Mobile technology can enhance learning and every student deserves access. It represents educational opportunities previous generations could not have imagined, and we should continue to find the best ways to integrate its power into our classrooms.

We are now almost three years into the Howard County Public Schools‘ “Bring Your Own Device” or BYOD policy for middle and high schoolers.

This praiseworthy experiment sounded like a win-win: Students would have easy access to internet-based tools to optimize learning without straining the district budget.

The reasoning seems simple: kids use mobile devices every day. Why not incorporate them into their educational experience?

Unfortunately, that thinking turned out to be too simple. Problems keep popping up with the program, many of them easy to anticipate. Here are a few:

  1. Different devices mean a different student experience

A student using an Android phone has a very different instructional experience from a classmate accessing the same information with an iPad. With so many operating systems, sizes, standardizing the educational benefit of hand held technology is proving impossible.

2. Excessive technology may have negative implications for brain development

Throughout primary and high school, students’ brains are continuing their biological development. Research suggests excessive time on tablets, smartphones or iPads can limit development of key brain functions, like attention, creativity, and memory. The classroom is precisely the environment where we should be encouraging development of these skills, not contributing to their decline.

3. Teachers are insufficiently trained to use BYOD

Monitoring usage and in-class troubleshooting inevitably falls on the classroom teacher.   Since operating systems, devices are constantly evolving, it’s impossible for teachers to stay current on their functionality.  Time spent troubleshooting a student’s balky OS is time taken away from instruction and maintaining a classroom discipline.

  1. Omnipresent technology hinders social skills

 A recent story in the LA Times cites two major Apple investors as stating “…early research shows the negative effects phone usage has had on children, such as being distracted in the classroom, higher risks of depression and suicide, and sleep deprivation.”

School is one of the few places where students can still discover the value of looking someone in the eye and conversing/collaborating a face-to-face. With their personal devices now available in classroom schools, students fall into the habit of texting classmates who are in the same room. This ease of communication is also distracting and disruptive to classroom operations.

  1. Equal Access

Not every family can afford a personal device for their children. Even if the we could resolve the significant issues surrounding the BYOD program as it stands today, the fact that some students will remain excluded is not only unfair, it will make an already-worrisome achievement gap in HCPSS worse.

 

The BYOD initiative was a bold, imaginative experiment. It has shown promise and revealed some challenges.   We should learn from this experience and refine our approach.  It’s time to look at logical next steps.

Thanks to BYOD, we now have evidence to support a sensible transition toward school-issued devices and thorough teacher training to ensure equal access and maximal learning for all our middle and high schoolers. Standardized, school-controlled devices in the hands of trained teachers will eliminate inconsistency among operating systems, relieve teachers of being in-class tech support, create opportunities for teachers to truly integrate technology into their lesson plans, allow students equal access while assuring usage is limited to classroom activities, and eliminate inappropriate and time-wasting uses such as student-to-student texting. In other words, it will move us toward correcting all the problems the BYOD initiative identified.

Is this proposal the last step in integrating technology into education? No. It is simply the next logical step.  By learning from innovation and experimentation, and continuing to improve as we move forward, we not only blaze a path of true technological innovation, we also offer a real-life example to students of how to learn, change and grow.

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