The BYOD Option & Addressing Gary Stager’s Objections to BYOD

This post is based on a portion of the talk on the mobile-tech invasion of our classrooms that I gave at CUE@macworld2012 this past January. Enjoy. Speakers notes and references following the video.


Speaker’s Notes:

Slide 2: In late January (2012), while I was preparing my CUE@macworld2012 talk about what to do about mobile tech invading our classrooms…

Slide 3: ISTE’s January issue of Learning & Leading (volume 39 number 5) showed up at my doorstep and BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) was discussed several times in the issue. My macworld talk discussed how educators and institutions were dealing with students coming to school with potentially powerful technology in their pockets and how they might take advantage of that scenario. In the Learning & Leading publication, one of my former mentors, Dr. Gary Stager, presented rather strong objections to BYOD, that I’d like to address.

Dr. Stager was my professor when I was getting my master’s degree at Pepperdine and he’s pretty well-known for having strong opinions about what’s wrong with how education has been managed over the past several decades. Dr. Stager knows well of what he preaches, having been associated with the legendary Seymour Papert.

You may well know all of this, so I apologize if I’m preaching to the choir, but in the early days when micro-computers were entering the classroom MIT and Papert studied the potential and in those early days determined that technology, due to it’s expense in time, support and money, needed to deliver more than what was being promoted: stand-alone drill and kill stations. What they figured out was that if they taught students computer programming then they would be teaching students three fundamental skills: communication, problem-solving and creative thinking. In those early days the vision was to use computers to add to the educational experience in ways that weren’t easily doable without computers. Alas, the technology market has tended to dumb-down it’s potential in the classroom in search of faster, smaller, cheaper devices, forgetting the vision of Papert.

So, let me address Stager’s objections: * BYOD enshrines inequity: Only way to guarantee equitable educational experiences requires same assess for all students… Policy versus Practice: We want every student to have the same access, if BYOD were the only option then, yes, we’re dealing with “separate but equal” foolishness. There’s a difference between allowing for and supporting versus BYOD as the only option

BYOD creates false equivalencies between any object that happen to use electricity: cell phones not computers! Totally agree. I think we learned that there is a base-level where the technology is not value-add, like having only one-student PC in the classroom, BYOD needs something more powerful than a feature-phone.

We should not make important educational decisions based on price(!): Again, totally agree. Stager has had to contend with many a small-minded bureaucrat so I understand his concern. BYOD should never fall victim to the “we don’t need to fund this because they’re taking care of it with BYOD” a la the California lottery. BYOD is an option not an excuse to not fund our educational system.

BYOD narrows the learning process to information access and chat: Say no to looking up answers and powerpoint! Yes, beware of tacked-on drill and kill, lowest common denominator, solution-looking-for-a-problem tech projects that have little to no effect on student learning.

BYOD increases teacher anxiety: schools have failed to encourage computer use after 3 decades. Yes, so on some level we are taking matters into our own hands and finding working solutions, like BYOD, because sometimes waiting for admin to do something is a non-starter. Things change because small groups of enthusiasts find a way. Waiting for the bureaucracy, no.

BYOD diminishes the otherwise enormous potential of educational computing to the weakest device in the room: Real computers provide an intellectual library and vehicle for self-expression limited by the least powerful device. See phones aren’t computers, there is a base-level that doesn’t work. It helps to remember that most smart phones have capabilities beyond the computers that took our astronauts to the moon in the 60s and 70s. Don’t underestimate what students and teachers can do with these devices.

BYOD contributes to the growing narrative that education is not worthy of investment: “Democracy and a high-quality educational system require adequate funding.” Note the tech coordinator with the latest hardware who decides that students can do with whatever: “let them eat cell phones.” Agreed, back to Policy versus Practice: We do this because we are actively bridging the gap between our students’ experiences in the classroom and their world the rest of the time. Properly done BYOD brings to the fore all of the good educational practices of ownership, creativity and learning that gets lost when education is limited to one-size-fits-all bureaucratic solutions. BYOD is an option. The things that Stager fears are not technology related but the decision-making predilections toward out-dated educational policies.

Slide 4: In my macworld talk I noted a local school, Audubon Park Elementary, where the principal actively supports teachers using technology brought from home because he’s seen how student engagement has been elevated when instruction is more interactive and students are encouraged to communicate using the devices they are comfortable using. This didn’t happen all at once and it wasn’t a bureaucratic decision. But was something that grew, first with the installation of interactive promethean boards and then with parent and community support. BYOD has been working at Audubon Park Elementary because it’s part of the solution and not even necessarily the main part. The main part is educators, administrators and the community finding ways to take advantage of the technology at hand to do the job of learning.

Slide 5: Dr. Stager is correct in his concern if BYOD is institutionalized and there’s an expectation for educators to cobble together classroom technology that should otherwise be supported by districts, to provide appropriate learning environments. But educators and administrators who use BYOD to innovate and take advantage of possible available technology should not be made to feel like they’re running a fool’s errand.

It’s a two-edged sword where districts and decision-makers need to be kept honest about their funding while administrators and educators and communities have the freedom to innovate.

Slide 6: The force for change and the expense of tech pushes us to reveal what we really believe Education should look like…

It’s an ongoing theme of mine that the stress brought about by subjects like BYOD isn’t at all about technology in the classroom as much as it’s an opportunity for us to show what we really believe education should look like: I’m in favor of educators coming up with innovative ways to meet their students’ needs using whatever means necessary.