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5 Reasons Why BYOD is a Bad Idea

by Kelly Walsh on July 1, 2012

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Yes, it can equip students with technology without breaking the school’s budget … but inherent inconsistencies makes this approach prone to many issues.

Ed Note – I think some readers are interpreting this article as somehow being against putting devices in students hands, but I am quite in favor of doing that, with standardized technology. I know from experience that providing standardized devices eliminates or reduces many of the issues I cite below. When the devices and configurations vary widely and are not under the control of the school, these types of problems can make use of these devices fraught with disruptive issues. User feedback is leading me to rethink this a little, but I am not hearing a lot that is effectively addressing these specific issues just yet. – KW

When I first read about the idea of BYOD programs in schools, my initial reaction was that it is certainly one way to get technology in the hands of all students in a school or class without having to find lots of budgetary funds to do it. There have been an increasing number of stories about these programs in the media this year, and this prompted me to think it through a little further. While the financial incentive is an attractive upside to this idea, it doesn’t take long for a technologist to start to realize that the drawbacks inherent in this approach make it highly questionable.

Here are a number of problems with the BYOD initiative for schools:

  1. Equipment Inequity: If everyone is bringing their own equipment, even if there is a standard approach to the type of equipment (all laptops or tablets, for example), it is still pretty much inevitable that the brand and/or configuration of each device will vary and with this comes varying functionality and different speeds of throughput and performance. This equates to inconsistent experiences, and different challenges, for one student versus another.
  2. Tech Support: With varying types of equipment, and dissimilar configurations and software levels, come a wide variety of technological hurdles. We all know that trying to use apps on the Internet or doing just about anything else with a computer, tablet, or smartphone, can yield plenty of little issues (this is why techies have jobs!), and every variation in configuration brings another potential point of failure of complication. Now the teacher starts losing class time to tech support and troubleshooting, and the school’s techs have just picked up a slew of new and unpredictable issues to deal with.
  3. “Bring Your Own Distraction (I’m sure someone else probably already coined this little twist of phrase, but I’m still amused by my own cleverness!): When the device is the student’s, it can be loaded with plenty of games, social networking apps, inappropriate content, and who knows what else. The possibilities for this sort of distracting content and software are undoubtedly increased in a BYOD scenario, despite whatever policies may exist to help limit or prevent this issue.
  4. Internet content filtering: This is a necessary fact of tech life in most schools – Internet content must be filtered, and there are technological considerations to make this happen. When kids are bringing their own tech to school, it makes in increasingly harder to manage, and this is only becoming more problematic thanks to the increasing proliferation of 3G and 4G wireless personal devices. A BYOD program would only add to these complications, and make it that much harder for your technology department to ensure compliance with content filtering objectives and the protection of students from inappropriate content while in school.
  5. “MBTY” (Mine is Better Than Yours) Syndrome: Isn’t school life challenging enough for some kids (and their parents) without the additional pressure of having to keep up with the Jones kid? Some kids are going to have the most expensive, best equipped tech, and some of them are going to brag about it. The less fortunate kids (and the teachers) shouldn’t have to deal with that, and nobody wants to hear it.

I am sure that some schools have come up with ways to address some of these challenges, but I am also confident that there are more downsides to this approach than I have listed here. Businesses have also been flirting with and experimenting with this concept for years now, also with mixed results.

What do you think? Has your school already done this? Have you dealt with, or avoided, some of these issues? I would welcome a counterpoint post from someone who has use BYOD successfully and overcome these challenges.

Related Posts (if the above topic is of interest, you might want to check these out):
Why Every Student Should Be In a 1:1 Classroom
4 Unique Ways That 1:1 Technology Can Transform Student Writing
Announcing Our Summer Online Workshop, “Flipped Classroom Tools and Techniques”

About 

Kelly Walsh is Chief Information Officer, and an adjunct faculty member, at The College of Westchester in White Plains, NY and is the founder and author of EmergingEdTech.com. As an education technology advocate, he frequently delivers presentations on a variety of related topics at schools and conferences across the U.S. Walsh is also an author, and online educator, periodically running Flipped Class Workshops online. His latest eBook, the Flipped Class Workshop in a Book was published in September, 2013 and is available here. In his spare time Walsh also writes, records, and performs original (and cover) songs (look for "K. Walsh" on iTunes or Amazon.com or check out his original song videos on here on YouTube ).

