Why BYOD Is A Disaster Waiting To Happen For Schools

Why BYOD Is A Disaster Waiting To Happen For Schools

BYOD in K-12 schools presents massive challenges to IT staff, administrators, and teachers

Apple firmly positioned the iPad as an education solution during its education even in New York five months ago. Even before that, many schools and districts had begun pilot programs of full on iPad deployments. The iPad provides many opportunities in education as well as some challenges.

One of those challenges is cost. That’s not a surprise, considering the number of iPads required in order to give one to each student in a district. The San Diego school district, for example, recently spending $15 million as part of its massive iPad plan that includes nearly 26,000 devices.

Given the cost of such deployments and the attention that BYOD programs have gotten in both the tech and mainstream media over the past year or so, it was only a matter of time before someone in the education technology sector began to talk up the idea of BYOD in education as a way to cut the costs associated with such deployments.

The topic came up during the annual the International Society for Technology in Education’s (ISTE) annual conference and trade show in San Diego this week. EdTech magazine put together a short video talking up and summarizing reasoning behind the concept of BYOD in the classroom.

Generally, I’m a cautious fan of BYOD. The concept is popular right now in business for a range of reasons including perceived cost containment, increased productivity, and improved employee satisfaction. If researched and implemented properly, BYOD can be a very positive experience.

However, having worked in educational IT (with both public and private schools), I have to say that the idea of launching BYOD at the K-12 level makes me shudder. There are several serious concerns that should be forefront in the minds of school IT staff, administrators, teachers, and parents about BYOD in schools. Here are some of the big ones.

BYOD will almost certainly create a very uneven education playing field for students. Some may have access to a new iPad with LTE while others may not even have broadband access in their homes. While some variations in means and access to technology outside of school is simply a part of life, encouraging a situation where there is a distinct disadvantage to some kids in the classroom compounds those issues. It will almost certainly have some negative impacts on students whose families have fewer resources and is even likely to encourage discrimination or bullying of poorer students.

More practically, BYOD will create technical challenges. Most schools, particularly many public schools, have very limited IT budgets and are often understaffed. BYOD in any context raises the issue of supporting a wide range of devices. In education, where there are fewer resources and technology man-hours available, the impact will be more acute than in business.

Schools are subject to regulations federal and state regulations regarding Internet filtering and content blocking. Managed computers, iPads, and other devices make it possible to comply with these laws. If students can bring in their own devices, will a school be able to ensure that those devices are in compliance while on campus, particularly devices that offer mobile broadband?

If mobile management tools and on-device agents for regulation compliance or other reasons are implemented on student-owned devices, what are the potential legal ramifications of device ownership? What is questionable or dangerous content is discovered on a student’s personal device?

Schools tend to standardize on technology even more than corporations and for good reasons. It makes training teachers (and thus students) easier. It simplifies troubleshooting. It ensures a baseline of functionality and a selection of standard apps. All of that goes out the window in a BYOD model. Depending on platforms or even on different devices within a single platform like Android, the same apps may not be available or their functionality may differ from one device to the next.

Teachers will likely end up as unofficial tech support. If students are instructed to use a device look up a subject and one student can’t, the teacher is the first person to try to resolve the issue. That requires teachers to be tech savvy for whatever range of devices students may bring in. More importantly, a range of different devices means that teachers will need to be familiar with that broad range of devices, mobile platforms, and apps to ensure students are using them appropriately.

None of these are real concerns when working with school or district-owned and managed technologies. Even where concerns come up, the standardization allows acceptable use policies, mobile management tools, and other IT systems to resolve them.

Ultimately, the most effective way to ensure appropriate education technology use is to use devices that are school owned and managed. That can be a challenge to many public schools with tight funding, but BYOD is more likely to exacerbate problems than fix them.

  • EdTech4Free

    I am a high school teacher in South Florida and I can say that the school budgets are super tight and we are still using many out of date machines, so BYOD would seem like a natural solution. My district hasn’t adopted BYOD policies for students, but have recently adopted stringent policies for teachers. BYOD will become a nightmare for teachers, as the first line of defense. We will spend more time fixing stuff than actually teaching at some point. I would like a BYOD policy for students but they basically get access to the network without having to agree to the rules( they have the wifi password, when they shouldn’t) Please read my EdTech Blog EdTech4Free.com

  • julesmontgo

    I 100% agree with the concern about teachers becoming tech support. That is a very scary thought.

    This article made me realize that technology is feeding a new “rich getting richer” thing. Those with the means to get ipads, computer and the like, will get more “technical education,” whether formally or informally.

    I’m grateful my kids will enjoy those benefits, as we have many computers and iPads in the house. Having worked in technology for 20+ years (much of that in recruiting), we must encourage kids to love technology, or we are getting left behind as a nation.

    So back to education:
    1. Tech support is a disaster. Unless you assume that kids can figure it out better than most adults.
    2. Keeping kids engaged in a relevant way is vital to the school system or we will start losing kids to online programs, like my daughter will attend this year in 7th grade.
    3. Making sure those less fortunate get access to technology is going to a challenge from here on out. It will only get more intense.

    Great entry!
    Julie Montgomery

  • eduleadership

    Hi Ryan,
    I share many of your concerns about BYOD approaches, but a couple of points:

    First, schools are not required to filter access to the internet that students have via their own mobile broadband service. Obviously it wouldn’t be ideal to have kids walking around looking at inappropriate material, but there’s no legal obligation and no technical way for schools to restrict access.

