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BYOD and the Digital Divide

In a thoughtful comment on my full-throated support of bring your own device (BYOD) programs, Sue brings up an important concern: how do we deal with the divide between students whose families can afford to buy the technology and those who can’t?

I believe Gary’s concern (and mine that I shared in the comments) is that especially in affluent districts where the majority of students would have devices to bring in, BYOD will only contribute to the growing divide between the haves and have nots — something out country simply refuses to acknowledge. We seem perfectly content to allow those children who are fortunate enough to be born into families with wealth to have every advantage possible. The inequities of our public school systems throughout the country are growing — and are alarming and extremely troubling to me.

Certainly those inequities exist and are growing, even in the schools in the wealthiest neighborhoods of our overly-large district. And they are manifested in more than just whether a student is able to bring a connected computing device in their backpack.

So, is that a valid justification to junk this concept?

Not only is the answer no, it’s exactly a major reason why BYOD programs need to succeed. And Teresa writing in reply to Sue, explains.

Creating a BYOD policy will open the door for districts to afford the cost of providing resources for those who do not already have access. Resulting in the opportunity for ALL students to learn through technology and collaboration…

I’m sorry if Sue and others believe that carrying around machines with school district labels on them will be “disrespectful” to those students, identifying them as the have nots. Opportunity for all is the important goal here. The shameful economic inequities in this country need to be addressed by our society as a whole, not exclusively by schools.

As I mentioned last time, I’ll be co-moderating a discussion of BYOD programs, sponsored by the Virginia Society for Technology in Education, tomorrow night at 7pm Eastern. Join us if you can.

We also hope to continue the conversation in the Digital Sandbox (an unconference space) at the VSTE conference in December. Visit the proposal site, vote up the topics you like, and plan to participate in person. Should be fun.


  1. Dave

    I would be willing to accept “what if BYOD emphasizes the digital divide” as an excuse if it was followed by the steps they are taking instead to seriously close that divide at their school…but it isn’t. It never is. It’s a simplistic look at the complex situation that surrounds at-home financial situations; a hands-off non-solution.

    It seems like the vast majority of schools are waiting on a way to do 1:1 that’s perfect, easy, and cheap. Year after year, we’re saying “yup, can’t do it yet” and then going back to our offices to order another round of print textbooks and bubble sheets. After 20 years of waiting, I think it’s safe to say the perfect 1:1 solution isn’t going to magically materialize. Either we take little steps forward with BYOD, or we just sit here and twiddle our thumbs for another year, under-serving our students all the while.

    Anyone can see all of the obstacles in the way, but I simply don’t have time for people like Gary Stager. It’s time to move forward with -something- even if it isn’t perfect. Shame on the schools and districts who are still choosing to wait; we owe each subsequent graduating class an apology, and we’ll reap what we’ve sown as they enter the workforce.

    • Tim

      I completely agree, Dave. We have spent twenty years or more trying to find the perfect solution to the problem of integrating technology into our instruction. This is a textbook example of the concept of “perfect being the enemy of the good”.

      BYOD programs are nowhere close to a perfect solution, but as you note, we don’t have time to wait for perfect. So, we’ll take all the good enough ideas we can find and keep working on something better.

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