Current trends in BYOD/BYOT are crippling Mobile Learning! Stop focusing on the device. We need to focus on our students and how we can best support learning. Stop censoring content and support the culture of mobile learning. Embrace the idea that students can bring in their Curriculum and Flip your BYOD.


BYO – Device, Technology, or Curriculum?

Over the past few years, I have been fortunate enough to work with some wonderful people in the field of Mobile Learning. Through my work as the Technology Director for the Mobile Learning group at ISTE, I had the opportunity to help design some of the larger movements in Mobile Learning: the MobilistNation, and the Mobile Learning Network. Through that work, I have become very passionate, and very cautious when it comes to BYOD – because we tend to focus too much on the device (as the name would imply).

Some of the most important discussions I have had about Mobile Learning were with PhD Researcher Elliot Solloway from the University of Michigan. For the past 5 years, Elliot and I have been working together in the Mobile Learning group of ISTE. Elliot has spent the better part of his career working with Mobile Learning and the power of handheld devices in the classroom. As a Champion of BYOD and the founder of the Intergalactic Mobile Learning Center, it has been a real pleasure to work with Elliot over the years.

Elliot comes to mind because he “gets it.” The focus of Mobile Learning and BYOD should be on the students and their learning, not on the devices that have been chosen. In a recent article for District Administrator, Elliot and his research partner Cathleen Norris state that Mobile Learning,

“puts the means for “coming to know” in the palm of each child’s hand, making classrooms student-centric instead of teacher-centric. Education will them move from “I tell” to “We find.”

Elliot and Cathleen have been on the cutting edge of Mobile Learning for years. As the quote from their article states – the focus should always be on making a classroom more student centered – not device centered. Cathleen and Elliot are not alone in this argument:

“As students discover how to learn with their devices, they are able to extend their learning beyond the school day and often choose to continue participating in online discussions and collaborative activities for academic purposes” – Lisa Nielson in TheJournal

As the world of education has been moving toward BYOD, why are so many students still so disengaged by our classrooms? Why is it that test scores and teacher satisfaction continue to drop? If students are so engaged at school (as Lisa states), and we are using the devices to translate learning into a student-centered practice (as Elliot mentions), we should see test scores and teacher satisfaction rise, but study after study shows that they do not.

Could it be that we – the IT Directors – are killing the power and learning potential behind BYOD?

I propose that the goals of BYOD and modern IT Departments are at odds with one another. As IT Directors we must realize that filtering Apps and internet resources from our students is well intentioned (for the most part) act of censorship.

As a censor and a hard line proponent of Mobile Learning, my mind is troubled with two questions: 1) Can IT Directors support BYOD/BYOT to allow BYO-Curriculum 2) What does this shift to BYOC mean?


How can you support BYOD/BYOT without censorship?

The only way to fully support student learning is to embrace BYO-Curriculum, or the idea that students are free and able to bring their own resources into the learning environment to continue their learning.

One of the most insightful articles on the web comes from Ryan Faas at the Cult of Mac. Ryan was one of the few dissenting voices about BYOD, because he took his insight from the minds of TD’s and IT Staffers around the world. In his own words, BYOD creates the following troubles: “creat[ing] an uneven playing field for students… create technical challenges. Most schools, particularly many public schools, have very limited IT Budgets and are understaffed… Schools are subject to state and federal regulations regarding internet filtering and content blocking…” Ryan, unfortunately, is exactly on point.

Lets take a look at this from the eyes of a District Technology Administrator. In order to support BYOC, we need to remove the restrictions and safeguards on our networks to allow for multi-device connections. This is terrifying and could lead to an IT Directors worst nightmare – theft. Take a look at the explanation from CNBC reporter Bernadette Tansy.

Trouble could start like this: Staffer “Fred” arranges appointments with his iPhone at the office, then heads for a coffee shop with free wireless. Sipping a latte, he cruises sports sites with his phone, clicks an intriguing link — and uploads malware. Back at the office, Fred logs into the company network again.