    Second, I’m not sure what an IT department would would have to do to support student devices other than provide beefy wifi. If kids are bringing their own devices, they’re probably not going to need much help keeping them running. Visit any classroom above 3rd grade and you’ll see it’s the kids who are fixing things for the adults, not the other way around.

    The main issues, as I see it, are around equity (some kids have iPads, others don’t, as you noted) and efficient teaching. Finding apps that can run on all smartphones or tablets is challenging, and you still have to plan for the kids that don’t have them. Designing assignments that can be done with any device pretty much limits your options to “text me your answer.”

    It seems to me that BYOD should be more of a policy – use whatever technology you have whenever it supports your learning, which is how adults “in the real world” behave – rather than an instructional approach. Designing lessons around student-provided devices seems a little too tech-for-tech’s-sake, which is an often-denied undercurrent at ISTE.

  • Demonstr8r

    Let’s face it, some teachers are technically challenged by the old bunsen burner. In fact, when I went to school several teachers were challenged by daylight savings time. K12 school wasn’t engaging during my youth, nor is it engaging 30 years after I graduated and now have two boys in high school, despite being in one of the wealthiest counties in the nation.

    However, three of the biggest problems not mentioned in this article are broken tablets, stealing and cheating.

    Whether BYOD or not, tablets will be broken, which is going to be a huge problem for parents, teachers and staff to deal with. Imagine Sally’s first day at school and her iPad is broken, who pays for a replacement? Sally’s parents, the school, or the parents of the kid that accidentally bumped Sally while standing in line for the bus. How long does Sally go without, especially if all of her textbooks are in digital format on the iPad.

    Next up, stealing. Need I say more?

    And last, but not least, cheating. I remember a friend of mine bragged about cheating on a history exam in college by storing important dates on his programmable calculator. Equipped with a smart phone, no question is too tough. Important names, places, dates and formulas are only a few keystrokes away, Wolfram Alpha will solve many tough problems as well as provide a graph.

    School has to become much more than rote memorization and standardized testing. Learning needs to be more about exploration and application, thinking and problem solving.

  • rrodgers

    As @Eduleadership stated so perfectly, you clearly don’t understand CIPA at all, so you should just probably avoid discussing filtering requirements. As for the rest of this article, it amazes me that colleges somehow manage to make this work, inequality of devices and all, without worrying about all of these questions, yet public schools cannot, obviously. You describe yourself as having “worked in educational IT”. In my personal experience, the IT person was always the first to say “It can’t be done,” which is why the best policy was to make the decision and then convince them that they had the last word. Fortunately, I now work with a group that says, “What can we do to make it happen?”

  • ATG4

    It’s true that one of the challenges of BYOD is managing so many different devices, especially with a pressured, too-small IT department as found in many schools. One way to reduce support headaches is to limit the number of applications that the IT staff needs to install on students’ devices. This can be done through an emphasis on browser-based access.

    For example, Ericom’s AccessNow is an HTML5 RDP solution that enables students and staff to connect from almost any device to Windows applications running on Terminal Server (Microsoft RDS) or full VDI virtual desktops and run the applications and desktops in a browser tab.

    Because it’s browser-based, AccessNow will work with any HTML5-compatible browser, so it will run on iPads, Android devices, Chromebooks, Macs and Windows laptops. There’s nothing to install on the students’ devices. They merely open their browser, click on a URL defined by the IT staff and launch their applications or desktops inside the browser. So all students and staff can work with the same applications regardless of device, and IT staff don’t need to run around installing applications.

    Click here for more information about possible solutions for BYOD in education.
    http://www.ericom.com/BYOD_Education.asp

    Please note that I work for Ericom

  • Wowzers

    Totally agree that BYOD can bring up some major fears and questions from educators. But, with the right preparations, schools with cash-strapped tech budgets can make some serious digital learning strides with the policy.

    One of the major keys to reducing the tech gap you mentioned is to ensure your adopted content is functional on basic web browsers and/or mobile apps. All the student should be required to bring is an internet-capable device, and the content should function properly on that device.

    To learn more keys that schools/districts can use to prepare for their BYOD journeys, check out http://blog.wowzers.com/bid/267188/Thorough-Preparation-is-Key-in-Implementing-a-BYOD-Policy.

  • Dowbiggin

    Argh. Waiting for teachers (and I am one) to feel ready before students can be allowed to use something most of them already know how to use is absurd. Talk about deepening the digital divide.

    Also, give kids a bit of credit. I think what is more likely to happen (and actually does happen a lot in places where BYOD is happening and working) is that students will share resources and help one another out.

    The biggest hurdle to overcome is bandwidth. Can your network handle all these devices? If students are on the district-provided wifi, there IS a way to require them to both sign in to the wifi and to a network filter, which can be varied for staff and students to allow different levels of access based on who the user is. But it requires the IT folks to have a “why not?” approach rather than a “why? NO!” stance.

    It’s high time we stop pretending that we’re worried about equity when what we really want is to keep things easy for the adults. Schools exist for the students. Their learning experiences and opportunities need to be of paramount importance in our decision making. We can’t wait for everyone to have all the things. Instead, we can help our learners develop their own learning spaces with what they already have in their pockets and backpacks. Out of the hoodie and on the desk, I say.

  • Chamod Gamage

    lel nub its working
    we get our work done faster
    what you gonna say

About the author

Ryan FaasRyan Faas is a technology journalist and consultant living in upstate New York who has written extensively about Apple, business and enterprise IT, and the mobile industry. In addition to writing for Cult of Mac, he is a contributor to Computerworld, InformIT, and Peachpit Press. In a previous existence he was a healthcare IT director as well as a systems and network administrator. Follow Ryan on Twitter and Google +

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