December 19, 2014

BYOD in the Literacy Classroom

Being asked to write a counterpoint article on the benefits of a BYOD program appeared to be a challenge at first, as I happen to be a supporter of the integration of technology.  As I considered it longer, there are definitely concerns I have with technology in general and with BYOD programs in particular, especially if neither is approached with best practices in the development of the initiative.

The biggest and ongoing concern with Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) programs is the inequity that can exist which is often not intentional but can easily be overlooked.  How do schools address the fact that not all students have devices? If the district does plan to provide devices for those students that do not have their own device, that will help, but then students that do have a device, but possibly of lesser quality than the schools, may decide not to bring in their device.  I want access to the better device, and let’s face it, borrowing the school’s device would be putting less mileage (or eating up storage) on my device. 

Another concern with any technology initiative is in the planning and preparation for the network.  While it is great that more and more schools finally have internet access and more of these schools with access are now supporting wireless devices with quality wifi service, there is a difference between having 5 iPads in your classroom and suddenly having 20 -25 devices that are all trying to access the same access point.  Even after you beef up your wireless access you then have to worry about what is being accessed over the internet. 

Sure, there are ways to filter improper content, and if students are simply uploading word documents to be submitted as reports to the teacher then everything will probably work as smooth as silk.  But when you ask a classroom full of students to search You Tube for a video of their favorite story, you are about to see how quickly a bullet train can turn into a snail in a typical US school district.

BYOD will also bring its own challenges to the classroom teacher.  Whether they are comfortable with this role or not, you will quickly become the technology help desk for up to 20 different tech devices in your classroom.  Let’s face it, not all devices are created equal, and while little Suzie with a brand new iPad Air will likely face few tech glitches.  When she does they can probably be easily addressed through a search on You Tube or the Apple website.  But little Johnny who brings in a brand name device you have never heard of, and that his father let him have because it was a free promo gift from his telecommunications company, you may face some serious problems when his device decides it doesn’t want to open the website you have asked all students to go to because it doesn’t have the proper drivers or plug-ins.  When you get right down to it, you need to have the right tool for the job, and not all devices are best for everything.  Reading on a device is different than typing up a 2-3 page paper. 

Finally, the biggest concern using technology in the classroom is the preparation and professional development provided to the teachers to prepare them for this new style of learning.  You cannot simply add a device that can take a student to almost anything in the world they would like to access, and expect them to not be distracted and tempted to search out what interests them.  If a teacher is not prepared for this possibility and how to manage a situation like that, you are setting them up for failure and frustration and all teachers deserve far less of that.  Teachers need and deserve the time and training to be experts in managing and instructing with the tools they are expected to use in their trade.

This post is actually an adaptation of the "Two Takes" opinion piece I was asked to write for Reading Teacher magazine which is published by International Reading Association.  You can find it in the January/February 2015 Issue on pages 14 and 15.  I was limited to around 600 words and this is a subject I could go on about for quite a while and even argue the other side of the topic.  I added a few photos and made a couple of small changes to what I submitted but it's basically the same.

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