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Why BYOD is BAD

by Justin Marquis Ph.D.

Bring Your Own Device or BYOD is quickly becoming one of the big topics of discussion in public education (Livingston, 12 June, 2012). In an era of drastic budget cuts and rapid technological change, this is an extremely appealing policy in some regards because it frees schools of the primary obstacle to offering technology access to students – providing the actual technology. The reason that this is such a hotly-debated topic is because there are many valid reasons on both sides of the issue. A closer look at the concept and the arguments on both sides reveals that it is a policy that holds some merit but also that there may be real insurmountable issues with having students provide their own devices. Other possibilities for enabling all students to have high quality access both inside and outside of schools should also be considered.

What is BYOD?
The basic premise behind BYOD is that students in would be required to provide their own Internet connected devices to support their learning. The strategies range from BYOD as a supplement to existing school technology to BYOD as a replacement for school technology. The most often discussed challenges to this idea are network security, support for a diverse array of devices and operating systems, and maintaining the infrastructure for increased bandwidth and online storage. Despite these logistical challenges there are many reasons that BYOD is a good idea, but also an equal number of reasons that the policy could be harmful to some children as well as to education in general.

Arguments in Favor of BYOD
Without a consideration of the social issues surrounding BYOD policies there are many good reasons to support them in schools. This YouTube video by user cfiello provides a nice overview of the concept and some of the reasons that it could be a positive step for education.

Some other reasons that BYOD is gaining popularity include:

  • "Hardware is diverse and at price points that are more affordable" (Livingston, 2012). Tablet computers and even smart phones can provide relatively inexpensive PC alternatives for students to use in schools.
  • "Schools are hyper budget conscious" (Livingston, 2012). With a constant pressure to cut costs in education, slicing hardware and maintenance out of the budget provides a significant savings.
  • "The "cloud" is ideal for core apps which are free or inexpensive, such as Google" (Livingston, 2012). The Internet has exploded with free, open source options that are, in some cases, as good as the paid versions of programs.
  • "Parents are realizing that a digital device is necessary for learning" (Livingston, 2012). Technology literacy is best supported in the home where students have the opportunity to explore on their own and receive one on one support from parents, siblings and peers.
  • "Schools want to be sure students possess 21st Century skills" (Livingston, 2012). More and better technology access will help students gain these skills.
  • Low income students are more likely to use their phones to go online than computers (BYOD: Bring Your Own Device to School Initiative). Just because this is becoming a prevalent trend, does not mean that it is a good thing.

While these are all strong reasons to consider adopting BYOD policies in schools, there are counterpoints that are equally persuasive for arguing why BYOD is harmful to students.

Arguments against BYOD
In a budget-conscious world where education is being hit hard by deep cuts and an ever-increasing societal push towards individual responsibility for even the most basic necessities of life, BYOD can appear very appealing to those who wish to make education funding a political agenda item. But a move towards even a limited BYOD policy, which allows some students to bring their own devices to school, has serious repercussions. Amongst all the objections, two stand out above the rest:

Social stratification among students – One of the primary functions of schooling is to socialize students and there is immense pressure on them to conform to the dominant culture (Shanahan, 10 May, 2012). In schools with an economically diverse student population differences in personal wealth are going to be strikingly evident based on the type of device that each student is able to bring. Beyond that, the example from the cfiello video above presents a model in which individual students may be stigmatized by their inability to bring their own devices. Imagine an affluent school which draws a small portion of its students from a disadvantaged neighborhood. There is the potential for one or two students to be singled out by this policy on a daily basis.

Widening the digital divide between rich and poor schools – The other fundamental flaw in the idea of BYOD is evident at the school level. This problem stems from the economic issue of funding such a policy in schools that are situated in economically disadvantaged areas. In an area in which few or none of the students can afford to BYOD, the school is still reliant on state or federal funding to provide classroom technology (I don’t buy the "all students have smart phones" argument, having spent a good deal of time in the homes of students who don’t have enough food, clothing, or a mode of transportation, let alone an unlimited data plan). If BYOD becomes commonplace, it is easy to imagine a political push to mandate such a policy for all schools and further reduce technology funding to the schools that desperately need the support on the basis of the argument that "they bring their own devices, so we don’t have to fund them." Ultimately a policy like this will create a broader digital divide as those with no home access will also be deprived of in school computer, Internet, and technology access. Digitally separate is not equal.

Will BYOD be a Reality in K-12?
A more equitable policy for education and our policy makers to adopt would be PYWYOD – Provide You With Your Own Device. A policy like this, based on robust funding for all schools, would solve the infrastructure and support initiatives mentioned above and would help to ensure that all children have high quality access both in school and at home. A BYOD policy does not help students who do not have in home access, but providing them with a device would greatly decrease the digital divide.

Reforming education funding so that all children have access to devices that they can use in school and at home solves the almost all the problems with BYOD policies. PYWYOD would eliminate some of the social stratification, make tech support much easier, and most importantly, provide children who have no home access with a way to develop their tech literacy beyond the walls of the school where the most growth will happen.