin learning to filter sites as a matter of behavior, citizenship, maturity, and the long host of other character traits that they cannot learn by being locked in an intellectual kindercare center.

    The Nexus 7 has changed the game. The $200 price point for an outstanding tablet device is causing the entire market to make these things affordable. We intentionally decided to kick-off a school-wide BYOD program for the January semester. This opens up the holiday season for parents and students to make some choices and take advantage of the door-buster deals. After that we can handle the truly needy given that that first semester will be a trial run for most of the teaching staff and therefore somewhat limited in scope.

    You are absolutely correct. Infrastructure, not devices, is the key.

  13. As a district we are spending just over $100 per student per year for 1:1 access. I agree with earlier comments, this is not about money, I think it is mostly about leadership understanding the true value and how to deal with the logistical concerns of 1:1. We have wrote about over views on Scott’s blog here and here . I also wrote about the “Opportunity Cost” of not choosing 1:1 here

  14. So after all the dialogue here is my take…

    I think there may be some confusion as to whether these are “permanent” devices in each classroom or whether the concept is for the school to provide a loaner to a student for the entire year, on premise and off. Those are two diametrically different arguments with significant cost and management differences. Clearly the latter carries with it a substantial funding burden not to mention the probability that more than 50% will be broken, lost or stolen before the end of year. I don’t believe Scott and others really think that this is feasible today, for every student in a school system grade 1-12.

    I also think that not everyone understands the diversity and complexity of the D (device). With due respect to Mr. Lincoln, not all devices are created equal. I don’t think everyone is on the same page as to what devices we are talking about; PC’s or MACs? Tablets/Pads? Smartphones? There is IOS, five different versions of Android, MAC/OS, Windows; etc. Not every system runs every program. I see no educational purpose whatsoever in allowing the 50% of the students (for instance) that have devices to bring them into each classroom. What … for note taking? For Googling? I guess if you want to allow this ok, but from an educators point of view there is no real “learning” benefit going on here.

    I believe the premise of this discussion is this – as a goal/vision schools should be investing at a 1:1 computing ratio in every classroom; using modern but standard equipment that allows the teachers to deliver a classroom experience with the aid of technology that each student can use in the same way.; Lessons, videos, maps, Wiki’s, social, whatever… Scott believes that if a BYOD/OT program is permitted, schools will back off this 1:1 concept and (wrongly) assume that the same educational result can be achieved at a fraction of the cost. I cannot believe school leaders or boards could be that ignorant of the real world. If BYOD/OT is supplemental to a 1:1 computer classroom program, then other than some distractions, maybe the benefits do outweigh the issues.

    Having said all of this, as mentioned previously, there is a guest post by Bryan Weinert about 1:1 computing and Google Chromebooks. Bryan clearly “gets it” and the Chromebook is a wonderful choice for a school system. The only thing I question in this model is that apparently the student’s take these as their own – rather than just in a classroom setting. That is another debate for another day.

  15. I have implemented a 1:1 BYOD program where students were required to bring their own powerful (emphasis on powerful) devices. We expected students to collaborate and jointly create. At the time we began, that meant netbook or more powerful. The iPad arrived shortly after and we excluded that as powerful device – It just didn’t do everything we expected. It still doesn’t.

    (We did provide netbooks to students who could not afford their own; now I would provide laptops.)

    Re: comments that imply that uniformity of device and software (“standard”) is necessary for effective teaching. That is erroneous. Any teacher who needs uniformity of devices and software must also need uniformity of students, and no school or classroom has uniform students.

    Re: comments that imply that keeping networks secure when students connect is difficult. That is erroneous. Any good network will have non-organization-controlled devices segregated and sequestered, and they most definitely should not be connecting to servers except through ports publicly opened on the Internet.

    Re: comments implying that a device like a Nexus 7 or iPad alone can create 1:1 programs. That belief is the real danger to realizing the power of technology in schools. Unfortunately, too many schools find that belief seductive and they do not realize they are aiming low.

    • Nathan Mielke (@ndmielke) Reply October 22, 2012 at 9:22 am

      Hi Derrel, I’d like to talk to you more about what you’ve done at your school. Can you email me at ndmielke at gmail dot com?

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