Are we preparing our students for the world with skills that will help them be successful in today’s work environment, or are we pressing for skills needed for a time gone by? Today’s world is constantly evolving and changing. Adults who wish to remain relevant must be prepared to be flexible by keeping current with new technology and agile enough to bend with a changing world. Independent learning, whether on the job or in school, is and will be connected, mobile and on-demand. Long gone are the days of the “three Rs” designed to prepare workers for industry. We now live in the days of the “four Cs:” communication, creativity, critical thinking and collaboration.
Living in the digital age
Our children were born into a digital world. For adults, this presents a challenge because no matter how well educated we are in the field of technology, we can never think like our kids do simply because in our formative years, we were not immersed in a multi-media world where answers are just a click away. This is how they think and learn; to keep them from these educational tools can be frustrating for them. Imagine if previous generations were asked to read a sundial to determine the time, unroll scrolls to find information and use a quill to take notes. Wouldn’t they question, “Why can’t we just use a watch, pencils and books like we do at home?”
As the smartphone revolution swung into full gear, more and more students came to school with devices that were regularly confiscated. Some teachers felt the futility of these policies. Instead of telling students to put the phone away, why not allow them access to the powerful learning tool lurking in their backpacks? Surely the student must think, “I could do this work much faster with virtually limitless access to real time content if I could just turn on my phone and do a quick search.”
Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) is a program that allows students to bring their laptops, tablets or smartphones to use at school for educational use. The use of technology encourages ownership of student’s learning, access to online instructional material and real-time information. BYOD programs have the benefit of access advantage: anytime, anywhere and any device.
The initial “sounds great, let’s go!” response to the benefits is tempered by the challenges even a well-run BYOD program must face.
• Security concerns, such as data protection, must be addressed. In order to protect student and school-related information, it is recommended that the network used by students be separate from the one used by teachers and administrators.
• Authentication procedures must be put in place to ensure only authorized users can connect to the network.
• While student privacy is a concern, school staff must be able to monitor what websites students are using on the school network, just as teachers are accountable to administration during their connection at school.
• While the school budget does not need to include as many tablets or laptops, there is an initial cost of expanding the infrastructure needed to support the bandwidth student-use brings.
• Even though families shoulder the cost to purchase and maintain the device, there are costs of planning and implementing a BYOD program, including extensive teacher training and continued support, and expanding the technological infrastructure.
* There will also be time pressure on district and school administration to plan and present parent information sessions and student training.
• With an increase of duties, a district may have to hire more technology support staff.
Implementing a BYOD program requires a buy-in from all stakeholders, including school and district-level administrators, teachers, students and parents. Teachers may be skeptical and wonder, “How will I incorporate these devices into our activities and routine?” and, “How will I monitor how the devices arebeing used?” Actually, this is an issue with any classroom materials. When a student is supposedly reading a textbook in class, he may be drawing pictures on the borders, writing love or hate notes to classmates or reading a comic book hidden in the pages. Teachers need to be reassured that with a little adjustment, they have the skills needed to monitor the use of devices. Students’ Internet usage will be monitored and reported. Teachers also need to be reassured that they will receive training and on-going support. What about the kids without a device? Is this furthering the socio-economic divide? Districts plan to meet this challenge by providing technology in the classrooms so kids without a device can participate. Teachers may plan for students to break into groups with the owners of the tablet, laptop or smartphone placed in different groups. Sharing computers has always been a practice in classrooms; having more devices means less kids will have to share the ones already avilable.
Concerned parents worry that along with binders, calculators, tissues and hand sanitizer, a laptop or tablet may be added to the list of school supplies. They also worry about their child being pressured to share an expensive piece of equipment with children they may not trust. Leaving a sweatshirt or gym shoes at school is a hassle, but the possibility of leaving a tablet behind, or a tablet being broken, is enough to make some parents say “no, you cannot bring your iPad to school.”
Do your homework
Many local schools and districts are implementing BYOD programs, or are in the midst of researching the feasibility of getting onboard. As stakeholders, there are some questions you can ask policymakers in your district:
• Will students be trained in Internet safety, security and privacy?
• How will the devices be used as educational tools?
• How will schools handle issues of security, theft or damage?
• Will student privacy be put in jeopardy with a room full of digital cameras and access to text messaging, email and social network sites?
• What is the cost to the district in comparison with buying the devices using money from the budget?
• Will the device be protected with Internet filters?
• What support and encouragement will you give teachers?
Any time of transition can be tricky, but when done right, the end result is usually worth the growing pains. The ultimate truth remains: schools must catch up with the rest of the society in order to give
students the learning tools and the skills that are relevant to our lives today. The question is how we get technology into the classroom; BYOD can be the next step.
Jennifer VanBuren, educator and child advocate, is also a mother to three school-aged children.