BYOD – Consider Your Options Carefully

BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) initiatives are perhaps the most over-hyped education technology fad in recent years. On the other hand, BYOD may be one of the most promising developments in education technology. Actually, it is both.

The idea of BYOD in K12 schools is hardly new, although I am sure that most of us can remember not that long ago when students’ personal devices were banned from use at school. Some schools still ban student-owned devices. Fortunately, an increasing number of school district leaders have realized that not only do students want to bring their smartphones and such, an increasing number of parents expect it. Some view BYOD as a possible cure for the lack of devices for 1:1 access.

Whether your district has already chosen a path or you are still thinking about BYOD, consider your options carefully.  In a recently published analyst report, BYOD Considerations for K12 Schools, I describe in some detail two distinct types of BYOD programs. The first is what I often refer to as the “coffee shop” model. Students can bring a device (smartphone, tablet or laptop) if they have one and the school provides WiFi internet access. The second type of BYOD program is BYOD for 1:1. You can access the full report at http://www.k12blueprint.com/content/byod-considerations-k12-schools, but I’ll provide a little more detail here so you can get a sense of the issues.

The “coffee shop” model of BYOD can be a nice service for students. Students might feel more empowered and less disconnected from the rest of their lives and the “real world.” Of course, it can’t be completely open access. You’d still want to provide some level of internet filtering. You might also want to limit access to certain times of the day or locations in the school. Those capabilities would be determined by your wireless infrastructure. This model of BYOD is very doable, but I must offer a significant caveat. The “coffee shop” model of BYOD is all about student choice. It is simply an amenity for students. If teachers start assuming some level of device and internet access they run the very real risk of creating (or exacerbating) a digital divide in the classroom or school. It cannot advantage some students and/or disadvantages others.

If you are in a school district where some critical mass of students comes from households that can afford devices then BYOD creates the opportunity to have a 1:1 program that is more financially sustainable. Those who can afford devices bring their own, while those who cannot afford them have district-provided devices. This can quickly become logistically complex and politically tricky, but considering the potential educational value of 1:1 access it is worth a serious look.  While the potential benefits are many, there are some significant pitfalls. The analyst report referred to previously details this more, but if you are going to have a 1:1 program that is focused on educational goals and learning outcomes rather than on device use, you can’t have an “anything goes” approach to devices. If students don’t have the right device for digital learning then the investment by both the district and parents will be squandered.  While students and parents should have input on device types, educators are better prepared to determine the best devices for the entire range of learning activities students will engage in.

BYOD programs are often over-hyped, but they can provide both educational and personal value to students. District leaders considering BYOD need to think through the long-term implications to ensure that all students get the educational benefits they deserve.  


Bob Moore has enjoyed a career of 26 years in education technology. His work has included more than two decades as a CIO in K12 schools and several years as lead strategist for a multi-billion dollar global ed-tech business, as well many years of active leadership in organizations such as CoSN. In 2012 Bob founded RJM Strategies LLC and works with schools and ed-tech business clients as a strategist, advisor and subject matter expert. His life’s work is grounded in his tenacious commitment to vision, innovation, integrity and practicality. Follow Bob on Twitter @BobMEdTech. See Bob's Profile and Connect on LinkedIn at http://www.linkedin.com/pub/bob-moore/0/ba4/675/  

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