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When it’s BYOD, Bring Your Own Device

Recent learning initiatives are allowing students to bring their own devices (BYOD) or technology (BYOT) (i.e., smartphones, tablets, and laptops) to class. While this concept is not new to higher education, where college students have been bringing their own computers to class for many years, it is growing in popularity at the K-12 level and raising questions about access at all levels of education.

A departure from the strict policies that have been in place at many schools, BYOD presents both benefits and challenges for all involved in providing access to learning activities and resources for students through a variety of technologies and applications. These initiatives bring a hybrid or blended model to the learning environment in which online and in-person components are more integrated throughout. Hanover Public School District is just one example of the BYOD change in approach and policies driving this practice, with the goal of "increas[ing] the access all students have to the technology they need to succeed."


The Challenge of Doing it Well


As with most educational technology initiatives, BYOD is encountering both successes and challenges as students, teachers, and institutions work through the details of project implementation. One potential benefit to students is choice. Bringing a device with which they can access course materials, communication tools, and external web-based resources, means choosing among many options (e.g., iPad, laptop). A disadvantage is that costs are involved on the student side (and for their parents in K-12 setting) when a device is required but not provided by the school. However, a choice does mean that students can choose from a wide range of pricing options.

For instructors, especially those in face-to-face settings, BYOD means having access to technology in the classroom or wherever they meet with students, without requiring a special visit to the library or media lab. This opens up the possible use of additional digital resources and web-based applications, such as eBooks. This access to broader resources opens up more student-focused strategies through a variety of applications.

Online and in-person elements come together through techniques such as's "10 Unique Lesson Ideas for BYOD and BYOT,"  which includes recommendations for polling, flashcards, and podcasts as well as use of QR codes, text messaging, and communication tools. Educator Jackie Gerstein's post, "First Class Ice Breakers Using Mobile Devices" provides additional ideas that are appropriate for all levels of learning, from elementary to graduate students, which address "the importance of being a class focusing on the learners in the room as opposed to the content to be covered" at the start of a new term.

At the institutional level there are also costs involved in providing wireless Internet access throughout school facilities. Providing bandwidth may, or may not be, less expensive than maintaining computer labs. Making this access secure for students and instructors is another challenge that often requires revised policies and guidelines for all users. And while schools may have help desks and tech support available, they are not usually equipped to troubleshoot all types of hardware. This leaves students, and potentially their instructors, on their own to solve any problems they may encounter with their devices.

In order to maximize the possibilities and minimize the distractions in a BYOD learning environment a balance must be struck in which effective strategies for use of a range of devices are identified and disseminated to educators. A recent article in THE Journal entitled "7 Myths about BYOD Debunked" reminds us that success in technology integration initiatives doesn’t just happen. Instructors will need guidance and training to prepare them for the experience of having students with different technologies in their classrooms, as well as support throughout BYOD implementation. 

It appears that many schools are realizing the potential of student-owned technology. Educator and K-12 school administrator Ryan Bretag blogs that "BYOD has done exactly what it was targeted to do: 1) empower students to leverage their devices for learning, and 2) trust students to utilize their devices openly and responsibly instead of punishing them." With a reported 75% of teens having cell phones, and smartphone and tablet ownership on the rise, BYOD will likely become more prevalent.


Implications for Online Learning


Online students have been bringing their own devices to the learning environment for a while now. Without the availability of campus-based computer labs or programs where laptops are provided through an academic program, each learner is responsible for obtaining his or her own device and Internet connection. There have been requirements put in place by most schools that dictate specifics in terms of platforms and operating systems, however, this may be changing as applications such as Blackboard Mobile become increasingly available and allow access to online courses via tablets and smartphones.

Adult online learners may also be involved in BYOD initiatives in the workplace, which are not new, but are gaining popularity. Once prohibited from use in the office, individual ownership of mobile technologies is increasing and employers are encouraging the use of these personal devices for work purposes, often in lieu of providing computers to employees. For this group of online students, BYOD is not news at all, but instead a familiar way to both work and learn.

Image credit: University of Michigan MSIS, Flickr, CC-BY 

January 31st, 2012 written by Staff Writers

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