The good, the bad and the ugly of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device)

Most schools have moved to Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) structure where the student supplies the computing device for the education (or work environment).

The following points are taken from The Advantages And Disadvantages Of Using BYOD In Schools. I’m just considering them in a boarder context of a secondary school environment where some of the pluses are need to be developed and some of the minuses need to be addressed to move forwards beyond the “Magical computer solving all our educational problems”. The cynical part of me looks at the way it pushes the cost of education onto the students, but

When I think of a BYO-Device it is usually a smartphone, tablet or laptop. Tech-savvy students are more likely to have a laptop where most will have a smartphone for easy of use and portability reasons.

Offers Comfort Of Using A Known Device.

A consideration of the student’s prior knowledge is needed here. Although it is a known device, how much do they really know? Web browsers, games, email? For a secondary environment we need to be explicit about what the device should be used for, how it could be misused, and what it is not capable of achieving.

For the 90% of cases where research, creating a document, presentation, tables of data, or graphs are needed then a simple device that can run Office Applications, or surf the web maybe all that is needed. However, how easy is it to use the device to complete that task? Are we training creators of content or just consumers?

It is unrealistic to expect a BYOD to be able to perform every computation task set it. For example; There are apps that can perform photo manipulation on all devices, however, it is not reasonable to have the teacher of image editing teach all that software at once. Then there is the consideration of training someone for industry where the expectation is to use industry standard software (ie. Adobe’s Photoshop).

Who is comfortable with the device? Regardless of the device the classroom teacher now becomes to first point of call for any technical problems, and they have to find software that is usable on all devices from desktops through to smartphones. This is likely to increase the workload on the teacher, until they become comfortable with multiple devices and operating systems.

Just because the student is comfortable with the device does not mean that everyone how may need to use it is. We also need to consider how the device is to be used in the classroom setting and how is can distract (see below). Then just because you are comfortable with something does not mean you know how to use it or how it works.

Leverages Students’ Love For Their Devices.

How do the student’s love the device? As a revolutionary piece of technology enhancing their lives, as a useful thing to connect to other people, or as  a toy?

A students love for their device does not tend to last that long, unless they have a passion for the field of Information Technology or Computing. For most students the technology becomes a ubiquitous thing that’s thrown into the bag with everything else.

We need to think how people choose to use the device. There have been studies that show how the different genders use the device. Males tend to use it as a toy to have fun with, where females tend to use it as a tool to achieve their goals. Once a basic level of competency has been reached device becomes secondary to what the student wants.

Do we want future artists or writers to become distracted by the devices that enable their art form instead of the art form itself. Ubiquitous computing in the form of BYOD should be an enabler of human endeavour not a distraction from it. Most of the time technology is the enabler once the thinking or planning is done.

A good example of this is when I start planning a brand new task or activity for students that I have never attempted before. It generally starts out as a rough idea of concept sketch before I write it up neatly. The rough working allows me to focus on the core idea without the distraction of anything except pencil and paper. The digital technology is brought in later to enable the neat formatting for a document, creating of the eLearning object, video or audio podcast.

Advanced Technology Makes Learning Easier.

Technology makes things easier by completing the computation of the task quicker than a person can do. The thinking of the task represented in the computations the technology does for us has already being done. The goal of any educator is to empower the student with the thinking to solve life’s problems and become a full member of society. This can be shown in how they handle the weekly shopping, communicate clearly, face complex situations, or deal with technology.

There is also the need for digital literacy, most people assume that the next generation is better adapted to use the current technology. However, more playtime with digital devices does not automatically lead to tech-savvy individuals. There is a fundamental need to educate everyone with some basic digital literacy. This is where ubiquitous technology inhibits the development of computational thinking.

Although BYOD can be used with virtual desktop software (VMware) or cloud computing services (gmail, google Docs, AdobeCC, tinkerCAD, etc) it can be foiled by network issues or Internet speeds. Virtual Desktops are not the same has having a powerful computer to run the application, especially when looking at topics like games programming, 3D Animation, or website development.

