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Essentially, there are two strategies. Schools can issue district-approved devices to students or adopt the Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) method.
The district-issued strategy can involve a partnership with Apple, Microsoft or another provider. The schools must research and select a device that fits the needs of their students. The BYOT strategy allows students to bring smartphones, tablets or laptops from home to use as learning tools. Each method has its own plusses and minuses.
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Reasons for School-Supplied Devices
When all students carry the same district-approved device, the IT department can easily solve technology problems. They will be specialists on the device. They will have spare parts. They will swiftly respond to trouble.
Also, teachers will be able to deliver lesson plans in one form for one device. Students will view the content in the same form. Their machines will respond to the network at the same speed. There will be no inequity in device performance.
The district will control what software and apps are on each device. Filters, firewalls and security can be specialized to the students' technology. Parents and teachers can be assured control.
Furthermore, there will be no rift between the high and low-income students. Everyone will carry the same device. No one will be picked on for being unable to BYOT. School is tough enough when you're teased about your clothes, car, family and home. Don't put students with nothing next to those with top-of-the-line hardware.
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Downsides to School-Supplied Devices
Purchasing learning technology for every student is expensive. After the initial purchase, schools need to spend additional money on research, training and administration. Once you've supplied students with devices, you need an IT department to support them. With BYOT, maintenance is primarily a student responsibility.
Schools will need a beefy wi-fi network separate from the staff network to prevent access to sensitive information. Hundreds or thousands of students accessing it at once will be a major bandwidth drain. All the new machines are useless without a network to support them. Students bringing their own technology often use their own provider network.
When the devices are issued, students and parents need to be made responsible. Agreements must be in place in case of loss, theft or damage. Disputes and other administrative hassles are inevitable.
Control over content is an illusion. “Jail-breaking" school-issued devices is common. A web search will quickly yield videos and tutorials on how to escape the shackles the school has put on your borrowed tablet.
Deciding to supply students with technology is no speedy task. Funds must be allocated. Purchases must be researched and approved. Software must be customized. Teachers must be trained. Students must be trained. The process can take months or years. Before long, your new devices will be outdated, meaning the process will start all over again.
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Is BYOD / BYOT a Solution?
Students bringing their own devices drastically lowers the cost for a school to modernize. School devices only need to be made available to students who cannot bring their own. The drain on the school's network will be lower and upgrade costs will be lessened.
BYOT can be rolled out in a short amount of time. The district need not agonize over the purchase of universal devices. Teachers will need to be trained in new teaching methods and policies, but not in new devices. Students are familiar with their own technology and will find it easier to use.
Bringing your own device to school will make the whole process more fun. Students will no longer be sneaking their phones around. It will be part of the learning culture.
Schools won't need complex contractual agreements regarding expensive loaned technology. The students own their devices and are responsible for them.
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Bringing Your Own Device: The Cons
Division between the privileged and underprivileged students will be exaggerated. Bring out a shabby, low-speed device or have none at all, students will tease you. Sport a shiny and expensive one, peers will envy you. Bullying and theft will follow. School is tough enough without that.
A myriad of disparate devices is an IT nightmare. Each school day could be dominated with software issues and network incompatibility. No school can be prepared for such a breadth of technology without a costly army of specialists.
Administrators will be powerless to control these devices. Inappropriate content and use will be prevalent. Exposure to malware, viruses and other digital nastiness will be rampant.
Teachers will be unable to deliver lessons in one form and have them viewed universally. Students will be downloading at various speeds. Slower devices will be lagging behind. Class time can be jammed up answering device-specific questions.
When a student's battery runs out, the appropriate charger will likely be unavailable.
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Don't Forget the Old School
“Devices down" is a phrase entering the vocabulary of modern teachers. Increased digital education can lead to increased isolation. This generation needs to learn face-to-face communication skills. They mustn't forget how to write with a pen. They need to know the feel and smell of an old book.
Screen time needs to be limited. Technology should aid, but not pervade education. Students need to put down their devices and learn from real people for a mandated amount of time.
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Choose Your Own Path
Ultimately, the future involves a mix of both strategies with no perfect answer. Each school district needs to accurately know itself.
Can your students supply their own devices? Can the district partner with technology providers to acquire both tools and support? Will the presence of personal phones, tablets and laptops disrupt your classrooms? How much training will your teachers require? Can your schools afford technology and network upgrades?
Knowing the answer to these questions will help you navigate into the future.
- "Technology & Information Services," Forsyth County Schools, http://www.forsyth.k12.ga.us/byot
- "Pros & Cons of BYOD in Schools," ProCon Lists, http://www.proconlists.com/list/education/byod-in-schools/863
- "Bring Your Own Technology/Device (BYOT/D)," Digital Learning Day, http://www.digitallearningday.org/learn-and-explore/digital-learning-tools/bring-your-own/