Anytime Anywhere Learning
More information »

Bring Your Own What, and Why?

At several recent conferences at which I have been speaking, there has been a lot of interest in the concept of students bringing their own computers, laptops, technology or devices…depending on how you like your acronym. I think it warrants further discussion.

On the surface it would seem natural that this is something AALF would fully support, and, in broad principle, of course we do. Our vision is for every child to have access to his or her own ‘personal portable computer’ to enable more powerful learning experiences..and, in part this is what is driving the current fascination with BYO. However, I fear there is much more to this than meets the eye.

First, there is motivation. There is no question that much of this discussion has been led by the dramatic increase in some demographics, with students buying their own various pieces of technology. The obvious question becomes why should it remain as something about which the school makes the decision? The second driver that is motivating this idea is the significant cut in funding to schools that as happening in some countries, most notably the US. A number of school districts and states that have previously funded their 1:1 initiatives through state grants or district funding are now challenged on finding sustainable funding.

So then the question becomes, what will students bring?

As always, there are a few people always looking for the ‘next big idea”, so currently we are being overwhelmed by the pocket electronic whiteboards or iPads, but discussions usually include phones and any sort of gadget with a screen. Seems the last thing anyone wants to ask is, ‘What will they want to do with it?’ For one, I’m happy if at least there is some agreement that you want them to be able to do basic computing functions, such as easily construct ideas, knowledge, share thinking and at all times be creative.

Then there is the issue of implementation. Currently very few corporations allow their staff to ‘bring their own’ laptops…and they usually have 4 to 5 times the technical support; how will schools manage this? …aha, I hear you say…virtualization...well yes...and no. Costs are currently a serious issue and managing such an environment is still a challenge for most schools…however, yes, over time this may underpin an option; but I doubt it is viable at this time.

Other ‘small’ issues like low cost software licensing, dependable onsite 12 hour turnaround servicing, loaner machines, security, and the classroom management benefits of a homogenous operating environment also need to be addressed in real detail.

The principles on which AALF was founded and on which we have given advice for nearly 15 years still apply. At all times, our priority must be to ensure any 1:1 program provides for ALL students and can be sustained in the long-term and not just dependent on the whims and fancies of political, technological and policy leadership.

This has always been at the core of our recommendation for the co-funded and Shared Cost Model of funding. Our early experiences taught us, and many schools, that given that one of the benefits from an effective 1:1 program would be to provide 24/7 access, there is a reasonable expectation that parents should make some contribution for the 80% of the time their son or daughter could now use a laptop for personal use outside school. However, I’m not sure why we can now suddenly expect parents to pick up 100% of the cost...by bringing their own! Given the challenges many school leaders often raise about asking parents to make a small contribution to a co-funded model, it seems a little incongruous that simply relabeling the program with a three letter acronym will erase these concerns and address all the core principles that have to date underpinned the success of 1:1 worldwide.

Finally, there is the core issue of equity. You don’t solve a lack of funding by passing 100% of the cost to parents, and expect that to be a viable option for ALL parents. We currently DON’T have any problems with viability, sustainability or scalability with the thousands of 1 to 1 programs currently operating around the world...but I suspect we certainly will have with many of the BYO programs being considered.

We are most likely going to see a gradual shift of the responsibility for the provision of a personal portable computer for our students from schools to families, as costs come down further, and computers are commoditized even more. But it will take time for the most effective funding, implementation and management models to be developed, and I expect they will, for the most part, be blended models that provide for all the challenges I have outlined above.

Above all we must continually remind ourselves to not be distracted from our core purpose.

….and as always, I’m most interested in your thoughts…

Best regards,

July 13th, 2011 @ 5:36PM

Thoughts about BYOL
I appreciate your blog post, Bruce. You've asked some really important questions that everyone should be thinking about when it comes to BYOL programs. As someone who just walked the BYOL journey this past school year, I thought I'd offer up some thoughts about the challenges you bring up in your post.

We launched our BYOL program this past January with our 7th graders. It was an overwhelming success in several key ways:

--Out of 559 7th graders, we had 353 students bring in their own laptop, netbook or tablet pc. Add that to the 160 district owned devices and it's easy to see that one of our major goals was met...to increase access to technology for ALL 7th graders. I can say with complete confidence that a device was available to any 7th grader, during the school day, whenever the learning called for it.

--As for the students who were unable/unwilling to purchase their own device, I guess I would again ask the question, did we successfully increase access to technology so that learning could continue without the barrier of having to check out a cart of laptops, say next Tuesday when the cart was available? Yes. Those students who did not own their own device still had more hands on time with a device than before we launched the BYOL and it was when the learning called for it. No, they didn't have a device to take home with them (something we're still exploring) but neither did they before the BYOL.