Then there is the issue of hardware or software failure. As soon as there is a technical issue the learning is stopped in it’s tracks while the problem is solved. So this creates the need to students to have some basic fault finding skills in addition to basic IT skills.

How To Reduce The Distraction?

This is a big one as BYOD can provide solutions to many problems with the easy creation of content with automated website creation websites like weebly, but if that is the intent of the learning is it worthwhile? or will it distract from the goal of the lesson, task, or activity.

If we are training people who can apply their mind to solve everyday problems, then we want the best opportunity to reach a solution. With so many distractions happening all around them, how can the learn to filter out the useless data and focus on the important stuff. Although the link is not explicit there has been a trend towards mindfulness in education, and this can been seen as a reaction to the technological overload.

As teachers BYOD forces us to focus on the real learning that can be done when using these devices. We need to be very explicit and clear about focus of the lesson and what is to be achieved by the end of the lesson, unit, term or semester.

Security: A Major Issue.

Point one above mentioned the comfort of using a known device, but this can also lead to complacency with the device. So that works against this point of security. Some schools manage this with curated devices while others leave it to the students, both of these options dis-empower the students. However, if you take the third option the technology is then driving the curriculum, which is a double edged sword. Students need digital literacy, but the technology is evolving so quickly that the curriculum needs to be updated almost every year.

What are the benefits of BYOD?

So after spending most of this post looking at the flaws of BYOD. It’s only fair to examine the benefits. In some cases having a personal device enhances the individual’s learning by allowing them ready access to the digital tools that allow them to create digital resources, gain access to remote resources, or to communicate across the world. These are huge benefits that educators have not had easy access to before. each with it’s own pitfall

What are the solutions to avoid problems with BYOD?

As with computer there are many solutions to the one problem with each having to be considered on it’s merits and flaws, and it’s suitability to the school environment.

One solution is a collection of curated devices that the students lease. A Standard Operating Environment (SOE) provides a uniform array of software on the device, that allow technicians to easily maintain the hardware and software. With a SOE it allows teachers to easily access the software they need to teach their subject. Technicians and teachers can be trained in the use of the software. The is an easier solution from an administration perspective. There can be other concerns around ownership of the hardware and the respectful treating of the device.

Another is best described as open season, where anyone can bring any device. This knocks out the supports that trained technicians can provide to the device, and that teachers can rely on to educate with. However, it does empower students with the control of their own device and with the right IT training that can become proficient users.

A variant of the open season BYOD is to use a virtual desktop to simulate a SOE or Desktop environment, but this tends to suffer from lag from network issues. These can be overcome with a robust network, however, as any computer gamer knows lag equals death. And the same is true with virtual desktops, as students are unwilling to wait when interacting with a virtual environment. A joke back in the ’90s was, What does www stand for?… World Wide Wait. Which highlights the issue of lag, and web designers now look to limit the average load time for a page to fractions of a second to avoid web browsers moving on.

In the virtual desktop environment, there is also the difficulty of how you interact with the device. Most virtual desktops are Windows-based and are optimised for a keyboard and mouse use, while the tablets (iPad, etc) or smart phones are touch orientated with limited screen real estate.

Sadly most of the positives of BYOD programs are temporary fads of a technological fix to educational problems and are unlikely to create lasting change in the desired way. There is an underlying assumption of the way we educate that needs to be addressed. The flipped classroom is a step in the right direction.

Also the devices we use are having a lasting effect on the way we thinking and interact with the world. Social media now plays a huge part of must students (& peoples) lives and concepts like the netiquette, appropriate behaviour, and where the data goes are all important. Which leads to poor impulse control as we choose not to defer our gratification and act out. The easy access of lots of information requires more skeptical or media savvy view of the content we consume. There is now a greater need to critically select and evaluate our information sources.

So if they are used properly BYOD can enhance the learning environment but there are a few things to note. They have limited use, because of the you have to pick stuff that will work with the weakest device and it is difficult to find Apps that work on all devices. This means that the device will be able to view websites, use email, create documents with an Office application, and watch videos. More complex tasks like image manipulation, audio/video editing are still the domain of the specialist, as there is not one app to rule them all. Although this is changing with cross platform development.