In 1990, I began helping schools across the globe realize the transformational learning potential of a laptop for every child. From the start there was a recognition of the certain inevitability that every student would own their a personal mobile personal computer in the near future, whether school provided it or not. Twenty-one years later, way too few students have a personal computer and the very issue seems to become more controversial with each passing day.
Schools and school districts who have come to the personal computing party decades late now have conjured a cheap less-empowering way to produce an illusion of modernity. They call it “Bring Your Own Device” (BYOD) or “Bring Your Own Technology” (BYOT) and it’s a terribly reckless idea for the following reasons.
BYOD enshrines inequity
The only way to guarantee equitable educational experiences is for each student to have access to the same materials and learning opportunities. BYOD leaves this to chance with more affluent students continuing to have an unfair advantage over their classmates. This is particularly problematic in a society with growing economic disparity.
Real people don’t want a device
What was the last time you walked into a Best Buy or Apple Store and asked the clerk, “I’d like to buy a device please?” Nobody does that. You buy a computer. A device is something you buy for other people’s children when you’re pinching pennies or have too low expectations for children.
BYOD simplistically creates false equivalencies between any object that happens to use electricity
Repeat after me! Cell phones are not computers! They may both contain microprocessors and batteries, but as of today, their functionality is quite different.
It is miseducative to make important educational decisions based on price!
A wise mentor of me told me long ago that important educational decisions should not be based on price. It’s immoral, ineffective and imprudent. Who is to blame when BYOD fails to realize its potential or creates unforeseen problems. For forty years, visionary educators like Alan Kay, Seymour Papert, David Thornburg, David Loader and countless others have demonstrated that the cost of providing every child with a powerful personal computer (laptop) is between 2-5% of the cost of schooling. These costs have fallen in recent years. Plenty of schools and districts have reordered priorities to provide each student with a personal laptop. Doing the right thing is a matter or priorities and leadership, not price point.
BYOD narrows the learning process to information access and chat (when students aren’t being punished for either)
Information access, note-taking and communication (presenting, sharing, publishing) are the low-hanging fruit of education and represent the tiniest fraction of what it means to learn. Looking up the answers to someone else’s questions online in order to write an essay or make a PowerPoint presentation reinforces the status quo at best while failing to unlock for children the wondrous opportunities provided by computational thinking.
BYOD increases teacher anxiety
Schools have largely failed to inspire teachers to use computers in even pedestrian ways after three decades of attempts. A cornucopia of various devices in the classroom will only amplify teacher anxiety and reduce use.
BYOD diminishes the otherwise enormous potential of educational computing to the weakest “device” in the room
Some educators are excited by using “technology” to teach things we have always wanted kids to learn, perhaps in a more efficient fashion. My work is driven by an understanding that the computer is an intellectual laboratory and vehicle for self-expression that makes it possible for children to learn and do things in ways and domains unthinkable or unavailable just a few years ago. Such empowerment is impaired when educational practice needs to be limited to the functionality of the least powerful device.
BYOD contributes to the growing narrative that education is not worthy of investment
We reap what we sow, educators who placate those who slash budgets by making unreasonable compromises at the expense of children, will find ever fewer resources during the next funding cycle. Education must not be viewed as some competitive, commercial, “every man for himself” enterprise that relies on children to find loose change behind the sofa cushions. Democracy and a high quality educational system requires adequate funding.
Oh yeah, check out the brand new Macbook Pro, iPhone, iPad and high-def video camera being carried by the tech coordinator who decided that students should be happy with whatever hand-me-down devices they might scrounge. Let them eat cell phones!
It takes a special pitch to ask a school or school board to buy one of something for every student. You better make sure you ask for the right “device.” Kids need a personal computer capable of doing anything you imagine they should be able to do, plus leave plenty of room for growth and childlike ingenuity.
Of course teachers should welcome any object, device, book or idea a student brings to class that contributes to the learning process. Every thing a child brings to school in her heart, head or backpack is a potential gift to the learning environment. However, BYOD is bad policy that constrains student creativity, limits learning opportunities and will lead to less support for public education in the future.
Veteran educator Gary Stager, Ph.D. is co-author of Invent To Learn — Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom, publisher at Constructing Modern Knowledge Press, and the founder of the Constructing Modern Knowledge summer institute. He led professional development in the world’s first 1:1 laptop schools thirty years ago and designed one of the oldest online graduate school programs. Gary is also the curator of The Seymour Papert archives at DailyPapert.com. Learn more about Gary here.