Confronting Fears - #BYOD for Students

Confronting Fears - #BYOD for Students

While most adults understand the benefits of students having cell phones in school to stay in touch with parents for safety purposes, when it comes to classroom use, some have fears. These include concerns over data collection, privacy, being a distraction, replacing personal interaction, discipline, theft, use for bullying, and more.

The concerns are real and they don't only apply to cell phone use. It's no different when doing many things at first: Crossing the street, using pointy scissors, talking to strangers, swimming, riding a bike, and more. While all of these activities have risks, because of their advantages, rather than banning them, we patiently guide children to do them with care and scrutiny. Personal devices are no different.

Here are some ideas to arm educators with strategies to address common concerns that may arise when students bring their own devices to the classroom.

Data Collection and Privacy

With or without the use of student devices in school, data collection and privacy concerns are real. Adults need to stay vigilant regardless of whether students are using school-owned devices or their own devices. The benefit of students using their own devices, when it comes to data and privacy, is that they’re learning about this not just in school on those devices, but also on the devices they use out in the world. This important lesson is one that teachers and parents must reinforce. This “Consider the Consequences” infographic and accompanying section in the parent guide and teacher guide to social media has helpful activities as well as lessons on privacy.


It’s no secret that teachers are concerned about having to compete for students’ attention when cell phones are invited into the classroom. Fortunately, with the right professional development and support, teachers can turn student devices from weapons of mass distraction to tools of engagement; and it is their responsibility to do so. Our students live in a world with devices and they need to learn how to succeed and focus in such a world. As BYOD expert Dr. Tim Clark reminds us in this article, when teachers incorporate student devices into instruction, develop updated classroom management techniques, and help students learn to focus in a digital age, these devices become become useful learning tools. This article has some helpful ideas for getting started.


When phones are banned for learning, it’s no wonder cyberbullying is an issue. Students are often using devices without the guidance or supervision of trusted adults. If cell phones and other student-owned devices are encouraged in school, teachers can address digital citizenship and responsible use, and then nip potential problems in the bud. Parents can reinforce this at home. This “Cyberbullying” infographic and accompanying section in the parent guide and teacher guide to social media has helpful family activities and lessons.

Replace Personal Interaction

We’ve all heard fears of devices replacing personal interaction, but if used well, that isn’t a problem. Student devices have become important tools for students like teenager Alex Laubscher to connect with others and grow their own personal learning networks. Not only are students devices important for connecting to others, but they’re fantastic resources that support learning. Even the most basic smartphones have accessories (or apps) like calculator, memo, video, stopwatch, and camera. Interaction is improved by using texting to engage students in polls with tools like PollEverywhere or robust conversation where all responses (not just those of the kids in the front of class) can be captured with tools like At their most basic use, a student can use a phone to reach out to an expert or mentor. The more access our students have to positive role models and primary sources, the better. Not only that, but if they have resources like Twitter, Google, and YouTube they are able to access tools that are among the top available to for learning. For more strategies, lessons, and research-based ideas for effectively integrating cell phones into learning check out Teaching Generation Text.

Discipline Issues

Schools and districts who have moved to BYOD across the nation report a decrease in device-related discipline issues. When devices are no longer seen as the enemy, the number of incidents decreases dramatically. For example, device-related infractions at the 2,141-student South Forsyth High School in Georgia have plummeted from around 400 annually to about three since the district's launch of the program in 2010.

Lost or Stolen Devices
Loss or theft of devices is an issue whenever someone has a device. However, districts who allow devices for learning report that because the devices are always connected to the students and under their watchful eye as a prized possession, this becomes even less of an issue than in the days when students had to hide their phones.

BYOD Deepens The Digital Divide
The digital divide exists whether we allow students to bring the devices they own to school or not. It is illogical to prohibit those students who have devices from using them in a desire to achieve a sense of equity rather than to provide devices for those who need them. Dr. Clark, district instructional technology specialist with Forsyth County Schools (GA), explains that in his experience with BYOD, “Students who do not have personal technology devices have greater access to school-owned technology tools when students who bring their own devices to school are no longer competing for that access.”

In districts where students are banned from using devices, more and more students are speaking out. They are sharing their frustration with what Travis Allen refers to as “being kept prisoners of their teachers’ disconnected pasts.” In 2009 Travis along with a group of student activists, frustrated by an outdated learning environment, took matters into their own hands. They started the iSchool Initiative and introduced the students-teaching-teachers approach to professional development. They partnered with teachers to show them how to embrace student devices for learning. To date, they have worked with hundreds of schools in 42 states and 7 countries supporting more than 150,000 administrators, teachers, and students.

Giving students the freedom to learn with the tools of their world, should no longer require student activism. Access to technology is not a privilege. it is a requirement for students to succeed.

Lisa Nielsen writes for and speaks to audiences across the globe about learning innovatively and is frequently covered by local and national media for her views on “Passion (not data) Driven Learning,” "Thinking Outside the Ban" to harness the power of technology for learning, and using the power of social media to provide a voice to educators and students. Ms. Nielsen has worked for more than a decade in various capacities to support learning in real and innovative ways that will prepare students for success. In addition to her award-winning blog, The Innovative Educator, Ms. Nielsen’s writing is featured in places such as Huffington Post, Tech & Learning, ISTE Connects, ASCD Wholechild, MindShift, Leading & Learning, The Unplugged Mom, and is the author the book Teaching Generation Text.

Disclaimer: The information shared here is strictly that of the author and does not reflect the opinions or endorsement of her employer.

Lisa Nielsen (@InnovativeEdu) has worked as a public-school educator and administrator since 1997. She is a prolific writer best known for her award-winning blog, The Innovative Educator. Nielsen is the author of several books and her writing has been featured in media outlets such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Tech & Learning.  

Disclaimer: The information shared here is strictly that of the author and does not reflect the opinions or endorsement of her employer.