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{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Kelly Walsh May 7, 2014 at 4:55 am

Thanks Yasmine. After writing this post in 2012 and learning much more about it since, I believe BYOD can be very effective. As you noted (indirectly), it needs to be carefully planned and implemented. Simply having everyone bring devices, with no or limited plans to integrate them into teaching and learning, is a formula for failure, as per you experience.

Yasmine May 7, 2014 at 1:13 am

BYOD is a really bad idea for schools. I recently started high school and BYOD was the new system. I can say from experience that almost all student are taking advantage of this. I see students on facebook, playing games and these students have true potential to do well but BYOD is such a distraction. Every day it feels like I am learning practically nothing. And when the princepal asks how the BYOD system is everyone says its good but they are not looking at it from the learning perspective. I was also trying to revise but my notes are way all over the place. And the poor kids have a 2002 Acer model that was from a second hand shop. The rich kids with the new Ipad air are mocking them because of this. I say we go back to good-old fashoined pen and paper and ditch BYOD.

mike March 4, 2014 at 12:05 pm

I am a high school teacher. I see students coming to us from 8th grade unequipped for high school. With the advent of a new technology – calculators- the foundation for analytical skills dropped off exponentially. We made multiplication table memory a bad word. The students spend more time looking for numbers to put in their calculators and less time on analyzing the word problems. I didn’t see a calculator until I got to college. These students already can’t be away from their smart phones. This new BYOD will create an environment of more socialization and less student learning. I don’t believe that they should be allowed in school at all or put in lockers during the school day.

Matt February 5, 2014 at 2:10 pm

I agree with your post, I am a current high school student and I am doing a bit of research on this topic for civics. Funny thing, We had to start this project with everyone having a chrom book adn going to a specific page, however as I looked at my peers, I see half the people playing games online and the other half playing flappy birds on their ipods. However, even if they wanted to work, the internet is so messed up that it takes the entire period just to get connected. Projects that should take a period take a week or more. My father is a middle school teacher and has witnessed the decline himself. in the 1990′s when he started teaching, the end of 8th grade there was a big African American project where students would research an important person and at the end of the year would line the hallways became a museum displaying the history on a time line, however, as more technology was introduced, there was less time at the end for the project. Now, the African American history has been reduced to a week or less at the end of the year. This is supposedly one of the top high schools in the U.S. but if you ask me, of the worst educational ideas in the past century.

Angie Harrison July 13, 2012 at 1:58 pm

I undertand why you have mad these points but I respectfully disagree. I believe schools need to shift their classroom tech to reflect a diverse technology world. We need one iPod, netbook, computer, etc to help kids make critical decisions about why type of tech they use for what purpose. Class sets need to go. We need to be teaching critical thinkers not one specific piece of tech. See my blog entry with Bring Your Own Device in Primary.
http://techieang.edublogs.org/2012/03/23/byod-in-primary/

Natasha S July 7, 2012 at 9:35 am

Thank you for writing this blog. You covered many points that are valid and of concern when it comes to BYOD. As a parent, I experienced the great things that resulted from this program being incorporated at my child’s school; it wasn’t about the inequalities of all children not bringing a device. It was quite the opposite. The school chose to try this program because they did not have enough technology to provide for every student and so when it came to working on projects and trying out new technology tools, teachers found themselves short on equipment and time. So with the rolling out of BYOD, I witnessed children who were excited about bringing their own electronics but the skills they learned in using these items beyond play was amazing. My child and his peers learned how to create their own web pages, they kept journals and exchanged their stories via the devices. The children also learned how to use and create different graphic organizers to assist them in their projects. I believe BYOD is not always going to be perfect but as Heather stated in her comments, “Don’t cap their creativity!” The students I observed were engaged in learning and following the set guidelines that were in place for using their personal devices in school.

