Friday, April 05, 2013

Thoughts on Bring Your Own Device to School

I seldom pay attention to the cars that students drive to school. I’m not that interested. Their technology on the other hand does interest me. I see all manner of smart phones for example. iPhones are not uncommon for example. I’m seeing more and more computing devices as well. I see any number of iPads for example. Today I noticed an impressive setup connecting an audio device and an external hard drive to a laptop being used by a student in the study hall I monitor.
Seems like a lot to carry around but this student is apparently pretty serious about their music. As a general rule I’m fine with students listening to music as long as they are doing work and not disturbing others around them. In any case this got me thinking a bit more about students bringing their own devices to school.
I see a lot of positive about this. Creativity is a good thing and students are more likely to get creative with their own devices. In fact with the way many school owned systems are locked down I worry that school owned systems discourage creativity. Well with the exception of students finding creative ways to break through the locks of course. I know that a lot of students will be spending time on these creative efforts at home if they are not allowed at school. So one might say that forbidding BYOD will not stop students. There is truth to that of course. On the other hand it leads students towards separating school from creative efforts and that is a bad thing.
A lack of freedom in school is one reason why students see school as a punishment and as a limiting place. For adults we want to see school as a place where students horizons are expanded and their futures become less limited. The question of what to allow becomes a tight balancing act. We want students to be quiet, to pay attention, to do what they are told and to follow the rules. At the same time we want them to be inquisitive, creative, and imaginative. Confusing enough for adults let alone students.
Students today are using their devices in many ways. Communication being one thing. Games being another. With communication (in schools) we worry (rightly so too often) and cheating. With games we worry about students not paying attention. We forget how easy it was for some of us to stop paying attention in school without games when we were students. Personally I used to read books when I was supposed to be paying attention on more occasions than I should probably admit. And books are “good.” Smile
I also see students using their devices for learning though. One student in my programming class regularly uses the school computer for the programming project but has his notes or the documentation open on his personal laptop. Bonus! Of course it makes me wish I had dual monitors on the lab computers so that all the students could do that sort of thing.
Other students will be using their personal laptops to do school work in the cafeteria during lunch or homeroom or after school. Still others will use them to create documents or images or what not with tools that they were able to acquire for their personal systems that the school could not afford site licenses for easily.
Student owned devices can make learning more personal. There is always the issue that not everyone can afford these devices though. The digital divide between the more well off and the less well off is never going to go away. I’m not sure the answer is to prohibit the more well off from using their devices in school though. In fact many students are more than happy to share some use of their devices with others. Having the device at school makes that easier not harder. Also I suspect we can learn a lot about how to use these devices for education by watching the students who do have them and how they use them to learn.
Still we should make sure that all students have access to computing devices while they are at school. How to make that happen is going to depend a lot on the school and budgets of course. It’s not an easy question in the current financial climate. But unless all parts of society get access to technology things can only get worse.


Garth said...

One of my teachers pointed something out to me I had never considered. She did not want laptops in her classroom because the kids have a tendency to "hide" behind the screens and not interact in a group setting. The physical barrier is not something I had even considered. For this reason she wanted to use only iPads. The iPads sit flat so the kids cannot hide. If only the Surface Pro was affordable.

Jim Peters said...

Ha. It was not so long ago that I was in a classroom teaching "theory" about programming and web development to my class. In those three years it took 2 to get a computer, screen and projector working. Never did use the 6 computers on the side of the room. Why? It was an English classroom. I was borrowing it for 1 or 2 periods a day. Wished I had some way to bring technology for the kids to use. nope, struggled enough with working from text books. and doing power points. cell phones were banned. no wifi coverage throughout the building. It was 2009 - 2011.

Alfred Thompson said...

Garth, I can see students "hiding" as a potential problem. But I also think they can hide behind a lot of things. For me that is a classroom management problem as much, if not more, than a technology problem.

Jim, I've seen problems like that in a lot of schools. It's a problem of trust - administrators and tech support not trusting teachers and students. It can be a huge problem.