Why I don’t think BYOD is a socio-economic issue, Why one size never fits all, and other ramblings…

It’s been great for me to reflect on one of my latest blog posts. In particular, the feedback and comments I’ve received in regards to it. In the post, I argue that BYOD (students being able to Bring Your Own Device to school for learning) is not for everyone and that certain conditions or foundational pieces should be put into place before even considering it.

I also clearly state my misgivings with the notion that BYOD is a socio-economic issue. As someone who grew up in a low-income, immigrant family myself, and as person who travels in social circles where I regularly encounter social welfare and marginalization, I question the claim that technology (especially of the mobile variety) is an exclusivity reserved for the middle class and up (whether they have dental care, job stability, life insurance, savings for retirement etc. is another question altogether). As @mbteach says in her recent article “A New Understanding of the Digital Divide”:

As studies suggest, the problem isn’t access, it’s the kind of access [her italics].

In a near-decade of teaching, I’ve been at the front of the class with a wide spectrum of socio-economic groups. Currently I teach in an upwardly mobile, middle-class demographic. In our large school, I have yet to encounter a family without computers and mobile technology at home, yet only about 20% of the 250 students I have taught in the past three years of inviting BYOD actually accept the proposition.

Also, I feel that some of my critics have actively avoided reading my post, because I clearly state that you should not invite BYOD if:

You do not have enough school devices to supplement students who do not own their own.

Should the income level of your school community not be an issue when contemplating BYOD? Of course not. Should it be the variable that determines a yes or a no response to BYOD? I don’t think so.

The comments on the post really got me thinking hard, perhaps more so than any post I’d written before. I had to delete a few trolls because they were starting to attack me personally and were doing so anonymously. One of them suggested I was undemocratic and was not interested in engaging in dialogue. If this were true, I’m not quite sure why I would a) be blogging publicly and openly about it; b) inviting unmoderated comments on the post; or c) ending my post by asking people what they thought about my opinions.

I have no problem admitting that there was a certain tone to my post. I know I could have called it ’10 Things Schools Should Consider Before Doing BYOD’ or something like that, but I was intentionally trying to be a bit more provocative. I feel comfortable enough as a blogger now (and feel I have gained the trust of my readership enough) to do this. I will also admit that it comes from a personal place of exasperation for me. As a proud leader of literacy and technology in my district, people often ask me implicitly for quick fixes or templates that can be applied in their schools or classrooms. There is no quick fix. I have no magic bullet. I can tell you of my experience, give you feedback on yours, and support you along the way. And then everything I said I was doing yesterday could be different tomorrow.

I wish we could all get more comfortable with the idea that something can work with huge success in one place and be a monumental failure in another. Or that something which works a certain way in this location needs to be modified slightly or heavily in that one. We talk a good game when it comes to appreciating context, but we still run like wolves to One Size Fits All. BYOD works in my class. It doesn’t work in another classroom down the hall. And it might not work next year for me either, or in another school I may teach in down the line.

I was in a great webinar session recently with some stupendous minds led by @willrich45 and @snbeach. We were tossing around our thoughts on the meaning of ’21st Century Learning’. Sure, maybe we are reifying or overly aggrandizing the concept a bit, but it’s still worth contemplating and engaging in dialogue about. I wish I’d remembered to say one thing.

Perhaps I am grossly wrong about this, but I feel that our current time in education is one that demands more of an appreciation of paradox and contextual difference than ever. We may live in a globalized, even standardized, world, but customization is simultaneously the rule of the day, as is the skill of navigating a multitude of contexts on an almost a daily basis. Cognitive dissonance rears its beautiful/ugly head every day in our time.

Developing common language and nonnegotiables are often a great tool for local collaboration and leadership, but it can be very problematic, or even destructive, when used in a more global sense.

I’m really hoping we can get to the stage where we can read a blogpost, listen to a keynote, or attend a workshop where someone tells the story of success, and not feel that the person is simultaneously calling for a new template to be applied as an all-encompassing panacea.

As some of my favourite hip-hop MCs would say, can you feel me?



  1. As the instructional technology consultant in a school division that is exploring the concept of BYOD I so agree with both of your blog posts. While I believe that every student and teacher should have the technology they need at their fingertips at the moment they need it I realize that this will look different in each school in our division. At the division level we provide some guidelines that schools can adapt and modify but ultimately each school, each teacher, and each classroom has to determine what it looks like for them.

    Your statement, “that our current time in education is one that demands more of an appreciation of paradox and contextual difference than ever”, is so very true and one that most educators struggle with. Societal mores, provincial initiatives in education and school division demands are asking teachers to change in some very profound and philosophical ways – the ground is shifting under our feet and there is nothing to grasp and hold on to as we make the change – only to find we need to make another change!

  2. I feel you, man. Schools are slow to adapt to the paradigm for a multitude of reasons, and it will be baby steps until everyone gets as comfortable with it as we are with indoor plumbing. Cognitive dissonance was a big part of my school experience 20-odd years ago, so I don’t think that’s the major hurdle.

    Schools must encourage and inspire teachers past the basic integration – a worksheet is a worksheet, on paper or on an iPad. To really capitalize on technology we should be getting teachers to play and imagine the new forms that the technology makes possible. I would like to look at a student’s game play as a tool for analysing their mental models. Imagine if we could introduce game scenarios or characters specifically to expand or reify concepts for each individual! Or….?

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