If you were to walk into the lounge at Oasis For Girls, a non-profit youth development organization in San Francisco where I worked for the past couple of years, in the after school hours before each program begins, you would find teenage girls sitting or standing around, many of them completely engrossed in their mobile devices. We prioritized creating a comfortable lounge for the young women to enjoy snacks and decompress after a long day at school; we wanted an informal setting for the girls to get to know each other and socialize before going off into their respective program rooms. Despite this, many young people have difficulty waiting around without constantly checking their mobile devices and often choose to do so rather than engaging with others around them. Now, if I were a teenage girl in this very lounge area, I might have a different take on the same scene; I’d probably write about how I was thinking of a smart comment because I need to update my status, check-in to this location, and try to see if I can sneak in a bored selfie as I’m sitting here killing time, waiting for program to start.
In my career exploration program, we have a “no-cellphone-during-program” policy, which essentially means that during the program, students are not allowed to use their mobile devices. When I first began coordinating the program, this policy was in effect, and it was easy to understand why; with a very short period of time for program each day and a full agenda, having cell phones ringing, beeping, and vibrating for every call, text message, and notification, was a complete distraction and prevented the participants from actually talking to one another much less listen to what others have to say. At least in my program, we meet in a computer lab, so each participant is assigned a laptop with which they use to complete their tasks and collaborate on projects for the duration of their enrollment. Participants are expected to let me know if they must step out to make a call and if they will need to take an important call at some point during the program time (possibly for a job application follow up or if a parent is going to be calling for them later). In fact, they are not even allowed to have their mobile devices visible because the temptation to glance over or check the screen each time it lights up, is simply too great to bear.
This policy certainly made my job easier and with the laptops already being used, I did not find that I had a major issue with participants reaching for their cell phones. We were also very conscious that not every participant had their own mobile device and we did not want to have any aspect of the program that required them to own one or create a situation that would put these students at a disadvantage. However, the last couple of years, as schools and other organizations have begun to adopt BYOD policies, I’ve often wondered if we need to re-examine our policy and think creatively about how a BYOD policy would benefit our participants as well as the overall positive impact on each program and the organization.
Does every school need a BYOD (bring your own device) policy? My short answer, yes. Theoretically, even if a school was not yet able to support some form of BYOD, a policy would articulate to students (and all other stakeholders) where the school stands on the issue and how the BYOD policy will be improved or adapted moving forward or if there were certain situations or circumstances where BYOD was encouraged or acceptable. The arguments supporting BYOD in schools are somewhat simple, it boils down to savings. BYOD policies in school districts have become more common, mainly because it alleviates the financial burden on schools to provide mobile devices for all students and changing pedagogical approaches by teachers to integrate technology into their classrooms (Holeywell, 2013). Mobile devices can also support newer versions of software applications and resources (textbooks, maps, workbooks, information, etc.) at a much faster rate (and possibly even lower cost) than traditional print materials. Schools and organizations could save time and money by implementing BYOD policies but must certainly weigh these savings against the additional resources that will be needed to support this policy.
The fact that schools are considering and implementing BYOD policies, also helps to demonstrate an important reality: mobile devices are a valuable tool for learning. Many households have multiple devices and students are rapidly learning new applications and skills on their own using such devices. Allowing students to bring their own devices can further engage students in their own learning and enable them to extend that learning experience beyond the classroom into their homes and communities (Martini, 2013). I am a firm believer in students being able to take ownership over their learning; I support the concept of BYOD because I believe it does this in a very personal way. I remember being assigned a textbook in grade school and feeling like I needed to guard this heavy book with my life, for fear of losing it or damaging it in some way and my parents would have to pay to replace it. I can imagine that feeling still exists for some students regarding any form of school property that they are liable for, including mobile devices, equipment, and textbooks.
A personal mobile device can create a different dynamic and engagement with learning materials; students might be more likely to take care of their own devices and have a personal connection to the learning material if they own and control their own mobile devices. By extension, this also includes parents in that ownership of learning, where they might feel a connection to the learning and content material because they “own” the device as well. A BYOD policy can establish a working partnership between students and their families and the school, and articulate the student’s responsibility to manage and direct their learning with their own device. Walsh (2012) highlights a BYOD framework developed by the Oak Hills Local School District (Ohio) that includes a team of staff that engage all stakeholders, including students to ensure the success of their BYOD policies. Having input from parents and students in creating and improving policies will go a long way in ensuring their success and allow for different perspectives that impact the student learning experience within and outside of school.
The policies can also help schools to manage the mobile experience for students, create equity within groups of students using their own devices versus school devices, and make decisions about what software applications, permissions, capabilities, and usage expectations are required of students using their own devices (Martini, 2013). These BYOD policies can also help a school to plan strategically for major upgrades and help parents make choices about what devices can be supported in the school’s network system. For those schools that have yet to commit resources and staff to supporting BYOD implementation, a policy is still important because it articulates how (or whether) BYOD is encouraged during free time such as before school, breaks, lunch, and after school time on campus or in after school clubs and activities. The reality is students are using their own mobile devices for both personal and academic purposes, schools need to be proactive in their approach to addressing use and permissions during the school day. As one principal puts it, “It’s moving toward a place where it’s going to be the standard operating procedure for learning, done in a strategic way” (St. George, 2014, para 10). As teachers are increasingly adapting use of mobile technologies into their teaching and in their classrooms, they will play an important role in developing policies that work for them and their students. Ultimately, schools and youth-serving organizations can develop policies with the goal of encouraging and supporting students to be tech-savvy global digital citizens who are capable of engaging others effectively and responsibly with technology and who are self-directed learners who contribute to a greater community of learners.
Holeywell, R. (2013, September 3). “BYOD policies, growing more popular, create challenges for schools”. Governing.com. Retrieved from: http://www.governing.com/blogs/view/gov-byod-policies-create-school-challenges.html
Martini, P. (2013, December 22). “4 challenges that can cripple your school’s BYOD program”. TeachThought.com. Retrieved from: http://www.teachthought.com/technology/4-challenges-can-cripple-schools-byod-program/
Walsh, K. (2012, December 16). “Making BYOD work in schools – three school districts that have figured it out. EmergingEdTech.com. Retrieved from: http://www.emergingedtech.com/2012/12/making-byod-work-in-schools/
St. George, D. (2014, September 14). “Schools move toward ‘Bring Your Own Device’ policies to boost student tech use“. Retrieved from: http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/stem/schools-move-toward-bring-your-own-device-practices-to-boost-student-tech-use/2014/09/14/4d1e3232-393e-11e4-9c9f-ebb47272e40e_story.html