In Some Cash-Strapped Schools, Kids Bring Their Own Tech Devices

| February 3, 2012 | 36 Comments
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Flickr: Santoso

Students are encouraged to bring their own tech devices to school and use them in class.

By Jennifer Roland

At Mankato Public School System in Minnesota, students bring their homework, their lunches, and books to school like most students across the country. But they also bring whatever tech devices they own — and they don’t have to hide it or turn it off when they walk into class.

Mankato has joined the growing Bring Your Own Technology movement that allows students to use their own Netbooks, laptops, and tablets — anything that connects to the school’s wireless network — during class time.

“By allowing kids to bring in their own devices, you free up school resources for the kids who don’t have access,” says Doug Johnson, director of media and technology for the Mankato Public School System. (Johnson wrote the book — literally — on the subject; The Classroom Teacher’s Technology Survival Guide is published this month.) For example, in classrooms that have a group of four computers, finding time for all 30 students to use them can be challenging. In Mankato, 90% of the students have some sort of wireless-capable device, which leaves only eight students in a typical class who will need to use the class computers.

This kind of unconventional approach to schooling, in a public school system that’s tangled with strict rules and regulations, was one of the tactics being hailed this week when President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan spoke about the importance of bringing schools to the 21st century by finding smart ways to integrate technology into the learning process at the inaugural Digital Learning Day.

The common theme from parents: “If I spend $500 on an iPad for my kid, I hope the teachers uses it!”

For schools that are lucky enough to have the money to carry out this mission — whether it’s providing a computer lab, laptops and tablets for students — the rewards of the technology are abundant. But the fiscal reality makes this difficult for most public schools that struggle with dwindling budgets and can’t afford to hire enough teachers, let alone computers.

That’s why school districts like Mankato are experimenting with what could be a very obvious solution: Let kids bring their own tech devices to school. Truth is, at last count (in 2010) more than 75 percent of American kids age 12 to 17 owned cell phones, according to a Pew Research study. And 19 percent of Americans now own a tablet. So it’s no surprise that the Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) movement is taking shape across the country with school districts that allow students to use their tablets, smart phones, and other mobile computing devices in the classroom for learning.

Conceptually, that makes a lot of sense. Why not let kids use the tech tools they’re already familiar with to enhance their learning? But as schools try to figure out the best way of transitioning to this new world, some thorny issues must first be sorted out. How do teachers and school systems prepare for all the different platforms, when some kids are bringing in tablets, others are bringing their parents’ old laptops, and the remainder are on mobile phones? And what effect does this change have on the dynamics of a classroom?

For starters, schools and districts are beset by myriad rules and policies they must follow in order to qualify for state and federal funding. And if district policy does allow kids to bring their own devices, schools must also make sure they have enough bandwidth to deal with all the new devices that need Internet connections.

Schools have long looked at providing Internet-capable devices as the only way to ensure equal access to education for all students, but these endeavors are extremely expensive and, many districts believe, unsustainable without long-term grant funding. That’s where kids using their own devices could work.

Flickr: Brian Oh

What’s so great about having a mobile device in class? Instant access to information is the main reason for allowing kids to use their devices: to search for information online. Some teachers also use mobile devices to gives quizzes or take instant polls. How they use their devices depends on what teachers decide to do with them.

Though there continues to be a large gap in those who own laptops and can afford broadband at home and those who can’t, mobile devices can potentially serve to bridge gaps in access, allowing kids to use them in and outside of school for learning.

HELP OR HINDRANCE?

But allowing kids to use their devices at school might not be as simple a solution as it sounds. Educator and technology consultant Gary Stager believes the BYOT movement “diminishes the otherwise enormous potential of educational computing to the weakest device in the room.” He contends that “cell phones are not computers! They may both contain microprocessors and batteries, but as of today, their functionality is quite different…The computer is an intellectual laboratory and vehicle for self-expression that makes it possible for children to learn and do things in ways unthinkable just a few years ago. We impair such empowerment when we limit educational practice to the functionality of the least powerful device.”

Mobile phones, and especially those that aren’t smart phones, obviously don’t have the same capabilities as computers. But when tablets and Netbooks enter the picture, it becomes less of an argument against insufficient technology and more an argument against managing multiple technologies. Stager adds that in a class full of students handling his or her own device, each one different from the other, will only “amplify [teachers'] anxiety and reduce use.”

But as one who’s taken to using all kinds of devices in school, Johnson believes in the power of the cloud to provide tools that any device can access. In Mankato, they rely heavily on Google Docs and other platform-agnostic tools that serve information to any Internet-accessible device.

And although Johnson admits that more traditional teachers resist or are overwhelmed by this type of learning, students will need little support because they’re already familiar with their own devices. If the bandwidth and infrastructure are in place for students to access the school network, Johnson says they’ll be able to do their work with little oversight.

Johnson has enlisted parents’ help to make sure teachers aren’t overtaxed with trying to help kids figure out how to use the devices that don’t meet district guidelines. He sent a letter home to parents before the holidays with a checklist of things to look for if they were already planning to buy a mobile device for their child’s holiday gift.

The common theme he hears from parents is, “If I spend $500 on an iPad for my kid, I hope the teachers use it!”

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  • Doug Johnson

    A little clarification: our surveys show that 90% of students have some home access to the Internet. The devices certainly include home computers, not just wireless or portable devices. Sorry if there was confusion. Doug Johnson

  • Gericar

    Really??? and all parents can spend $500 for laptops? First designer tennis shoes now who has the best laptop? Where does this lie on the spectrum for schools that make kids wear uniforms to “level the playing field.” and what about the next wave of technology…are parents expected to keep up with the Gateses? I hope my kid isn’t the only kid who has parents who can’t afford to send him to school without the latest tech devices. What happended to public schools being the great equalizers, with everyone having the same access to education. I guess that dream has turned into a nightmare in more ways than one. Try taking your survey in inner city Detroit.

    • http://twitter.com/wizeadz Wize Adz

      Some parents *can* spend $500 on a laptop.  If they’re going to do it anyway, then why not let the school district spend that $500 on a kid whose parents can’t?

      While I’m not the kind to spend money on designer shoes for my kid, and I’m probably no better off than you are.  But, I’ve spent most of my career in IT one way or another, and I’ll be more than happy to provide my son with a laptop (when he’s old enough to go to school).  To further his education, we’ll build/rebuild the computer together, since it’s he’s fascinated by the workings of things and since it’s a skill that I think he should have (regardless of his eventual career choice).

      Since, if I’m going to do that regardless of what the school provides, why shouldn’t the school spend their money providing a laptop to some kid or family who actually needs the assistance?

      The only gotcha is that the school IT folks have to be on the ball and able to deal with different brands and OSs. So, they have to hire IT staff with more of a clue for more interesting work, and make interoperability with Mac OS X, Linux, iPad, and Android a priority (rather than just accepting Microsoft’s vendor lock-in), but that seems like a huge win in the long run.

    • Bludvik

      Inequality has been going on forever in schools and society, technology is just another example. We dealt with it when we were growing up and this generation will have to as well.
      As far as what happened to schools being the great equalizer, ask your government officials. They keep taking away from education and as a result BYOT is the result. Schools can not stop moving forward and politicans chooses to eliminate funds then schools will find other options such as BYOT.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/JZQOP63YCJI6QLFKR5VPNSCZQA Guilliaume, Roger

    Problem with Gericar’s analysis is that we live in a world where technology is important component of learning…  The issue is HOW to provide the tech needed in education. Do you provide the tech OR have the kids bring their own?  Tech is important…  its not an option.  By “great equalizers” I hope you do not mean that public education should do nothing in terms of tech in education.  Because if it does, then our public schools will fall further behind.

  • Dawnmarieski

    One of the challenges for schools identified in the article is ensuring adequate bandwidth for all the students’ devices – it is appalling that this is a problem. For the privilege of being able to conduct business nearly competition free (in how many areas can consumers REALLY choose from a variety of service proiders) communications companies like Cox, Comcast, Time Warner, etc, should be required to provide adequate bandwidth to schools free of charge, including required hardware.  Every generation should support the subsequent generation’s education in all possible ways, they will, after all, be running the world when we are old.

    • Scott

      It is appalling because you have iLecs like Hickory Tech charging $600-800 for T-1 lines in Mankato because there is no competition. This hits rural areas VERY hard these days. They need to break up all ilecs and allow full on competition in every market. As a country, we have the most backwards mom and pop telephone company tariff protection schemes in the world. And until this changes, these companies will do as little as possible for the most amount of money. PS: A T-1 (Still only 1.5 megs) runs $99-199/month in the Cities. In Mankato? $750 / month.

  • http://twitter.com/umbrarchist umbrarchist

    Some devices are pretty cheap.

    Coby Kyros 7015

    ASUS Eee Pad Memo Hands On

    The Asus should be out soon at $250.  So a folding USB keyboard should complete the package.  But where are the schools suggesting good free material.

    A Short History of the World by H. G. Wells (not sci-fi but an SF writer’s perspective)
    http://www.bartleby.com/86/

    There Will Be School Tomorrow, by V. E. Thiessen
    http://www.feedbooks.com/userbook/11643.pdf

    All Day September  by Roger Kuykendall
    http://www.feedbooks.com/book/2295/all-day-september

    Eight Keys to Eden  by Mark Clifton
    http://www.mysterious-strange-weird.com/index-sensational-mysteries.html
    http://www.onread.com/book/Eight-Keys-to-Eden-6514/

    The Fourth R by George O. Smith
    http://www.onread.com/book/The-Fourth-R-17950/

  • Cdogsgo

    I would appreciate an article about education to set appropriate examples of grammar. I hope the teachers uses it? Really? How about some subject/verb agreement? I am an agriculture teacher and school administrator, and I notice these things. 

    • Jennifer Roland

      This was a transcription error on my part. Doug Johnson has a solid grasp of subject-verb agreement.

      • Anonymous

        Thank you Jennifer, and thanks to reader “Cdogsgo” for pointing it out. The typo is fixed — we certainly hope it didn’t detract from the point of the entire article.

        • Ambulator

          It’s still wrong in the quote box used graphically on the left side, top third.

          • asdfasdf asdff

            yolo

  • http://twitter.com/avemacorp Avema Corporation

    What are the security implications for a school using BYOD or BYOT?  I realized that security issues are certainly not as high-profile as a corporate BYOD policy, however in a high school setting, security problems could arise.  Consider a situation where a student brings a family-owned device to school.  What about banking info stored on that device?  Also, does this increase the risk of ‘cheating’ for students, as the ease of sharing documents becomes so much easier?

    Just as with a corporation, if a school is going to implement a BYOD policy, then it is crucial that they address the security issues that will accompany it.

  • old_butlovetechnology

    Let’s think about this for a moment….remember MECC software began in MN so it makes sense for a progressive state (towards technology) should begin to lower the barriers to helping students to be more successful for the real world. Yes, there is a economic gap but you and I both know if they want the item be it shoes or computers parents some how find a way to help their child.

  • Jkrouskoff

    The responses to the article are all worthy of extended conversations.  In the Clarkstown Central School District in Rockland County, NY (www.ccsd.edu ), we will be offering our students (9-12) and staff BYOT wireless access in all school areas that have wireless capability.  The BYOT devices will not be on our internal network, but rather “pushed” to the Internet directly via a Radius server.  They will go through our filters as all internet traffic does. We expect a significant boost in required bandwidth (currently we have 50mb/s) and will likely double it).  With the recent introduction of hundreds of netbooks and more than 135 Chromebooks, we are already at bandwidth capacity, even with aggressive monitoring of sites and usage.  Fortunately bandwidth is relatively affordable via NYS Contract with various vendors.  
    I enjoyed reading that,”"they rely heavily on Google Docs and other platform-agnostic tools that serve information to any Internet-accessible device.”  We do the same, and have had our eye on mobile for a while.  We chose Google Apps several years ago as we knew they would consistently be leading the pack. Here’s to opening as many doors to our students as possible!

  • http://www.ericom.com/AccessNowForEducation.asp?URL_ID=708 Adam

    To facilitate BYOD schools must give students and staff easy but secure access to the school’s applications from various devices (including iPads, iPhones, Android devices and Chromebooks), while minimizing the intervention required by IT staff. An ideal solution for such a scenario is Ericom AccessNow, a pure HTML5 RDP client that enables remote users to connect to any RDP host, including Terminal Server (RDS Session Host), physical desktops or VDI virtual desktops – and run their applications and desktops in a browser. AccessNow works natively with Chrome, Safari, Internet Explorer (with Chrome Frame plug-in), Firefox and any other browser with HTML5 and WebSockets support.

    AccessNow also provides an optional Secure Gateway component enabling external users to securely connect to internal resources using AccessNow, without requiring a VPN.

    For more information on Ericom’s solution for BYOD & education, visit:
    http://www.ericom.com/AccessNowForEducation.asp?URL_ID=708

    Note: I work for Ericom

  • Heather Keith

    I feel BYOD could work great in schools to help keep the budget in line. There would have to limits set beforehand about when to use, how to use, and so forth, but I think having your own device to work on in class would be better than learning skills on technology you aren’t used to. I think this would benefit all involved.

