BYOD: Key to Active 3 Screen Day, Not An Equity Solution

“You’re already BYOT but you won’t admit it,” Jill Hobson told a group of superintendents. Hobson is the Director of Instructional Technology of Forsyth County Schools. A few years ago, Hobson and a group of Forsyth teachers piloted Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) and convinced the school board to update their Acceptable Use Policy to allow students to bring their own laptops, phones, and tablets to school—and put them to use (see video).

As noted in the Blended Learning Implementation Guide (BLIG), Hobson “was referring to the fact that, despite policies to the contrary, most students bring their own technology to school. “We ask them to power down and pretend not to notice that they don’t. Every school is a BYOT school, but only a few acknowledge and leverage the fact.”

On the rise.  A survey last year of IT professionals in higher education and K-12 districts in the United States and the United Kingdom found that only six percent of respondents reported that their institution had no BYOD policy and no plans to implement one. The survey does indicate that higher education is outpacing K–12 in the use of student-owned devices, with 89 percent of respondents from colleges and universities reporting they allowed students to use their own devices and only 44 percent of K–12 participants reporting the same, but the trend is growing.

Tight district budgets are one of the reasons for a 47 percent growth in BYOD programs according to the latest Project Tomorrow report.

Extra, not equity. Allowing students to bring their own devices to school will improve student access, but it won’t close the digital divide without a good plan. The best solution is for schools to provide every student with a take home device–a production device with keyboard for secondary students.  That costs less than $250 per student per year and can be phased in over a couple years along with gradual budget reallocations.  (See 10 reasons the Moorseville 1:1 works.)

If a school can’t quite afford to give every student a device, in the BLIG we advised that “BYOD should be combined with school-provided devices available for checkout and take-home use (with a parent-signed acceptable use form).” To reduce the stigma associated with a school-provided devices, schools should promote periods of group work and peer-to-peer learning.

Schools should purchase at least enough devices to support state online assessment on a reasonable schedule and support the baseline instructional needs of the school.

3 screen day. Most of us learn and work on 2 or 3 screens–students should have the same opportunity to use the right device for the right job and the right time.  Sometimes a mobile consumption device is just right. Sometimes a keyboard and a 13 inch screen is the best tool for writing and editing. It’s nice to have a phone and a tablet or laptop for conducting interviews. Sometimes a big screen for sharing or creating is a must.

Three screens can be a great way to learn, but few schools can provide all three. BYOD should be used to create a high-access environment—a three-screen day that includes a mobile device, a production device, and a large sharing/editing screen (e.g., an interactive whiteboard).

Policy guidance. For educators who are thinking about adopting BYOD and/or revising internet policies and need a place to start planning policy check out the CoSN report

Rethinking Acceptable Use Policies to Enable Digital Learning: A Guide for School Districts (Revised 2013).

For more on BYOD, see these Getting Smart features:

And, check out these BYOD resources:

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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