BYOD Classroom Vs iPad Classroom

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.


Why BYOD Is A Disaster Waiting To Happen For Schools

Are Schools Prepared to Let Students BYOD?

BYOD in school not as easy as ABC



  1. Doug Smith (@bcphysics)

    Interesting post, thanks for your thoughts.
    Do you think BYOD is even a possibility in BC? I teach in a fairly wealthy community in Vancouver and most seniors do not have a data plan, even though many have iPhones, Android phones or older smartphones. There are almost no tablets. Do you have any hunches on how this will play out in the next few year?

    1. Post

      Thanks for your comment Doug.

      How this all plays out will depend on three primary factors. Access to Wifi, Cost of device, adoption by school.

      I am in the enviable position (depending on your opinion) where kids can afford devices, my school is wired for Wifi and “we” are beginning to accept that there is a place for digital tools in the classroom.

      I think cost will always be an issue for both the class set of iPads model and the BYOD model and will keep us from achieving what I described in this post.

      The other big stumbling block will be wifi, there re many schools who do not have it and might never get it because parents do not want their kids exposed to low level radio waves all day long. There has been some serious push back as of late in some districts and if wifi does not go in, kids will continued to be anchored to desktops.

      Finally, changing the culture and seeing the digital device as a learning tool is beginning to happen in most jurisdictions, as those of us who are early adopters begin to demonstrate its worth.

      To be completely honest, I think we are 10 years out from a situation like I described in my post but I have been proven wrong before.


    2. Jeremy Reid (@MrReidWSS)

      I am seeing kids in HS bringing these new Android tablet phones more now. Also BYOD may benefit from the smaller and more affordable iPad mini.
      That said, I really think schools NEED to provide devices to use for those who can’t afford them…this is basic social justice and equity.

      1. Post

        Thanks for the comment Jeremy

        Here is the thing. The second the Province or any other jurisdiction makes Digital literacy a “curricular objective” they will be locked into providing a digital device for kids to use and you and I know this is a Pandoras box no one wants to open.

        Although the #bcedplan makes reference to digital literacy, I am assuming they do not want to have to foot the hardware bill to make it happen.

  2. Brian Kuhn (@bkuhn)

    Hey Keith. Great synopsis of the topic. I will disagree with you on how immersive and necessary the tools are at younger grades. In SD43 there is a movement afoot around making learning visible / documenting learning. In this model, teachers and students use a variety of devices including cameras – video and still, Smart boards, iPads, laptops etc. to capture, mix, share/present, discuss, embed artifacts of learning. They are used as part of emergent learning, to have kids reflect and grow, to inform parents, and to inform practice. This is not about traditional uses of tech but rather a more immersive transformation of how learning, teaching, reflecting, and reporting works. Out of this I can see the tools being more pervasive for more kids as teachers are inclined to go digital by default. Being digital means the content provided and the content produced can be remixed, reused, shared, and the students connected to each other, other students, and to the world in ways not possible without tech. So, your rubric (of sorts) is good but it downplays the importance at younger years of digital tools in the learning lives of students.


    1. Post

      Thanks for the comment Brian,

      To tell you the truth, I do not have any issue with what you have said in your comment. I do believe and have seen technology effectively used in a myriad of ways in the elementary classroom but where I get hung up is in the “potential” of losing or sacrificing those “traditional skills” to the new way of sharing and processing information.

      I will freely admit that my opinion or views of digital devices at the elementary level is probably out of whack. My point of reference is mostly through my own children. I fortunately have two children who very strong students in the “traditional” sense and as I begin to dole out access to technology, those old school skills serve them very well. The content they are capable of creating with their digital free skills, is amplified when technology is applied.

      I see this duplicated every day in high school. The strongest kids with, technology are also the strongest kids without technology. I see it as a “you have to walk before you can run” sort of relationship


  3. Robert Schuetz

    Hello Keith, I enjoyed reading your post. I posted a G+ question asking if anyone has attempted or is planning for a blended model. We are in the midst of a 1:1 pilot with high school students using iPads. Going 1:1 with iPads across the board may be cost prohibitive. BYOD offers a partial solution, but with 42% of our students coming from financially disadvantaged backgrounds, I am concerned about expanding, rather than narrowing, the existing digital divide.

    1. Post

      Thanks for the comment Robert.

      I think your concerns are warranted. I am fortunate to work in a district where 90% + of the student body could walk into the local electronics store tomorrow and buy a device and not bat an eye. This is not to say all parents would do this for their kid but if they had to they could. As a result my view of the world is a bit off of the norm.

      I think affordability will continue to be a major barrier for many people. Disposable income is not on the rise so it will require a major drop in the price of digital devices before BYOD is a reality.

      As for schools providing devices, that is going to be an issue as well as education budgets are on the decline everywhere. As a result the digital divide will continue to grow. IMHO


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *