BYOD – Worst Idea of the 21st Century?


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.



81 Responses to “BYOD – Worst Idea of the 21st Century?”
  1. Kent says:

    Much discussion on this topic: Just curious how many folks reading/posting on this topic currently work in K-12 public education? When you witness student and teacher daily use of technology while balancing budget, policy, and supporting curriculum requirements, views broaden. BYOT appears to parallel the discussion on social networking in schools–it is a push-up from students rather than a push-down from teachers/schools. Students have already figured out the benefits and drawbacks of technologies.

    Review the past Speak-Up collections from Project Tomorrow

    Two caveats school districts need to address:
    1) teacher and administrator awareness of what the technologies can and can not do
    2) equity for those students whose families don’t have the means to provide the technology

  2. Ziad Baroudi says:

    Hi Gary,
    I don’t agree with everything you say but I agree with every single thing you say in this post. We’re spending billions worldwide replicating what kids have always done on paper. To solve big problems, we need a combination of human creativity and machine power. Yet, we don’t want to teach students how to give instructions to a computer(ie how to program). The Maths curricula most of us teach continue to assume that the equation is the key abstraction of the world. If you can turn a problem into an equation, preferably with one unknown, then you can solve that problem. Today, a mathematician is just as likely to solve a problem through an algorithm which a computer can execute. This has been the case for a long time and yet programming is yet to make the mainstream.
    I leave you with two thoughts: 1- Maintain the rage; 2- Go Tigers!!!

  3. Lukas.Jaeger says:

    I think it might help because we have to do a Persuasive Essay on it and it will open new oppertunitys for kids with disabilitys but it might affect kids that dont have a lot of money. But on the good side, it might work. Peace out! ~~Lukas Iforgot Jaeger~~
    BTW add me to Facebook! ( Lukas Iforgot Jaeger)

  4. Hoy says:

    Suck my dick lol

  5. Nancy says:

    I’ve never been a proponent of the BYOD movement — I actually call it the ‘Beyond the Divide’ movement (yes, you’ll have to ‘stretch’ the connection between BYOD and ‘Beyond the Divide’). I fear that the divide will become a chasm that will be difficult to bridge if we allow any and all ‘devices’ into our classrooms. I am more concerned about leveling the field and BYOD appears to make it more apparent between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’.

    Aside from the logistical nightmare for educators — will we need to be versed in trouble-shooting all forms of ‘devices’ and operating systems? Will our lessons need to have additional modifications based on the iOS? Or will this truly reform our lesson designs to make them uniform regardless of ‘device’ or OS?

    Who knows? I for one would like to see our focus return more to the pedagogy and less to the equipment.

  6. Linda says:

    I do understand the hassles that come when kids bring, or are unable to bring, their own computers to school. However, when will we stop making excuses for teachers who are “not comfortable” with technology? I am an old teacher, closer to 60 than 50, but I saw this coming, got on the bandwagon, and try to lead the way in this area. I’m really tired of hearing from teachers in many age ranges that technology “isn’t their thing.” They are doing their students a great injustice by not recognizing the connections that can be made from classroom to the real world.

  7. Patti says:

    Colleges do BYOD. No one worries about digital divide. In schools why not let them bring if they want? Our huge need to be fair makes us so scared. So we can’t afford each student a laptop. If we did BYOD then only have to buy half we could but since it might indicate some inequalities we do nothing. Now no one gets one. Of course that is fair. Everyone is the same.

  8. Darcy Moore says:


    What if there are no ‘devices’ in the classroom? Surely a kid who spends all day at school, without even touching a computer connected to the internet, should be able to bring their own to assist learning. That is just using their initiative.


  9. This is the most “Bogus” article I have ever read. First of all, the devices shown in the article are “TOTALLY OUTDATED” and are not the items we use today. This is NOT the devices students bring to school. Students have web enabled devices that can perform 75% of the functions of a laptop and given the choice, most students prefer their Smartphone. I also believe that most people underestimate low income families owning devices. Cell providers have made owning an iPhone or Android very obtainable for everyone. Don’t kid yourself, everyone has a cell phone. In a recent poll in several of our schools, 83% of the students had Smartphone and wanted to use it in their everyday learning. These are majority Free & Reduced students in Title1 schools. As a district manager, I would rather purchase devices for 17% to use as opposed to 100% of our 60,000 students. BYOD is not perfect, but in an economy that can’t sustain millions of dollars each year to keep a fresh laptop in a student’s hand; this is an alternative we have to look at.

  10. Mark Flynn says:

    I disagree, Gary. BYOD coupled with 1-1 is what we have implemented in grades 5-8 in the past. Total chaos – kids learning with whatever they want to, whatever suits them in that situation – usually multiple devices. AND, kids collaborating.

  11. Glen says:

    Gary! You included a pic of a Merlin. Cool. If a kid brought one of those to my class, I’d be pretty happy.

  12. Michael says:


  13. Look, the point is that Gary is right. Tablets/cell phones do not support the kinds of things we should be having all kids do – learning to program with Logo, etc, create rich media from scratch, explore freely without having to deal with the encumbrances of technology. A netbook computer with the same price as a tablet is a true computer, and costs less than textbooks. While I believe tablets will get new capabilibies soon, right now they are the trend du jour. I believe kids should ALWAYS have been allowed to use technologies from home, and to this extent, BYOD is long overdue. But, when BYOD means that you provide your own tool, or go without, we hurt kids. The real change we need is pedagogical, not technological, and the current state of tablets is a step back. And, to add insult to injury, I know of at least one school who is setting up a “tablet lab.”

    When tablets let kids do the kinds of things they could do on an old Apple II, we will have made progress. I use tablets, but in conjunction with other tools. This makes sense.

  14. kayla says:

    My opinion about this article is that when you bring your own technology to school, it is useful because it can help you access different things for your studies. It’s faster too! On the other hand though it can be dangerous because you could pay a lot of money for your technology and it could be stolen.


Check out what others are saying about this post...
  1. […] No. 2: BYOD will result in lessons geared toward the weakest device. In his blog post, “BYOD–The Worst Idea of the Century?” Gary Stager asserts that BYOD diminishes the otherwise enormous potential of educational […]

  2. […] Some argue that BYOT initiatives will reinforce inequity between the haves and have-nots. Students from wealthier families may be able to easily afford high-tech solutions, while poorer students may be left with cheaper, less functional equipment (Stager). […]

  3. […] I received email from Eugene Paik, a reporter for The Star Ledger newspaper. He read my blog post, BYOD – Worst Idea of the 21st Century?, and was seeking expertise for an article on a New Jersey school district enacting a […]

  4. […] policies and technologies that are unambitious and inequitable. I won’t go over the ground that Stager has about dumbing down to the lowest device and inequality between the rich and poor but let me say […]

  5. […] Ah, the graphing calculator, that one piece of computing hardware that — despite all the handwringing about BYOD — kids are required to buy and bring to class. A low-end graphing calculator will cost you […]

  6. […] BYOD – Worst Idea of the 21st Century? : Stager-to-Go […]

  7. […] the subject I discovered it is also a polarizing subject. At first blush, Gary Stager’s “BYOD – Worst Idea of the 21st Century” stands opposed to BYOD. Stager explains how it “enshrines inequity”: “The only […]

  8. […] student to have access to the same materials and learning opportunities,” he wrote on his blog, Stager-to-Go. “BYOD leaves this to chance with more affluent students continuing to have an unfair advantage […]

  9. Tips & Resources for launching and sustaining a mobile learning initiative…

    List originating from CoSN’s work. Revise as we de…

  10. […] 27.05.12: Gary Stager hält BYOD für eine ganz schlechte Idee (BYOD – Worst Idea of the 21st Century?) und nennt dafür acht Gründe (nicht unwidersprochen, 71 […]

  11. […] Gary Stager: BYOD – Worst idea of the 21st century? […]

  12. […] BYOD – Worst Idea of the 21st Century? : Stager-to-Go. Comments […]

  13. […] families. As a society, that’s a mistake. We have a responsibility to educate our citizenry. Gary Stager has written on this. I agree with […]