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Getting Past The Fear

On my short rant last Friday about my frustration with the lack of forward momentum in our first year BYOD program, Allan1 left a long comment telling me just how wrong I am.

Sorry, I can’t accept any of it.

It’s always hazardous to summarize someone else but in essence Allan’s primary argument seems to be that we shouldn’t allow students to bring their own devices because no school has enough resources to control what students will do with them.

VJaying with videos of students acting inappropriately in the school halls or community set to music and posted on Youtube, vulgar emails sent to administrators or teachers, multiplayer video games being played on school servers, videotaping student fights for posting on Youtube, students inappropriately accessing teacher online classroom portals, online bullying, sexting, etc.

Of course, none of that is happening now in schools where electronic devices are banned, right?

We are forever blah, blahing about the need to differentiate instruction for students2, while at the same time we insist on treating every kid exactly the same way outside of class. How many kids are we talking about in that paragraph?

I can’t speak for all high schools, but in our district, the numbers of students who willfully misuse the technology in the way Allen describes is very small. I’d bet that most teachers and administrators could identify those most likely to screw up like that by the second week of school. So, why do we treat the other 98% as if they will behave the same way?

Which brings up the matter of where students learn the ethics of working online. Again limiting things to our system, schools certainly don’t teach it. They learn from each other. Maybe if we did more than read them a long list of rules (our’s runs some 60 pages) and helped them understand the issues early in life, we would have even fewer who violate those rules. Better yet, involve the kids in crafting the rules in the first place.

At the very end, Allan actually brings up two issues that are far more important in this discussion than any fear of student misconduct.

What happened to all of the research that demonstrated 2 students working on a computer enabled collaboration which resulted in more retention than direct instruction?

Good question and one that goes directly to the process of genuinely integrating technology into instruction. It’s going to require a lot of work helping teachers understand how to use the devices students are bringing. When is it best to allow individual use and when will kids benefit from working together?

So, are we really interested in making a computer available to every student?

If school systems are so eager for 1 to 1 ratio, break out the checkbook and issue every student a laptop or pad.

Completely agree. We should issue a computing device to every student when they enter middle school (maybe earlier) and then budget to replace it every three years. Plus the infrastructure necessary to support it all.

Ain’t gonna happen, at least not in a system as big as ours with close to 180,000 students. And not with the commitment to traditional textbook driven instruction we have. An issue for another rant.

Anyway, I’ve certainly heard all the fears behind allowing students to use these powerful communications tools in schools. However, the potential of BYOD programs far outweigh all of those mostly unfounded fears.

1 Since the IP address of the comment comes from within our district’s network and the name is not in our email directory, I suspect the name is a pseudonym. No matter.

2 Despite the mounting evidence that the whole theory of learning styles is not credible. A topic for another rant.


  1. David Wees

    Our school has a 1 to 1 program from grade 8 to 12 where each student brings their own computer. We have had some problems, but nothing more challenging than the types of behaviour problems we had before the introduction of the laptops. Yes, students watch YouTube when they should not be, but these are the same students who would have stared out the window instead.

    The observation that 1 to 1 may not be the right ratio is interesting. I think that you need enough devices so that you have access to a 1 to 1 ratio when you need it, but that you should often have students work in situations where they share computers, for the reasons cited above. Sugra Mitra’s “hole in the wall project” would not have worked if he had provided enough computers for each child, I suspect.

    • Tim

      1-1 may be the right ratio for some learning activities, while 2 or 3 to one computer might be better for others. And no computers is often appropriate. I agree that the devices need to be available so the teacher can decide what works best for the situation. Helping teachers learn how to make those decisions is going to be our biggest challenge.

  2. Jenny

    Tim, on the main point here I’m in complete agreement. When I read Allan’s comment my immediate response was that the issue wasn’t the technology, it was the school environment. Any school that will have problems like Allan described, at least on a noticeable scale, already has problems with behavior and the issues are much larger. A school environment in which students feel valued and a part of the school will not have significant problems with this.

    On a smaller issue, that of differentiated instruction, I’m going to push back. Differentiated instruction doesn’t have to have anything to do with learning styles. Kids need differentiated instruction because they are all at different points in their learning. It’s unfortunate that differentiated instruction has come to be so closely linked with learning styles. (Do you think there’s any way I could throw the phrase differentiated instruction in here a few more times?)

    • Tim

      Yeah, you’re right. I should know the difference between differentiation and learning styles. I’ve read enough materials that confuse the two concepts (including too much from our own district).

  3. Karen

    The anticipated fear is almost always worse than the reality. School cannot continue to ignore the daily/hourly use of technology by their students. If you bring it out into the open then you can guide and direct but right now it’s still an intermittent use for instruction (and SOL test prep does NOT count as instruction) Maybe if kids bring their own devices they might actually get used to help learning take place.

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