BYOD – Stepping into the unknown

It has been over a year since I first talked about BYOD in education in an earlier blog. Since then, I have been instrumental in developing a BYOD policy, but not implementing it. That task has fallen to others, while I can only look on. Do not think I am in anyway upset by this turn of events, indeed, I wish all the success to the people who are doing so. I would have liked to do it myself, but it was not meant to be so, tough. I get updates and reports from a number of people on how it is going. I still talk to teachers and students at other schools about what is happening on their sites and what they are doing. I listen and think about what they are talking about, and then get to ask some other questions.

What is actually working? What is not working? Why? What can be done to improve it? What are problems that we have not envisioned? Then the really big one “Is BYOD the life saver that it is being treated as?”

The first, and maybe the biggest thing I am noticing is that what most schools have done, are doing, or will be doing, is to keep their former model, and overlay the BYOD on top of it. Is this a good thing or not?

Let’s think about it for a moment. Every “change” in using ICT has been no more than cosmetic. The same use models developed in the early 1990s are still in effect. That model is a central file server, a dependent network, a number of rooms of desktops, each with the appropriate software, and recently, student laptops , each with the same software, and more recently, BYOD with, likely, the same, if updated, software. This centralized model is what we are stuck with, even though the technology has surpassed it. Why?

We could whinge about bureaucrats lacking the imagination to see alternatives. We could also whine about ICT techies being convergent thinkers and not willing to see alternatives. But I suspect the answer lies more in simple social inertia. This is how it has always been done, so it shall ever be – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Trouble is, it is broke, it was broken with the first laptop, and no-one recognized it. (I didn’t see it either, but I have found 20/20 hindsight is a wonderful tool that is used to blame someone else.)

Solutions are being tried, but they are often expensive and of questionable value. We don’t want “cheap’n’nasty”, but neither do we need a Bugatti Vayron. In my earlier post, I suggested a Web-based approach. Nothing has changed there, in fact, recent events have only served to support that proposal. The addition of Google Apps and Chromebooks has left me with little doubt as to the efficacy of that proposal. The only fly in this ointment is the lack of a high speed broadband connection. As the National Broadband Network has been dumped by this conservative government we are just not likely to ever get one, unfortunately.

The socio-economic map across the region  I am working in ranges from upper-middle to welfare areas so the problems I am seeing are similar in all schools. Essentially, the major problem is that there is little trust.

Parents are often reluctant to provide their children with expensive devices as they are just not confident that the school will protect the child or device. The trust capital of many public schools has been eroded by a combination of indifference to public education by the community, really poor press in recent years and outright political assault. Parental attitudes are unlikely to change until the schools are allowed to seriously enforce their rules, and not the namby-pamby approach being foisted upon them by a “politically correct” bureaucracy. Schools need ways to rekindle their trust capital as without it, progress is going to be difficult.

Another issue is “Your own device”. It is a catch-phrase that seems to mean different things to different people. For the private schools, this is easy, increase school fees and buy the device the school wants, but it is a further extension of the original central network model. Public schools are mostly saying “whatever you want to bring in – as long as it has a long battery life, preferably a keyboard and a 10 inch screen”. However, I am not sure this is a valid approach either as it too is an extension of the same central network model. The variety of devices may also place classes under pressure if one device can do something another device cannot.

Selecting a standard device would be far more appealing to most Network managers, but it then moves away from the idea of “your own” device, regardless of who actually owns it. BYOD is based on the rather flawed idea of “choice”. A standard device  does not allow for choice so is it BYOD? Or could it be called Bring This Device, BTD?

The second problem here is that it locks into a single type of device. This might appear a good choice at the time, but later, as does happen, it is proven flawed. How many times have we been made wiser with 20/20 hindsight?

So, is BYOD workable? It has to be, it is simple as that. We cannot be using laptops as “$1,000 pencils”, they have to be made useful in the classroom. For that, teachers need to know how to use a computer, and how to take advantage of the tools available. Teachers have to reach deeper into the technology, students need to be forced into learning more about the technology. Maths as problem solving, Science as discovery, History as exploration, English as communication and all subjects be brought together under the broad umbrella of data manipulation, presentation and use. I suspect this is really the only way that BYOD, or ICT, is going to work in the school of the future.

As an end note, Information Technology is a nuisance, really. It is now moving too fast for mere mortal budgets to keep up with it. The changes, the improvements, the upgrades, the updates are so frequent that almost every time a student logs onto a computer, they are asked if they want to install the latest updates. Every week, some new product is announced, goes on the market, then superseded a few weeks later by some extra bling that is often cheaper. No wonder we are easily confused and get it wrong.

About colinfraser

I claim the title of educator, because I want to be more than "just" a teacher.
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