“Once I’ve made the connection, I’ve injected what was on the iPhone into the small business environment,’’ said Cal Slemp, managing director of the multinational consulting firm Protiviti.

At least half of mobile phones have no antivirus protection, experts estimate. Fred’s malware might uncover network weak spots, extract credit card numbers or health records, and capture passwords, ensuring cybercriminals continued access. (From Bernadette Tansey at CNBC)

That is the horror story that many districts are trying to avoid, and why many districts adopt an “approved” list of apps and resources to facilitate learning. Heaven forbid that you want to use an app that is not yet approved. In principle, I have no problem with this system. What causes me concern is the fact that the “approval” process can often times be lengthy, and stifle teacher creativity and innovation. Let me tell you a little story about one district and their approval process.

A few years ago, I was working as a consultant for Mobile Learning at a large district in the South. We were brought in to do Mobile Device training with the staff and Principals of 80 schools. After working with the teachers for about an hour, we were taken aside by the district Technology Director and very sternly told that we needed to get every app approved. I asked if the district was Google Apps supported and if we could present on any of the Google iOS applications. The answer from the District TD was a resounding “yes.”

Now, to preface a bit, this is the only job that I have ever been fired from. The next day, during my morning session, I presented about the power of the Google Drive application for the iPad. As soon as the TD heard of my transgression, I was out in the hall for a private “chat”/scolding and I was removed from the training that evening.

Clearly, my point is that this practice of being so scared of the devices to censor even the mention of apps that have not been vetted sounds like censorship, and I do not want to be a censor.

So, is it important that be block access to resources and applications for students on student owned devices? Clearly, every district must follow the rules and procedures outlined by the US Government, but most of those can be managed with a sophisticated firewall. The NEA has taken a position on BYOD and in principle supports BYOD in Classrooms.

In most BYOD pilot programs, students have to sign some sort of agreement to only use the device during class time for specific projects. Students can sometimes log on to “guest” wireless networks to get around website blocks, and teachers still need to be present in the classroom to help students learn from the new technology.

…In the Avon Lake district, Gould Burgess said their technology director helped teachers learn how to use the devices. Then, teachers who had expertise in certain devices, websites or technologies would host workshops for other teachers. Not every school has these resources, and Gould Burgess said she is extremely lucky to work in an environment where there is so much collaboration between teachers and administrators.

Not every district has the resources to properly train teachers to use the devices students will bring in, especially those that have already faced large budget cuts. A BYOD program could save money if implemented properly, but tossing teachers into a BYOD environment without any training wouldn’t be very effective.

“Without proper planning, implementation and professional development,” explained Andrea Prejean, associate director of the National Education Association’s education policy and practice department, “BYOD may not work as people had hoped. And guess what? The teacher will probably get blamed. It’s not fair that schools invite students to bring these devices and expect student achievement to improve just because these technologies are in the classroom.” (cited from this article)

If BYOD is failing, I propose it is because we, the TD’s, are not embracing the changes needed. We are supporting the devices and not the learning. In essence, we are nailing BYOD, but we are failing to support BYOC.


How do we currently support BYOD? What is wrong?

BYOD is currently supported as a Device-centric model of reform (see the infographic to the right). Working under this model, districts and TD’s have tried to cut budgetary corners by making students invest in the devices that they want to use to learn. What this model does is change the focus of the IT Department, the Teachers, and the Students.

The IT Department: Under BYOD the major focus of the IT Department is to design a data structure that is flexible as to hardware but still protect the district network and infrastructure. That essentially is where the IT Department looses focus, they only have to make sure that the wifi will allow students to connect and that they will still be filtered.

The Teachers: BYOD places the largest burden on the Teachers. It is expected in most districts that teachers know and vet applications that will work across all Hardware and Software. This places an almost impossible burden on the Teachers as most of them do not even have access to the devices that students will be bringing in. To think of it in a development environment, you are looking at creating a learning environment for at least 4 different devices – google by the way has an entire team trying to ensure app compatibility and they do not always get it right.

