What is the ‘D’ in BYOD? Discrimination? Divide?…

Is this an iPad or just an empty bag?


BYOD or Bring Your Own Device is the workplace practice where employees bring their own personal devices to work and use them at work for work.

This is an increasingly popular workplace practice for three main reasons:

  1. It saves companies money, as the cost of the devices and for connectivity is shifted to the employee.
  2. Employees are using devices they are more comfortable and familiar with, and so are more productive.
  3. Devices and software that users bring are usually more cutting edge and up to date, again boosting productivity.
It wasn’t long after companies started implementing BYOD policies that  cash strapped schools began discussing using BYOD in educational settings. Schools, like many organizations, are facing huge expenses as the public, educators and students are insisting that technology be an essential tool in education.
Unfortunately many advocates of BYOD in education have forgetten that schools are not workplaces, and the wholesale adoption of BYOD in the classroom may leads to some very nasty consequences.
Shifting the cost of devices and connectivity onto users in a classroom means families and students have to pay. This is an equity issue. Public schools are not selective. Unlike companies they accept any and all students, and some of those families and students don’t have the resources to provide their own devices. Unless we provide technology for those students to have access to devices they’ll be left behind.
BYOD in educational settings also creates further inequity within the classroom and between schools. Some students will use the latest, up to date devices, others will have older, less functional technology, and others will be left with even older, board provided devices or none at all. We already have a huge Digital Divide in society.  BYOD policies bring that divide into the classroom and allow it to further affect student learning.
We need to decide what matters and put our education dollars where our mouths are. If we value equity in education, and believe students need to learn with and use devices, we must provide them for all students in the classroom. Allowing students to bring in their devices may be a way to enhance or add to a student’s learning in special situations, but it can never be allowed to become the norm.
A full-scale implementation of BYOD in classrooms would  significantly  disadvantage large groups of low income students and create a significant gap between schools and between students. A system with have and have not schools and classrooms with have and have not pupils isn’t good for any of us.

6 thoughts on “What is the ‘D’ in BYOD? Discrimination? Divide?…

  1. Hey Andrew,

    As you know, I am a proponent of BYOD. I do, however, agree that it is problematic, and at risk of descending into the problem you do eloquently illustrate.

    One way I differ from you is the idea that BYOD is only and can only be implemented almost as an alternative to schools purchasing devices. I don’t see BYOD as being about this at all. In fact, one thing many people miss in the discussion is that BYOD should only occur if classes, schools, an districts have settings to provide devices for all students that either choose not to or cannot BYOD.

    Also, perhaps your board is different from mine. In our board, BYOD is already happening regardless of whether it has been given the stamp of approval. What’s more, our data suggests that it isn’t easy to draw a straight line between SES and devices kids are bringing to school.

  2. Hey Royan,

    Thanks for your thoughts.

    I don’t exclude the possibility that boards won’t continue funding schools for devices, it just doesn’t seem likely. The premise behind BYOD in the first place is saving money. Boards are big bureaucracies that don’t deal well in shades of grey. It seems likely that once it becomes an established norm that families provide devices it will be socially unacceptable not to.

    This is the pattern we followed with school supplies and fields trips. It’s not that long ago these were provided to all students. Now families are supposed to provide that stuff for students and every day I have students that don’t have pencils or paper or can’t afford to go on trips.

    Yes, BYOD is happening here too in an informal, unregulated way. It isn’t happening at my school but at other, “well off” schools, where students do things in their programs we can’t because their kids have better personal devices than the board can provide.

    I think the widespread adoption of BYOD is likely, but I’m hoping I can sound a note of caution before it happens and get people thinking about the pitfalls while policies are being written.

  3. I work in a ‘Performance Plus’ school which means our SES is low. The board does support funding for technology and my class is involved in a special project in which extra tech is in my room. We have a wide range of tech and we almost have a one to one but it’s a range of classroom tech. I feel it’s our responsibility to help students understand how to use a variety of tools and be respectful digital citizens. In addition to the tech in my room I recently began a BYOD in my grade 3 class. I am working with students to learn to select the best tool for the right purpose. No one tool is best suited for our learning. Some students bring their own tools in and together we work their the uses and how the tools can best support their learning.

    I agree we need to continue funding tech in the classroom. In my mind BYOD doesn’t replace funding, it supplements what we have in the room. I believe we need to change the way we purchase tech so we provide choices in each classroom. (iPods, Livescribe pens, iPads, desktops, etc) Students need to be critical thinkers and select the right tool for the right moment.

  4. Thanks for the comment Angie. It’s great to hear that there are school boards where low SES schools receive extra support, especially around resources like tech.

    I’m interested in your grade 3 BYOD program. How do you handle the inequity? I’m sure some students bring better devices than others, do they just have an advantage or do they need to share that advantage? How about students who can’t participate in BYOD for economic reasons, how do they handle that?

  5. It’s no big deal in the room. Ten of the students are bringining in their devices and they decide when it’s appropriate for them to use them but they still have access to the class tech too. There is no jealousy because kids still have access to iPods, iPads, SMARTboard and desktops in our classroom. Those who bring in their own computers are freeing up the use for others so it’s resulting in more access for the other students. Everyone is happy! Seriously! An in regards to low SES, every child in my room owns a device. It’s just that some parents don’t trust their child to bring it in yet. Even the students from the poorest families have DSi devices. I welcome in all types and don’t make a big deal over what it is. We focus on what it can do. I feel we need a range of devices in all classes so everyone room can be a BYOD.
    Check out my blog http://techieang.edublogs.org for more info.

    • Thanks for the reply Angie, very interesting. Perhaps an important factor in this is the amount and range of devices already present in the classroom/system.
      Up until last year I had two networked desktop computers in the classroom and two ‘stand alone’ computers which couldn’t connect to the internet. The school doesn’t have a computer lab. This year we have 5 netbooks which gives us more flexibility. No smart board, no ipads, etc.
      Along with the netbooks we got wi-fi and I tried to get students to bring in devices to connect to the network. Two students in the class brought in iPod touches (one with a cracked screen) and they were outdated and couldn’t connect to the network.
      I’m not sure which experience is more typical. Your ‘well stocked’ classroom where BYOD adds choice, or mine where we don’t have enough as it is. My concern is that schools like mine need an infusion just to catch up and BYOD makes that much less likely.

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