A 20th Century Assumption Worth Questioning: School Provision of Technology

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Why I Think BYOD Makes Sense

1. Practicality

Since we started using computers in school for teaching and learning it has been an assumption that the school would provide the technology. For a decade, schools were jostling for funding to get more computers. Now most schools have a student:device ratio of 1:1. What hasn’t changed in many schools, is the 20th Century assumption that the technology students use at school, should be provided by the school.

I think it now makes more sense for that responsibility to be handed back to students and parents. I think we should expect students to bring their own technology, just as we expect them to bring their own uniform, stationary, PE gear, musical instruments and other requisites.

Last decade that would have been an unreasonable suggestion. In the past, a computer was expensive (and the more portable, the more expensive it was). Software was also very expensive. Installing and updating software could be complicated if parents were not very comfortable around computers. In addition there was the issue of viruses and other malware which schools could keep a lid on, only if they wrested the responsibility (and right) of management from the kids. Then of course, students needed to print out their work (how else could they hand it in?), so each device had to be configured to access network printers. Plus in a multiuser environment, students need somewhere to save and back up their work other than on the local hard drive, hence network storage was necessarily provided, too.

But now many of those technological premises are all but gone:

  • Hardware is considerably cheaper now in real terms than it once was, and in a surprising twist, the most affordable devices are now also generally the most portable! (MacBook Pro > MacBook Air > iPad > iPad mini).
  • Most software is now free or cheap. This is especially true on the iPad but there are also many freeware, shareware and Web 2.0 options for laptops.
  • Malware is of little concern on iPads, chromebooks or Apple laptops.
  • Installing and updating software – which once could be too complicated for some parents – is now relatively straightforward (and on the iPad is a cinch).
  • Printing work out on paper for submission to the teacher is a practice that we should be discouraging (It’s now the second decade of the 21st Century! Instead of asking our students to print work, we should be expecting them to publish it online to a real audience).
  • Storage was once provided by the school on a server. These days, there are plenty of cloud options (DropBox, Box, iCloud, SkyDrive, Google Drive, to name a few) not to mention USB flash drives which are now priced as stationary rather than technology.

Relinquishing responsibility for provision of technology to students/parents, saves schools a LOT of time and money in tech support, freeing up technicians to work on improving the network (instead of maintaining computers) while giving the students more control, familiarity and ownership of their devices.

2. Pedagogy

In addition to those practical reasons for a BYOD policy, I think there are good pedagogical reasons, too.  There is still in many of us, a compulsion to have all our students using the same software, to do the same task at the same time, and a feeling that we ourselves should have mastered whatever software we are having our students use.  In the past, when there was a scarcity of computers and you had to book a computer lab two weeks in advance, it made a lot of sense to operate that way. But not any more.  I think as we go forward into this decade, teachers should be delegating the responsibility for choice of tools to students and focussing less on the technology itself and more on the learning processes that are taking place in the class.  The very diversity of tools in a BYOD classroom will encourage (even force) that into being.

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(See also earlier post on 20th Century assumptions that are ripe for challenging.)


2 thoughts on “A 20th Century Assumption Worth Questioning: School Provision of Technology

    • I’m sure that some of them might. But if you wait until you have everyone’s approval before implementing a change, nothing will ever change. My own school is in a low socioeconomic district, so I am well aware of such issues. There were some (a small minority) parents who complained – and 97% of students turned up with a device on day 1, and 100% by the end of the second week. Our school did provide some options to students on low incomes (other than outright, upfront purchase). Where there is a will, there is a way.

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