The Students: Have it pretty easy! They walk into class as they normally would, expecting to be fed their learning and not have to design or think outside the box to solve problems. If teachers do not tell them what app to download and how to take notes, they simply will not do it, since it is the teachers fault after all.

Essentially, these systems work at all grade levels in a District that is implementing BYOD. The IT Staff is not extended to take care of the additional devices, and as such they do not offer any additional support to the teachers and learners. In my opinion, and I would like to think that matters for something, the underlying assumptions of BYOD are invalid: BYOD will save the district money, and BYOD will be easier because the students will know how to use the device.

I have the pleasure of working in one of the most technologically advanced countries on the planet – South Korea. As the TD for the District, I also have the pleasure of doing technology orientations for students. Even in this technology mecca, I find that more than 80% of our 6th Grade Students have never had an email, and never used a computer. Imagine sitting down with a bunch of teenagers and finding that they cannot use the MacBook that you just put in front of them. Unfortunately, that is happening more and more as students purchase devices specifically for these BYOD Programs.


So why BYOC, it is just a letter change after all…

BYOC is a fundamental shift in the assumptions and roles expressed in the BYOD Model.

Lets examine how each assumption and role shifts as we implement a change over from BYOD to BYOC. First and foremost, lets look at the underlying assumptions:

BYOD will save you money: BYOD states that this will come from the decreased need for districts to purchase devices. Studies have repeatedly shown that the monetary savings is offset by the amount of training and professional development required. Under BYOC, the largest savings will be in Curriculum (what Education Folks call Text-books). Text-book orders run millions of dollars for most districts. With BYOC, students are in charge of determining the curriculum (apps, ebooks, podcasts, online courses, audiobooks, etc.) that they want to use, and they are required to purchase their own copies – saving millions of dollars, and placing the emphasis on vetting and identifying resources squarely on the shoulders of students and parents.

BYOD will reduce our student training needs (as students will know their device): BYOC will bring this to fruition. When students are forced to use their device to evaluate learning material, they will have to use it. It will no longer be the responsibility of the Teacher to Force-feed apps and websites, but it will be the responsibility of the student to vet which resources work the best for the device they have and be prepared to use them in the classroom.

So that covers the underlying assumptions of the BYOD Movement, but what actually happens then in the roles of the stakeholders?

The IT Department: Must focus on ensuring that students have access to the internet, just like under BYOD, but does not have to take valuable time and manpower to approve and vet new applications and technologies.

The Teachers: Teachers can focus on the learning taking place, rather than the specific curriculum that is being used. What I mean by that is Teachers can say: “Take Notes,” allowing students the freedom to choose which application and resource to use for taking notes. Or teachers can say: “Tomorrow’s lesson will be about Mitosis, make sure you have an app, a book, and a dictionary ready for tomorrow” rather than: “download these things if you have an iPad or these things if you have an Android device to be ready for tomorrow.” Can you see the difference in those statements?

The Students: Under BYOC, students will be forced to evaluate sources and materials for their own learning. This method gives the students the unbridled power of their devices. Under BYOD, we vet apps and only allow students to use those apps that we deem appropriate. Under BYOC, we allow the students to determine what is appropriate as long as the Essential Learning can still take place.



BYOC is the flipped model of BYOD. As a member of the flipped model, I am choosing to examine BYOC and BYOD within the framework and context of the roles of students and teachers. In the current BYOD Model, the teacher is still the content examiner, provider, and instigator of classroom content. The student under this model is simply the digester of the regurgitated knowledge of the instructor. Under the auspices of BYOC, students become the active instigator of their own learning. Students are required to constantly find resources and materials to support their own learning style and method. If a student finds a way to do something outside of the box, they are praised, not scorned for using “un-approved” resources. We are on the cusp, and we have a choice! Lets band together as the next generation of TD’s and help transform our schools from BYOD to BYOC.


Appendix: BYOD/BYOC Research and Best Practices

While compiling resources for BYOD and creating the BYOC Model, it was important to take in as much BYOD data as possible. In my life, I would never survive without Evernote and as such, you can access my BYOD research file as well as my presentations and resources.