Girl student seated on the top of her chair in class looking at her tablet

5 pros and cons of BYOD in schools

Imagine sitting in class, and the teacher announces that today’s assignment involves drafting an essay. She then distributes paper and pens to everyone.

These are not just any pens. They are all ballpoint pens, encased in a sleek aluminum tube. Although they each look the same, they’re numbered for collection at the end of the period. After all, the next class will have to use them, too, and pens don’t grow on trees.

Amid cries of, “But I don’t like ballpoint pens,” and, “I brought my own pen, why can’t I use it?” the teacher announces “These are school-approved ballpoint pens. What the students prefer is irrelevant, unfortunately. Everyone has the same tools with which to work in class. There’s no working on anything beyond the school day because the pens are locked up when the last class leaves.”

As you might expect, the pens wear down. They suffer from dings and chips and need their broken parts replaced. That costs the school money — not a lot, but the point remains.

An outrageous example? Perhaps not. We do the same thing with technology in schools everywhere. Schools buy electronic devices, number and distribute them for use in class, and then lock them up at the end of the day. A technical support team troubleshoots and repairs broken devices as needed.

There are those who would be quick to point out that computers, tablets, and even calculators cost much more than a pen. Many students own mobile devices — their own “pens” — that perform the same functions as the school equipment, and they bring these devices to school with them every day.

Dictating what kinds of instruments students should use to learn in class seems silly when we’re talking about pens or rulers. But it’s a contentious topic when it comes to educational technology. Nevertheless, there are pros and cons of establishing a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policy in schools. Let’s explore both sides of the issue.

3 pros of bringing your own device

Once only a concern for businesses, bring-your-own-device technology initiatives have recently been growing in popularity among schools. Several reasons make BYOD adoption attractive in an educational setting.

student working on both his laptop and his tablet in class
Photo credit: Google

1. Students are more likely to use familiar devices

If you want students to do their work, let them use the tools and devices they know. They can customize their smartphones and tablets by downloading the apps they find most useful (and that the school permits on their network). Being comfortable with devices comes from hours of practice – on their own time. That’s precious time most teachers can’t afford to give up in the classroom.

Eager students are willing to learn how to use their personal technology in class. They’re also likely to take better care of their own devices than ones distributed by their instructor since they’re responsible for any misuse or damage.

hands holding a piggy bank with pennies under
Photo credit: Rawpixel.com

2. BYOD is cost effective

With school budgets frequently slashed, it’s unreasonable to assume that a school will be able to keep up with the latest technology trends. In fact, technology is advancing quite rapidly — it’s estimated that schools will spend $19 billion globally on classroom technology in 2019 alone. Even though schools have access to affordable technology, they often must finance their own purchases. The newest educational technology devices become outdated before the loan is even paid off. A BYOD policy encourages students and their parents to share some of the cost.

adult looking at a tablet with a child looking as well seating on a couch
Photo credit: Michael Morse

3. Learning extends beyond the classroom

BOYD begins at school, but its effect transcends classroom walls. After school, students can access the same educational software and apps because they own the electronic devices used in the classroom. After all, learning doesn’t have to stop just because the school day has ended.

2 cons of a schoolwide BYOD policy

Establishing a BYOD policy won’t create an idyllic environment of educational technology. And it’s by no means a replacement for traditional instruction and learning methods. Let’s consider some of the negatives.

multiple tablets on a table with the same software loaded
Photo credit: Google

1. Not all students own devices, and some of their technology may be obsolete

Implementing a BYOD policy doesn’t solve the problem of fair access to technology. In some cases, the digital divide makes it worse. Some students may not have personal devices, or the mobile tech they do have is outdated.

Less privileged students need to borrow school equipment to work on assignments after hours, but they may need offline activities if they have limited or no internet access. Consequently, schools will still have to maintain an inventory of educational technology devices for student use.

computer screen with the word security written
Photo credit: Pixabay

2. Providing network access and preventing breaches can be tricky

Network access for personal technology devices requires a two-pronged approach. Having a robust wireless network is the first step in implementing a BYOD plan for your school. Good security is second. Small, rural, or low-income schools may have difficulty building the necessary foundation for a successful BYOD policy.

Moreover, schools must use reasonable methods to protect student privacy. By allowing students’ personal devices to connect to their network, schools may run the risk of exposing themselves to cyber attacks and phishing.

Making BYOD work in your school

If you decide to adopt a BYOD policy, think carefully about how to implement the initiative. Making a sensible plan is the first step to enhancing education with technology. Here are some factors to consider:

  • Inviting students to bring any technology they like can spell trouble. Schools can and should establish a BYOD policy, and clearly specify permitted devices. Identify the preferred platform, which generations your network can support, and the prohibited devices (like gaming systems or desktops).
  • Review the school’s Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) for language that clearly establishes parameters for working on the school’s network. The AUP should prohibit downloading any apps that could present a security threat or violate the law.
  • Teach students how to be responsible netizens; good cyber citizenship is a learned skill. In BYOD schools, students may find it easier to cheat on exams or cyberbully their peers. Educators must work as a team to monitor student activity on the network, providing redirection as necessary.
  • Adopting a BYOD policy without preparing the teachers causes frustration and reluctance, not opportunity. Provide teachers with the professional development they need to instruct and guide their students.

Using educational technology to support instruction benefits teachers and students alike.

A well-thought-out BYOD policy bridges the gap between tech funding and extended learning opportunities and places technology in the hands of those who need it the most: Classroom learners.

Photo credit: Google

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