Amy H. July 5, 2012 at 10:07 pm

I think you raise some very valid points here. BYOD may work well for some schools but others may find it a challenge. Equipment inequity is one that strikes a nerve with me. I get that life is not always fair and you need to make do with what you have but these are children who don’t have control over their parents’ financial situation. A school in my district had Smartboards a full three years before mine did because their students’ parents donated the money for them. The issues with distractions and content filtering are also good points. We would have to do a lot of teaching about appropriate/inappropriate use before letting students use their own devices. Digital citizenship would need to be added to all levels of curriculum.

Laurence Cuffe July 5, 2012 at 3:39 am

I dont know. I picture the following: Bring their own scrolls? How could we control what the chilren are reading? How could we choose whether or not its appropriate? They could roll on and be in a totaly different place and I as teacher would have no control. Dumb Idea. lets keep them using the wax tablets as we normaly do.
More seriously, I think a lot of the points made are valid, but if we choose not to roll with the technology, we risk making our teaching apear even more archaic and irrelevent. I think that the advantage of BYOD is that it moves the teck suport issue firmly into the students hands, and incentivizes them to learn how to make it work in a more sophisticated way, than just shipping photographs of last nights party about.

Andrew Gostrich July 4, 2012 at 10:35 pm

I completely agree that BYOD yields many issues discussed in your piece, but there is a much larger issue when you look at technology integration. Teachers already struggle to integrate technology into the classroom, and if every device is not equipped to handle something like multimedia creation, the class ends up with the lowest common application which is web research and productivity. The point of technology in the classroom is to engage students, expand learning beyond the classroom and integrate new digital creation tools such as creating videos and podcasts. If all students do with BYOD technology is take notes and write papers, I don’t see the advantage to BYOD at all. Schools are much better off looking at a parent funded model where parents contribute funds to the purchase of the same device for every student. I have seen this done with success in my state and I hope other school districts around the country look at a similar program.

One last thing I have to mention. I have seen a school with a BYOD implementation and not every student brought a device to school each day. I don’t understand how the school called that a success. I would look very closely at any BYOD program that does not have standardized technology. Everyone wants to claim their program as a success , and I have yet to see a technology implementation at any school district where they openly claimed failure.

K. Walsh July 4, 2012 at 7:25 am

Thanks again to everyone for their comments on this controversial idea. Heather – I’ve sent you a couple emails to discuss evolving your comments into a full post, and look forward to hearing back from you!

Phil July 3, 2012 at 7:23 am

I think the list you’ve put together is quite sound…indeed, each item could be overcome by certain measures, but who is really going to implement the follow-through to ensure that those measures will be taken? Forgive me for sounding like I’m taking the “path of least resistance”, but having standardized devices just seems to be easier in most cases for the reasons you’ve listed, especially # 3, due to “digital distractions” being an epidemic in classrooms anyway. One drawback I can see, however, is that there may be a bit of a time lag in getting to the “meat” of the learning experience due to the inevitability of kids having to adjust to an unfamiliar device. Just my $0.02.

Ryan Bretag July 2, 2012 at 11:27 pm

@DougT there are plenty of pieces all over the Internet that show success, but I guess it is based upon your definition of “successful”.

Ryan Bretag July 2, 2012 at 11:26 pm

Perhaps I missed it but where is your list stemming from as it appears to be merely thouts off the top of your head: experience in a BYOD environment, a hypothesis about what you think would be the issues, or compiled perspective of practitioners?

