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BYOD the Next Big Thing? I Do Not Think So!

When I went to school way, way back in the previous millennium, I would find there pencils, paper, crayons, and everything I needed to do my work. As I got older, sure, I had to bring a binder as well as pens and pencils, but everything else was there for me to use.

Flash forward to when my kids first went to school. Someone had figured out a great way for schools to save money – have each child bring in his or her school supplies. Each year, starting from kindergarten, we parents received a list of all the items we needed to send in with our child – from pencils, to notebooks, to markers and glue, to boxes of tissue, hole punches, and cleaning supplies.

Was this funding shift celebrated? No way. It was met with sadness and many an article bemoaning the sad state of public school funding now that public school was no longer ‘free’. For too many, ‘free’ public school was beginning to be costly. Funding organizations organized charity drives to collect donated supplies for children who couldn’t afford these ever-growing lists of essentials (and, no one denied that at least some of these items were essential). Yes, many people had pencils and paper at home already, it’s true, but the extensive list of what to bring to school was burdensome, and often incredibly detailed, including things like ‘1 box 184 count Kleenex and ‘Crayola 7 inch pre-sharpened colored pencils - 12 count’. And, although the pencils used at school didn’t impact any larger system or create added work for any technician, the type of pencil was clearly specified. No hard no. 5 pencils, no way. No. 2 Ticonderoga pencils, only, please.

Unfortunately, no one coined a cute name for this practice. No catchy sound-bytes. No major BYOS (Bring Your Own Stuff) announcements. Big mistake.

Flash forward to today. School supply lists continue to grow; no one is happy. But, then something else gets added.

“You have some type of digital device lying around at home? Add it to the school supply list. Oh, you don’t? – come on, every child has some type of digital device in his/her pocket, even if it’s phone-sized. Type of device doesn’t matter as long as it can connect to the internet.”

“But,” you ask, ‘If one kid has a Macbook Air and another a phone?”

“Doesn’t matter. They’ll work it out (although the kid with the phone usually has more to ‘work out’.) Plus, now the kids have ‘voice and choice’ - they can ‘choose’ to use what they want to use and are already familiar with.” (While in reality, they ‘choose’ what they can afford, even, if given a real choice, they’d select something else.)

But - instead of quietly adding this item to the already long supply list, some clever wordsmith decided to give this funding ploy a catchy name - BYOD - and make it a ‘thing.’ Now it’s no longer an old uncomfortable pattern of shifting the funding of certain items to parents, a pattern that we’ve learned to tolerate – it’s now the NEXT BIG THING.


Call me old-fashioned, but I’d like to believe that the next big thing will be, I don’t know – a BIG THING, something truly transformative.

BYOD, a funding tactic, doesn’t seem to qualify and shouldn’t become an end in itself (or the topic of endless conference sessions). Talk of this ‘big thing’ is distracting too many people from focusing on the bigger, more challenging ideas, like what does all this technology make possible in terms of learning, what are the new roles of educators and students now that technology is permeating every aspect and fiber of our lives, and what does all this mean in terms of the meaning and role of school. Educators need to focus here – no one is better prepared than they to tackle these questions.

Work these out and you’ll really have the Next Big Thing.
June 17th, 2014 @ 11:30AM