The Device Conundrum - 1:1 vs BYOD

4/2/2013 12:00:00 AM
Cross-posted at the Huffington Post.

As we continue to advance in the digital age schools and districts are beginning to re-think pedagogy and learning environments by instituting either 1:1 device programs or Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) initiatives. In my opinion, schools that wish to create the most relevant and meaningful learning culture will go in one of these directions. It is tough to argue the potential impact of either program that is implemented diligently and with a focus on learning that will not result in the enhancement of essential skills sets that our students need to succeed in today's digital world. Probably the most significant impact, either 1:1 or BYOD can have is in the area of teaching digital responsibility, citizenship, and the creation of positive footprints online. After all, in the real world that we are preparing our students for, technological literacies and proficiencies are the cornerstones of numerous career paths.


Image credit: Tony Vincent learninginhand.com

The decision on which way to go is usually determined by finances, which is unfortunate for those schools and districts who have their hearts set on getting a device in the hands of each and every student. Competition resulting from the continuous evolution of tablets, laptops, and now Chrome books, puts schools in a better position to make large-scale investments in mobile technology. In theory and on paper, a 1:1 program seems to be the best program for schools wanting to integrate technology on a macro level to enhance teaching and learning. Advocates for 1:1 programs will claim that it is the only way to go as it ensures equitable access to all students regardless of socioeconomic status.

With each student possessing a device, collaborative work using Web 2.0 tools is a reality for all students, both in an out of school, provided there is Internet access at home. In this day and age, finding a location with free WiFi is not such a difficult task. Maintenance becomes less of a headache for the IT department, as they only have to worry about one type of device. It also figures to entail a more streamlined approach when it comes to providing professional development to staff so that the devices are consistently utilized to support student learning.

The general case I make for 1:1 programs above is compelling, but is it the best option for our students today? The more I read about others' thoughts on this and reflect on the BYOD program we have instituted at New Milford High School, I am beginning to think that 1:1 programs are not necessarily the best option for our students. My main reason for this shift in thought is why would we want to pigeonhole our students to one single device and/or platform? Is that reminiscent of the real world that we are supposedly preparing them to flourish and succeed in? The fact is many students own and are comfortable with their devices. The digital divide in schools becomes smaller when bold districts, schools, and educators work to effectively integrate the technology that has been available for years outside their walls. BYOD has the ability to save districts money, but the real impact comes in the form or engagement and empowerment of students to learn on their terms. I have grown quite tired of the myriad of excuses to not move towards BYOD because it can and will have a positive impact with the right mindset, training, and support.

It makes sense to me to create a technology-rich learning environment that leverages available technology with that, which the students already own. This is what we have done at my school and experienced a great deal of success. In addition to BYOD, students and teachers have access to three PC labs, one iMac lab, one Macbook cart, one PC cart, and one netbook cart. The equity issue with BYOD in classrooms has been overcome with school purchased technology and the use of cooperative learning after my teachers determine which device(s) each student possesses and brings to school on a regular basis. In my eyes we are accomplishing the same goals, for the most part, as we would if a 1:1 program had been instituted. Students have access to technology and are using it on a daily basis to communicate, collaborate, create artifacts of learning, problem solve, think critically, become more technologically proficient, and develop a greater global awareness. The should most certainly be able to use it to replace more archaic forms of technology (i.e. pencil and paper) if they wish.

I am extremely interested to hear what others think about 1:1 vs. BYOD in schools. Do you think one is better than the other and if so why? If you are considering going down one of these paths, which one would you lean towards?

cross-posted on A Principal's Reflections

Eric Sheninger is a NASSP Digital Principal Award winner (2012), PDK Emerging Leader Award recipient (2012), winner of Learning Forward's Excellence in Professional Practice Award (2012) and co-author of  Communicating and Connecting With Social Media: Essentials for Principals and What Principals Need to Know About Teaching and Learning Science. He presents and speaks nationally to assist other school leaders in effectively using technology. His blog, A Principal's Reflections, was selected as Best School Administrator Blog in 2011 by Edublogs.
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