Heather July 2, 2012 at 2:03 pm

The limitations you imply with “specific applications” are the ones of views that stifle creativity, innovation, and productive uniqueness. The goal should never be to produce 20 work samples of likeness. Rather students should be exposed to a variety of tools and their knowledge of the content and their personal creativity in generating products to display their grasp of the content should be the driving force of tech use in classrooms. If you set out to “bless” one specific application for student productivity you’ve failed kids. Adults place the limitations and set a ceiling for student achievement.
As far as success stories you can google BYOD Success Stories and read a multitude. You can also join several communities and groups in Edmodo to share and hear real success stories as well as collaborate on fresh ideas.
I am a PK-5th grade campus principal. We use tech in a variety of ways and allow students to utilize it as a way of portraying their knowledge and application of their knowledge in creative and innovative ways.
Some students utilize a verbal blog for giving library book recommendations for books they’ve read, some students participate in written blogs. Some students partake in Skype book clubs with districts around the state as well as other states (not taken on another country yet). Some students have make trailers to give snippets of their knowledge. Some have created short movies, commercials, etc. Some teachers have students using Sundry Notes to keep an ongoing portfolio from year to year. Some use sonic pics, animoto, etc to make slide shows or movies of their learning. (It’s important to not many of the examples I’ve given have nothing to do with a specific app…most are completely web based). Weevly is another great tool for students to utilize to make their own web pages. Not “tech for tech’s sake” but rather as a real life 21 st century skill in researching, analyzing, and creating a platform for sharing learning.
The possibilities are endless when you don’t set the limits with thinking like this (the article). It may be hard. Yes! But, worth it? MOST DEFINITELY! We can’t even comprehend the future we are preparing our kids for. Don’t cap their creativity now!
I hope this small sampling of creative ways to utiliz tech (mainly web based) help those of you saying their no alternatives to inequities. Will inequities still exist? I’m willing to bet they do and will in your world, my world, our kids world’s until our good Lord calls us home. That shouldn’t define us. On my campus It won’t!

Simon Hinds July 2, 2012 at 11:59 am

Here is one school in the UK thats had a programme for a while:
http://blogs.msdn.com/b/ukschools/archive/2012/01/03/bring-your-own-device-byod-at-saltash-net.aspx

In terms of how students can use devices as what they are tools. As a teacher I appreciate students having access to the internet, a camera & video recorder when they need it. I wouldnt want to be hobbled as a teacher by not having access to tools – and neither should students. It brings up useful conversations regarding the reliability of sources, plagiarism and citation early on, too.

DougT July 2, 2012 at 8:04 am

Kelly – I completely agree with your assessments. You did ruffle feathers, but I’ve yet to see a response from someone who can provide real-life examples of BYOD successfully working in schools today. I’m anxious to read Mark’s examples of successful BYOD experience.

K. Walsh July 2, 2012 at 6:56 am

Wow – I really seem to ruffled some feather here! As regular readers know, I’m quite positive about education technology in general (but I don’t advocate “tech for tech’s sake” – it is important that tech efforts be carefully planned and thought out, with clear goals in mind). In this article, I am simply expressing legitimate concerns about the use of non-standardized equipment in a rather non-traditional approach. That being said, I’d love to hear from others who have overcome obstacles such as those I describe here, and I thank the readers below for their contributions. Maybe someone would take the time to explain just how these issues have been worked around in their schools. The comments below about how differences in equipment are a “fact of life” apply well to personal use of personal devices, but not as well to a group of students trying to use a specific application to accomplish a specific assignment. I would welcome an informed, experienced “counter point” article from some who would like to discuss what they are doing with BYOD – how they are actually using the devices in class work, and at what grade levels.

@brentparrish July 2, 2012 at 12:49 am

Although some of these concerns are mildly valid, and it is true that there are other issues stemming from a 1 to 1 BYOD, the benefits far outweigh these paltry issues. I honestly feel this article borderlines on fear mongering and tries to deter schools from making real positive change.

Common sense and real change in the classroom to stimulate student engagement solve most concerns mentioned. I mean seriously, web access, word processing, basic multimedia editing and a few other applications (free versions of all can be had) are the minimum requirements to most creative projects. A second hand iPad has all of these features.

The biggest problem is economic, and that some low income families just can’t afford it. This is where a school has a loaner/rental/leasing option that helps.

