The landscape in education has changed more radically in the past five years than perhaps at any other time in our history. People now have access to information that comes from a multitude of sources and they can get that information within seconds. In schools, many students now carry “mini” computers in their pockets as their phones are more powerful (and can do more) than many of the desktop computers that fill their classrooms. Despite this obvious reality, many schools continue to push forward with policies that discourage the use of personal devices and prominently (proudly?) display “No Cell Phone Zone” signs throughout the school building. This includes the use of personal laptops, iPads, tablets, etc. In fact, NYC has gone so far as to prohibit any students from bringing devices to school whatsoever. This has resulted in numerous confiscations, unnecessary conflict, and a black market of sorts for individuals who set up shop outside of city schools and “hold” students’ devices each day for a fee. The obvious irony, of course, is that some of these city schools possess the greatest financial constraints yet have all that they need in terms of technology locked up in someone’s van outside of their school. Seems like a waste.
Thankfully, many schools outside of NYC have been rethinking policies around personal devices while some have fully made the leap into the world BYOD. As the Principal of a school who is making this transition, I am often faced with legitimate questions and concerns from parents about the potentially distracting nature of personal devices and how they can actually detract from overall student learning if not carefully monitored. To further this point, a parent recently indicated that she visited a top college and witnessed a student who was online purchasing clothing while sitting in class. The thinking was that if a college student is not mature enough to responsibly use a personal device, how can we realistically have that expectation for high school students? Again, a completely legitimate question. And while I could go on and on about the benefits of both BYOD and educational technology in terms of student engagement, differentiation, and overall learning, the truth is that this question was asking something different, and perhaps something more.
The example of the student in college who was shopping online is precisely the reason why K-12 schools need to consider moving to BYOD. My guess is that if the student behaves in this manner on a consistent basis, she will do terribly in the course and will ultimately have issues when she enters the workforce since she is sure to have access to all devices at that time. So the question is whether schools who have policies against the use of personal devices are actually doing a disservice to their students. One can certainly make that argument since workplaces are unlikely to have a van parked outside for workers to “check” their phones before entering.
While many of us (myself included!) often think back with fondness to a time when teachers imparted all knowledge and textbooks made up for what was missed, the reality is that students in today’s world can access unlimited information with only a few touches of the finger. And what we are seeing now is only the beginning. The quality of technology is going to improve and increase to levels that we can’t imagine even by the time that our current ninth graders are in college. In ten years, the way that we view education will be completely different and the “traditional” schools that we have come to know are likely to be obsolete. As a result, both schools and parents need to embrace the use of personal devices while taking on the responsibility of teaching proper use, internet safety, purposes of social media, etc. In fact, we owe it to all students to make sure that we do just that. When we talk 21st century learning…well, this is as 21st century as it gets.