--Servicing computers--we didn't. It was made clear to the parents that they owned the device...they would be responsible for upkeep of it. We suggested places to take the device if it needed service. We encouraged them to get insurance. Really, it was no different than when i take my device to Starbucks; Starbucks does not assume responsibility for my device...I do. If we continue to expect school districts to not only purchase the devices but also maintain them, we will surely never see students having access to a computer when they need it.

--By allowing an assortment of devices, in addition to intensive professional development focused on instruction and learning, we were able to move our teachers towards a student-centered way of thinking about learning. No more standardizing the learning.

Were there and are there still many challenges facing us? You bet. We recognize that we still have many hurdles ahead of us; we are committed to finding ways to put a device into the hands of all students but we're leveraging the parents' desire to support us in this journey. I contend that we find ways to get students musical instruments when they can't afford it; we find ways to send kids to camp when they can't afford it; and yet we can't find a way to put a critical learning tool in the hands of kids who can't afford it?

Finally, what I know for sure is that our district would never have been able to afford a true 1:1 laptop program and quite frankly, I'm no longer convinced that that would be the best solution for us; we're really not interested in our students having the same device; it simply is not reflective of the real world. Instead, we're teaching our students how to select the best computer and the most appropriate tools for their individual needs. I realize not all districts are in the same boat as us; that it is entirely possible that we will be forced to think innovatively when it comes to finding ways to make sure our students have access to the tools they need in order to be successful learners. I suggest we find a place...a space...where all of us can come together to share our thoughts, ideas and solutions for making sure our children are not left in a world they simply do not recognize.
Posted By: Cary Harrod on July 13th, 2011 @ 6:49PM
food for thought...
Thank you Cary and Bruce. This is a really timely discussion for me. I have just been discussing this with out IT manager and we are planning to have several discussions on this very issue. At the moment we do not have a laptop plan at the school and we are looking at what the future holds for us. I am keen for the students to use technology, but don't have any hard and fast views about what type of technology. I can definitely see problems with students having their own devices; things like using a Learning Management system within the school - will all devices be able to access it well? Cary, you have answered the question that I had about maintenance but I also have one about software. If several students have different types of software, then it will mean that teachers need to adjust to that. For instance, I won't simply be able to set up a lesson where the students collaborate using OneNote. However, there are alternatives, such as Windows Skydrive and GoogleDocs.
One thing that I am adamant on is that if students are using devices, regardless of where they come from, they should not have to carry lots of textbooks and paper materials with them. This means that we need to move to another type of information sharing and lesson planning.
I have had great experiences in my own classes with students using their own devices, so I'm not advocating that they shouldn't. We use GoogleDocs and had a ning that students even accessed from their phones, but clearly a 1:1 program has advantages in the classroom as well.
You really have given me lots to think about and your point about some schools and affordability is an important one too. Again, if parents are paying for devices for education, then we should not then be asking them to shell out for textbooks worth hundreds of dollars.
I feel more research coming on....
Posted By: Louise Robinson-Lay on July 19th, 2011 @ 1:13AM
Uh huh
Thanks for your thoughtful response, Louise. You say,

"If several students have different types of software, then it will mean that teachers need to adjust to that."

That is precisely the point. What technology affords us is the opportunity to personalize learning. My job as an educator is to teach my students how to select and use the tools that will help them learn better...give them a variety of ways to show what they know and understand. Does it really matter if they use Microsoft Word or Google Docs? Yes, it might make my life as a teacher a bit more challenging but it isn't about me; it's about preparing these kids for a radically different future.

In my reply to Bruce, I said I wasn't really interested in the students having the same device because I don't want the learning to be cookie cutter; I want it to reflect the learner. For years, teachers have been told to differentiate for their learners; a great idea but difficult to do in a class of 25+ students. Technology, if used authentically, is a natural differentiator; it allows the students to personalize their learning.

We have had to come up with some creative ways to bring some consistency to the evaluation process. We use Schoology as our learning management system so we have a central portal where students can congregate and turn work in. An interesting challenge arose this past year when the LMS wouldn't accept certain file formats; the students were forced to figure out how to turn in their assignments if it wasn't the correct file format. Hmmm...sounds eerily like 21st Century thinking, eh?

I do not mean to trivialize the enormity of what our teachers are being called upon to do which is why it is so much more than handing a piece of equipment to students; it truly is changing the learning environment. You can find out more about our pilot project here: http://fhsdppl.wetpaint.com.
Posted By: Cary Harrod on July 21st, 2011 @ 7:46AM