Sorry if this is harsh, and I do agree it is worth hearing all sides, but any school serious about improving education wouldn’t let any of these issues stop them from a BYOD shift.

Heather July 1, 2012 at 11:47 pm

These are pretty lame excuses not to mention some pretty irrelevant excuses for an opposing view on BYOD.
1. Mine is better: inequity is a fact of life…if a student is going to be compared based on technology you can bet with or without they’re already being compared then. So if it’s inequity in tennis shoes do we do away with the shoes or make what you have work?? Let’s throw out all educational benefit because Johnny compared his with Suzy. Really?
2. Tech Support: just as in a college class or your home you’re responsible for keeping your device running. If your personal iPhone breaks in your office do you expect your office tech guru to fix it? I’m betting no so why would it be any different in school??
3. Filtering: If Johnny’s given a phone by momma and no parental restrictions are placed on it then momma must not be too concerned about what Johnny looks up, huh?
4. Distractions: really? So minus technology and we got a classroom full of 100% engaged , 0% distracted kiddos. What classrooms you observed lately??
5. inequity in speeds/access: again, a fact of life. You make what you have work. An important skill for 21st century is problem solving.

Simon Hinds July 1, 2012 at 9:22 pm

The authoe of this article should have undertaken more research. Instead of prognosticating on possible problems and deficits the author should have taken the time to investigate the many successful examples of BYOD in schools. Of course there are issues: all eminently surmountable. The main issue is classroom management: get that right and you bring the boon of technology into the classroom. Articles like this are worryingly retrograde as they feed the fears of risk averse educational leaders and prevent progress. Whilst one must respect diverse opinion I’m frankly disturbed and disappointed to read this in Emerging Ed Tech. I am a teacher: devices are a bonus not a distraction in my classroom – students use them when necessary to take photos, both make & videos, take quizzes & polls and for research – phones, tablets & lap tops are out on the table & used with my permission. The classroom would be a poorer, restricted environment without them. Recommend this journal article: ’7 myths about BYOD debunked’: http://thejournal.com/articles/2011/11/09/7-byod-myths.aspx?m=2

K. Walsh July 1, 2012 at 4:13 pm

Thanks Mark, I can surely appreciate the occasionally frustrating nature of working with education technology. I really would love to have you or others who have made a success of BYOD share some insights and ways to combat the challenges it presents, so the offer is open!

Mark Barnes (@markbarnes19) July 1, 2012 at 4:01 pm

Kelly, “reckless” might be a bit harsh. I have read far too many negative posts about BYOD and social media use in the class lately. Perhaps you took the brunt of my frustration. I’ll consider writing something and sending it to you. I do enjoy your blog and your insights.

K. Walsh July 1, 2012 at 3:28 pm

Thanks Mark for sharing your perspective and passion. I’d love to hear how you have overcome these challenges. I am a bit surprised to hear my perspective labeled as “reckless” – I am a staunch advocate of well planned technology integration in education (and have successfully managed information technology for a number of organizations for several decades now). I’m not just throwing these thoughts out there, they are based on legitimate concerns. If you are open to it, I’d invite you to write a response to bring your experiences and insights to the dialogue – there is no better way to learn what works and what doesn’t than from those who have made a success of a specific instructional technology. I hope you’ll consider it. Thanks!

Mark Barnes (@markbarnes19) July 1, 2012 at 1:25 pm

I’ve been using BYOD successfully for years. I find none of your points to be convincing or valid. “Mine is better than yours?” Maybe, if you teach kindergarten. Also, the best part of BYOD is that it eliminates the problems that filters present.

First, you have to understand the concept; then, you have to teach it. Throw Smartphones at kids, and it is likely to go badly. Teach them appropriate use, a whole new world of learning opens up.

Reckless posts like these are what frighten both educators and parents away from 21st-century learning.

Jendeeaz July 1, 2012 at 12:26 pm

Thanks for posting this perspective. I think it’s important to consider the benefits and challenges of BYOD as we bring more and more tech into our schools. Being aware of the possible pitfalls helps schools and teachers plan ahead. Good food for thought.

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