By Dr. Ramiro Zuniga
Many school districts are still struggling with the decision of whether or not to incorporate a BYOT strategy in their schools. But what exactly is BYOT? BYOT stands for Bring Your Own Technology. The basic premise of this philosophy is that students are allowed to bring in their personal laptops, cell phones, tablets, and other mobile devices to use throughout their instructional day. As common with new technologies impacting schools, proponents of BYOT suggest that this will revolutionize education. Those against BYOT suggest that it would cause more damage than good. Is there a middle ground? Perhaps, but there are real concerns related to BYOT and a good understanding must be reached before any such implementation should take place.
Advocates of BYOT often question why BYOT has not caught on with most districts. After all, BYOT would allow students instantaneous resources from around the world at their fingertips. BYOT would allow students to seamlessly communicate with students from their school or other schools. Students would no longer have to carry heavy books, as all books could be read on digital devices.
So here, I will present some of the major concerns with BYOT that school districts are facing. Perhaps an understanding of the concerns might shed light on why schools are still struggling with BYOT.
For the network administrators working, “behind the scenes,” BYOT could be disastrous. It is very difficult controlling the spread of viruses using district owned computers using district purchased software. It would not be feasible for the district to install such software on personal devices.
A constant concern with technology is the expectation that technicians and technologists understand how to use all new applications. With mobile technology especially, new apps are being created daily. It is impossible for a technician or technologist to be aware of all applications being brought in through BYOT, let alone know how they work.
Many teachers are concerned that students will be distracting from learning, as many will access non-instructional material at all times. Think of how many students would rather watch music videos or chat on a social networking site as opposed to conducting research.
It is no secret that students, even within protected school networks, are downloading movies. Many fear that this activity will explode if students are allowed to use their own devices on
Teachers, today, have the ability to monitor what a student is accessing via a district owned computer. This capability is not possible with BYOT devices. This leads teachers to worry about whether students will be more apt to cheat and whether they would even know. It is possible for students to quickly find answers to questions on the internet. It is just as easy to text answers across the room or campus during an exam, again without the teacher’s knowledge.
A lot of teachers have the fear of being “shown up,” by a student or “learning from a student.” This fear, although rooted in outdated pedagogy, still exists today. Teachers still feel that they should be the individuals holding the most knowledge in the class.
Another fear that teachers have expressed is that they are afraid students might record them and post it on the internet in an edited fashion. As we all have seen, it is far too easy to post a recording of someone, completely out of context.
Know that school districts, receiving e-rate funding, are legally bound by the Children’s Internet Protection Act of 2000. This law requires school districts to maintain policies and procedures that protect students from accessing inappropriate material via the internet. School districts are not clear on whether school districts will be held liable if students access inappropriate materials via the school district network via personal devices.
Many argue that BYOT will amplify the inequities between students that have access to mobile technology and those that do not. Teachers and school leaders have long held the belief that the students should seem as homogenous as possible. They know that many parents cannot afford to provide their children with such technology. They feel that students that do not have access to mobile technology will feel embarrassed or inferior. Such feelings, in their eyes, are just not conducive to optimal learning. Can the district afford to provide mobile devices to all students that do not already have access to such technology?
BYOT, however, brings an added twist. Parents may not want to provide their children with smart phones and similar devices. They may not want their children to access the internet without their personal supervision. Is it right to override parental wishes?
So What’s the Plan?
As I stated in the beginning, school districts cannot enter this realm in ignorance or complacency. School leaders must ensure that as many questions and concerns be addressed prior to implementation. Policies need to be in place to deal with those abusing the BYOT privilege. In addition, these policies must be communicated and more importantly enforced.
I personally believe that it is too early to tell whether BYOT will be accepted across all schools. As with any technology, I prefer to observe and study before I take a major leap. I believe, as with any implementation, if things are not done correctly, it will cause more harm than good. That is to say that BYOT, in and of itself, may not cause more harm but the failure to ensure safety and productivity surely will.