  • Jordan Jettinghoff

    I feel that BYOD is a great idea for school districts now-a-days because most students are starting to learning better from technology like labtops and tablets anyways. Quizzes and fun lesson games could be played on the technology which could help students who have difficulty writing and motor skills. It gets students more active and hands-on than just writing or talking about the lesson. The only thing is is that some districts can’t afford this and it may really benefit that school, but they are left behind due to failed levies or budget cuts! I think some help from the government would be great for some schools.

  • Nathan Ruhlen

    I like the idea of bringing in your own sources of internet for classroom use because the students would already have an understanding of how to use it. This is great for school systems with a dwindling budget because it is one more expense they would not have to worry about. The only thing that scares me about this is filtering out what the students are actually doing during class on their smartphones/ laptops/ notebooks. From a teachers perspective it may be difficult to monitor the usage of these technologies to make sure they are being used for the intended purpose. I feel that teachers need to have a solid set in stone way of monitoring usage, and then a good consequence system for failure to abide by classrooom rules.

  • Danielle Lux

    I think that BYOD still has along way to come before I would consider using it in my class. I like that fact that this idea for the simple fact that this would help school districts with the money factor that comes with using technology in the school. I don’t like this idea because all the students would be using different devices and you as the teacher would have to be very proficient with all the devices in order to help the students.I think the best way to go would be to write for grants so all the students would have the same device& the teacher would be proficient at using it.

  • Shelbey Sarven

    I think the idea of BYOD is great and would really benefit students of today. I graduated from a high school that struggled financially. Our school rarely passed a levy for funds and therefore we were left to use old, outdated computers and laptops that would essentially take the whole class period to log into. Even if our teachers wanted to use technology in the classroom, it was just not financially possible to have technology worth using. If I had been able to bring my own laptop to school to use during class I know that I would have been much more productive during class than I was when we had to wait for our computers to log on. Time is of the essence and I believe that BYOD would help alleviate time wasted on trouble shooting old devices. While I believe in this idea, I am slightly concerned about how the use of technology would be monitored.during class time since there are many distractions out there that may pull students away from the task at hand (Facebook, for example).

  • Renita Ramdeo

    I really like the idea of BYOD to school because students will benefit from this, in this day in age. When students are allowed to bring their own device and not have to worry about it being taken away it will be more influential to each students’ learning than just turning the device off. I know that not all the students will be able to bring a device but that could free up space for the computers at school so those students could put them to good use. This will also benefit the schools that struggle financially because it will lessen the budget for technology.

  • Brianna Morrissey

    I believe the idea of BYOD is pretty good. I consider on how much I rely on technology for school, and it is a great deal. I usually have my computer at home for homework, during class I can use my smartphone, and I also have the schools technology resources as well. Having younger students bring their own devices of technology to class is beneficial for the student, it allows basically unlimited information at their fingertips. When I was back in grade school, we only went to the computer lab once a week for maybe an hour and that was it. Now students can have internet technologies everyday at every second. Teachers can also put it into their lessons for the day instead of making sure they had a computer lab. The only bad things about BYOD is the fact that not all students have a smart phone or a tablet, and their family may not have the money to supply one even if it will help their child out in school. Also another problem would be having students using their devices in an appropriate manner. Meaning, they aren’t texting during class or on Facebook/Twitter when they are suppose to be learning a lesson.

  • Lindsay Fittro

    I like the idea of BYOD because it allows students to become comfortable using technology as part of the curriculm. Most students have a device that can be used in the classroom and allow them to search the web and work online. The potential downfall to BYOD is that not every student will have a device and if there are only 4 computers available in the classroom and 5 or 6 students without a device how does the teacher keep each student on the same page? If students were able to use a device in the classroom then the teacher could use wiki and google docs as part of the every day curriculm.

  • Katie Keith

    I like the idea of BYOD because it ensures that students will come into class knowing how to use the device and be able to access the information. This will eliminate the time it usually would take teachers to walk kids through a new “foreign” device that they have not used and the operations are outdated and uncommon. Most students today have at least a cell phone, if not some type of ipod, or kindle, which would all be acceptable to use to access the internet. The potential pitfall would be the unfortunate kids that do not have the devices capable of carrying out such tasks. What I would recommend and it would be completely voluntary, up to the students, and parents, that those students who happen to have have an overlap of devices share in class when computers cannot suffice. Of course, the “across the board” documents such as wikis and google docs would be needed to ensure seamless transitions between all the devices and the changes but the goal of incorporating technology could be reached without costing the school tons of money that most students already have the resources.

