I have been struggling to come up with a topic lately, especially since I no longer have my muse. The collapse of the iPad cohort in exchange for a BYOD (sometimes) classroom has made for interesting times. If the truth be known, I actually have even more to write about then I did last year but none of it is earth shattering or ground breaking enough to spend much time on. I have just been keeping my ear to the rail waiting for the next freight train of a topic to come down the line and so I present to you the BYOD Vs iPad Classroom
Those who know me, know that I am not really married to one platform or the other. Yes I have an iPhone an iPad and a Mac Book but the last two are the property of the school district. My own personal computer is a PC and even though I have an iPhone, I am actually partial to Android devices. My apparent “love” for apple products is actually more a requirement of my job than anything else, so I hope to give equal treatment to both sides.
In two short years, the iPad has undoubtedly changed the landscape of education. The device has proven to be a powerful digital tool in the hands of skilled users but its “must have” status seems to be more about marketing then it is about any proven utility. Sure there are cool things going on in the classrooms of the world using iPads but there are other powerful devices out there doing cool things too. The reality is that the iPad is not the only game in town and BYOD recognizes that.
I for one applaud digital diversity because one device does not fit the needs of all. Yes the iPad is marvellous but so are half-dozen other devices out there made by Samsung, Asus, Motorola, Sony, Acer and this doesn’t even include the recent addition of ultra books to the market place but this discussion isn’t about simple device comparisons. This post is about looking at the realities of digitizing the classroom with school owned devices versus student owned devices.
In this blog post, when I refer to the iPad classroom, I am referring a model where a school owns one or more sets of iPads, to be shared within the school. when i say BYOD, I am referring to a model where kids bring their own technology to class and the device can be any type, make or platform. What we are looking at are the realities of each implementation model and where they are best suited.
Cost of technology has always been an issue with school districts. Hardware costs and tech support are a significant chunk of the budget. Although hardware costs have come down over the years, the rate at which technology becomes obsolete has made it financially impossible to keep up. If School Districts could off load some of that cost by having kids bring their own device, that is a financial burden they do not have to bare. With that said, not all families can afford to buy their child(ren) a digital device to take to school so where does that leave us. You are either leaving some out of the loop or the school is still buying a handful of devices for use by those who cannot afford to buy.
Control seems to be a smouldering issue when it comes to any digital device in the classroom. For any number of reasons teachers want some if not total control of the content dispensed by the device and how it is used in their class. For the most part this desire for control is simply to ensure that a lesson goes as planned but there are other issues around inappropriate use of the device on class time which opens a teacher up to liability. With BYOD, it is FAR more difficult to control the content being dispensed and how the device is used. In the iPad classroom, teachers have far greater control of what is going on, simply by virtue of the way the device is set up as a school device.
Apps are a common thread which runs through many of the pros and cons of these two models. In an iPad classroom, the apps on the device are the ones the teacher needs for the purpose of running their class. Although we can recommend App sets to students, when a kid brings their own device, the applications they have on their device can be quite the potpourri. This means a student may or may not have an app you would like them to have so they may not be able to participate in the class the way you would like them to, or they are constantly distracted by the less than “academic” apps they have loaded on it. The result is…
Planning for a BYOD classroom is far more difficult than a iPad classroom because you have to take into account all the different types of devices kids are carrying and what it is kids are able to do with them. Not all devices can run all apps, some won’t run flash and some devices won’t let you upload files while others can… On any given day, the list of possible compatibility issues between device and lesson is staggering. The iPad classroom is easy, you know what you are working with and what to expect from the device, so planning your lessons and assignments is pretty straight forward.
As a result, the degree of Digital Literacy required in the BYOD classroom is significantly higher than in the iPad classroom. If both teacher and student are not competent in how to make a particular device work for the task at hand, far too much time is spent troubleshooting. If a teacher demonstrates a task using an App on a iPad but a student has a PC Laptop, that student should be able to quickly find a suitable way to do the task. Although I would suggest that a BYOD teacher should have a good idea as to what alternatives are available, their primary role of “teacher”, should not be to figure things out for students.
Where the BYOD plan comes into its own is with student to device RATIOS. With the Class Set model, the iPads have to be shared amongst an entire school and frequently that class set has fewer devices then there are kids in the class. This limits access for students and creates logistical issues around saving and sharing files but perhaps more significant is that hands on time with the device is rarely consistent. The BYOD student on the other hand, is free to access their work anywhere,any time. The device becomes an extension of the their academic life and in a perfect world, the BYOD student becomes far more digitally literate.
The question then becomes, which model is best? and my answer is simply this. There is room for both models in our education system.
The reality is that most students will need to be digitally literate at some point in their lives and they should be well on their way to being so by the time they leave High School. For this to happen, they need regular access to a digital device and the BYOD model provides this. At elementary however, constant access to a device isn’t really necessary or even desirable. As my wife says, “at grade 1 you are just trying keep the kids from putting their fingers up their nose… Smearing those same fingers all over an iPad is more of a health hazard then it is a learning experience” with that pleasant image in mind, the iPad model is perfect for the elementary classroom because you can utilize the device when the learning conditions are right.
When you look at the two models they can be seen as the two ends of a digital literacy continuum. As the child moves through the grades, they move toward digital independence and these two models can be implemented independent of each other or in combination to achieve this end.
Of course I have over simplified things in the diagram above as there are all sorts of details I have left out in my description. Even if I had gone into detail, there are at least as many things that could turn my best laid plans to dust. What you should take from this post is that the implementation of digital devices in a school system is not a one or the other choice. What is required is a program of diverse digital deployment.