To BYOD or not to BYOD, that is the question

Students talking in hallways

By Russell Ginley, Asia-Pacific Industry Lead, Microsoft Devices

BYOD is that phenomenon that emerged largely as a way to keep devices in the hands of students when funding ran out. It was the perfect solution to the problem – the school can’t pay, so let’s get the parents to pay. But does it deliver on the promise to improve learning?

How did BYOD manifest itself in the classroom? Well, some were really pleased – they got to buy the cool device which enabled students to add to their brand, but really did reverse any notion of equity in the classroom and frequently did not add to the learning experience. Many other people who didn’t want to succumb to the lure of the cool device were told to go and buy on a basic list of specifications. They sought advice from the usual suspects – store assistants, or friends of friends – and compared on price, because they had nothing else on which to evaluate the worth of what they were buying.  But this advice often ignored many important aspects that people didn’t realise they needed. BYOD left many people to ask questions about things they weren’t familiar with. As Henry Ford said – If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.

Some schools recognised that there was a problem here, so they decided to split the notion of BYOD into different classes of BYOD in an attempt to get some consistency in the experience. Those “classes” of BYOD ranged from the school mandated product, to schools mandating a specification, to the complete free-for-all of BYOD in retail. Unfortunately, these recommendations were still rooted in specifications, and not experiences.

But now in the world of COVID, that decision is having a far greater impact on learning than anyone had expected. Why is this? Because previously, the device was an addition to the toolkit that people had in the classroom. Now it IS the classroom. Where teachers could supplement the use of the technology in the classroom with physical demonstrations, whiteboards, experiments and more, the device needs to cater for rich engagement and diverse information types.   

And if you were in IT and you had to exercise management, software deployment and security over these devices, you used to do that across your own network. Now you don’t know where they are or what information is being consumed. You may have a duty of care that you are failing to meet and you may not be able to provision the tools they need. Some devices (and licenses) can help or hinder this ability.

Learning is an experience. That is why you give tours of your campus.

We are learning more digitally, and students are probably the group who deal in the most diverse range of information types.  

Think about it, if you are a maths teacher, you use a pen. Same with Chemistry or Physics, probably supplemented with video or multimedia. If you are an English student, a keyboard might be the most appropriate. Someone in a STEM class might use MR/VR and students are creating multimedia assignments all the time. And then learning online with strong requirements for audio and video. The span of information types is diverse. Way more diverse than most adults. This is why the 2-in-1 was invented, to give the ability to transition quickly from one information type to the next. How frustrated do you get when you have the wrong tool for the job? You spend more time complaining at the tool than doing the work itself.  

When we consider Puentendura’s SAMR model, it talks about a spectrum of capabilities. A device can just be a substitute, such as for reading a book from a screen versus paper. But now, with the power of AI and advanced learning tools, the device is unlocking the ability to redefine what learning is, and providing completely new experiences to students enabling them to learn at their own pace to maximise their outcomes. 

So how do we make sure these experiences are integrated properly into the learning process when students are off campus? Will students continue to demand the ability to learn this way?  

The answer is to build a curriculum that takes advantage of the affordances of all the technology at your disposal.    

How do you build a curriculum around a device whose capabilities are unknown because one student may have received a $50 tablet for their birthday, and another might have a mobile workstation with touch and pen? 

And if the device is so critical, how do you ensure the uptime and reliability of the device in the classroom? What if you have no control over the warranty SLAs and it takes two weeks to repair? These are fundamentally important questions to maximise the value of the device in learning, and is often best done when the school settles on a device, with enterprise grade warranty, curriculum integration and the appropriate PD to enable its best use.

Devices are so critical to the learning process that they deserve to be properly managed by professionals who know how to maintain uptime and maximise utility. Even more, most parents only complain about price when they are asked to compare specifications to what they see on retail websites. If there is framework and structure around the device-inclusive IT policy that yields a better learning outcome, I’d wager that most parents would be prepared to pay for that.