  • Mary Shafer

    I think that the idea of BYOD is a really good idea. I think that if students were allowed to bring their own devices to school then, just like the article mentioned, it would free up other devices for children that can not afford their own. I also think that this is a good idea for children to be able to bring their own devices to school because children are far more familar with how their individual device works because they play around on it all day, especially phones. I believe that if students were able to bring their own devices to school then they woud be able to further educate themselves and their classmates om how different devices work and how to be more efficient with them. All in all, I think this is a great idea to help further the education for students and to make their classroom into a 21st century classroom.

  • http://twitter.com/telea_v Telea VanDyke

    I think BYOD is an excellent idea! Allowing students to bring their own devices with them to school would save educators so much time. Think about the time spent on research projects just because many classrooms/schools do not have the adequate amount of computers in their classrooms/schools. This also saves the educator time because the children who bring their own device, will probably already know how to use or be familiar with that device. The less time the teacher has to spend teaching students how to work or maneuver the schools devices, the more time they have to teach quality information..

  • Andrea Stratton

    I like the idea of BYOD, so children who cannot afford to bring their own devices could have more access to the computers. The downside is these children may feel left out and envious of their classmates that can afford these. It does make sense that children should use the devices they are used to from home, instead of working with an unfamiliar device. BYOD would cut down on time spent showing students how to navigate, and that would free up more time for learning.

  • Becca Trevathan

    I think the implementation of BYOD is a great idea with many positive effects. First, BYOD will allow students who have technological devices (that they are familiar with) to bring them into school and use the device for educational purposes. For a lot of students this sparks interest and I think would help engage the students more effectively. Second, it frees up the classroom technology for students who may not have a device to bring in. This ensures that all students will have some form of technology to use. Though this may not ensure 100% equality, it does ensure that students will get to use technological devices more frequently and on a regular basis.

  • Dylan Shepherd

    I love the idea of BYOD, tehnology is only going to be an increasing factor in our everyday lives. Therefore why not embrace the fact that technology is around us and embrace students using their technology. I believe the students will have and use the technology whether we like it or not. So rather than have students sit in class and text each other without the teachers permission because they know they are not supposed to, we mid as well as teachers embrace the collaboration aspect of technology.

  • Kirsten Leasure

    I think that this is a good idea but there could be hard to accomplish right now as not everyone can have assess to any devices. I think someday this will happen in almost every school system. Students need to learn about technology and how to use it because with the system growing so rapidly. We need to encourage students to use their devices not punish them for having or using them.

  • http://twitter.com/Lialah Hannah

    I am in favor of the idea of kids bringing their own devices in. It only makes sense. It saves the school money on computer maintenance, puts devices in the hands of the students where needed rather than teachers having to set aside extensive amounts of time in computer labs for the majority of the class, and opens up a plethora of new learning opportunities because it is making a valuable resource more efficient and available. It also avoids many of the formatting issues associated with digitally transported homework, and gives students what is more familiar to work with rather than relying on unfamiliar systems or having to wait until they get home to download or update what they need to complete their assignments. Granted, I understand not everyone has these devices, but as it mentioned above it opens up the computer labs for the students who actually need them, and it is not mandatory so much as allowed. Also the computers would be maintained more easily with less strain on the systems. I understand there are also bandwidth problems, but that strikes me as a transitional problem, one for which a solution will be found as this system develops and progresses. The benefits seem to outweigh the temporary set-back in that regard (an obstacle to be overcome rather than a dead-end.)

  • Wowzers

    This is a great overview of what BYOD policies present. You briefly touched on apprehension to these plans, but I feel that apprehension is warranted. Teachers have been told for years to not allow students to use their own phones or computers, and now we are embracing it!

    But, there is a way to get these teachers on board with the digital learning opportunities BYOD policies present. The schools need to thoroughly prepare via cooperation, voicing of expectations, and needed profesional development to get all stakeholders (teachers, students, parents, etc) on the same page.

    To learn more about what schools need to do to prepare for their BYOD policies, check out http://blog.wowzers.com/bid/267188/Thorough-Preparation-is-Key-in-Implementing-a-BYOD-Policy.

  • bob

    fggfbggngg

  • TD

    This sounds like a recipe for disaster. Imagine how many different operating system a teacher might have to deal with Windows 8 , Mac OS, IOS, various generations of Android, not to mention older systems that less privileged students might have at their disposal. Even if the classroom is running just internet apps, finding ones that can work on such a varied collection of platforms is going to prove difficult.

    In addition imagine the kind of in-class competition and social stigma associated with having older, less fashionable tech, or even worse, no tech at all.

    BTW if “In Mankato, 90% of the students have some sort of wireless-capable device, which leaves only eight students in a typical class who will need to use the class computers.” would imply that a typical classroom in Mankato has 80 students.