Saturday, July 21, 2012

"Digital-Divide" Is Not an Excuse to Avoid Implementing a BYOD Policy at Your School

Recently, I found myself entangled with several people in a Twitter debate about whether BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policies actually perpetuate or aggravate the digital divide our students currently experience. During the conversation, I could sense the frustration teachers feel when they stand before classrooms where large number of students barely have a home to go to in the evenings, much less their own technological devices to bring and use within school. Our economic mess has truly put a large number of our students in situations where they experience major disadvantages. Having a BYOD policy would seem to perpetuate the divide between the tech-haves and tech-have-nots. Still, I can't help but support any measures that give our students access. I do not buy into the argument of "no access for anyone until everyone can have it." Instead, I think we must do what Marc Prensky argues which is to find ways to "Bridge and eliminate this digital divide" and provide digital access to our students. As Prensky suggests, we are going to have to accept that there is always going to be some inequality, but there are things we should be doing as educators to mediate the impact of the digital divide, and trying to keep the playing field level by refusing anyone access until all have it is not the ethical thing to do.

As educators we must be concerned with our "students wanting or needing access to a minimal level of digital technology and not being able to get it." "We can make it our business to see that every student has 'enough' access rather than 'equal' access to digital technology." In addition, we can make sure our students are engaged in using this technology in stimulating, collaborative, and authentic, globally challenging ways. BYOD policies are a way for educators to give students that adequate access to technology to engage in 21st century learning, and do so, often with much less cost than 1:1 programs. To refuse instituting BYOD policies because not all students will be able to "bring their own devices" is, in my opinion, a dereliction of my duty as a 21st century administrator because I should be seeking every means possible to provide 21st century learning opportunities for all students. I would love to have a 1:1 program that puts devices into the hands of everyone of my students, and I will keep advocating for those days. But our current reality is that we must take advantage of our limited resources to make the most of digital opportunities for all students and that means providing BYOD access.

Still, we do need to be concerned about the effects of the digital divide under our BYOD policy. Here are some ways we might minimize the digital divide effects under BYOD policies:
  • Make sure the technology we currently have in our buildings is actually being used by the students. For example, if we have iPads, are these devices in the hands of the students as they engage in real-world problem-solving or is the teacher using the device to project to a video or a multimedia presentation? Our schools have technology, but often teachers and administrators use the technology and students watch.
  • Find ways to maximize how students share existing technology. Place students in deliberate groups so that every student can engage in activities that ask them to join in using that technology. Give each student in these groups tasks that need to be accomplished by using shared technological devices.
  • Find ways to increase access time. Keep computer labs open after school. If funding and staff allow, open the labs far beyond the length of the school day or on weekends.
  • Make sure all students know where additional areas of access are. Communicate to parents other places like public libraries where technology access is available. Our school is located within a town that has chosen to provide free wireless access in the downtown area. Making sure students and parents know were additional access is available is important.
  • Do everything  we can to advocate and get technology for those who don't have access. As a principal, my duty is to be an advocate for the education of all the students in my school. This does not mean using that there will always be unequal access to technology as an excuse for me to give up trying to push for better access to all. As a 21st century educational leader, equity is always the greatest of concerns and I need to pushing for equity too.
I am sure there are other ways 21st century school leaders can work to minimize the effects of the digital divide while engaging in the implementation of Bring Your Own Device measures. As we move further and further into the 21st century, we have a duty to provide our students with the level of technology access they need to be 21st century learners and that means finding ways to implement policies like BYOD that enhance learning for all of our students.


  1. As someone who works with schools who have implemented BYOT policies, I've seen that the first step is to implement the policy and then determine what how big or what kind of divide actually exists. Taking the step to start letting students use their own devices usually opens up possibilities. Let students help with the issue. A BYOT policy may mean that some students bring their devices and share with others, or some students bring devices and others use devices supplied by the school. The amount of devices the school needs to provide will diminish as time goes by. Taking the first step of starting the policy also allows others to pitch in and help.

    The discussion quickly moves to what are we going to do with the devices we have, regardless of how many devices there are.

  2. I think the more we as educators focus on teaching our students how to use the devices to learn the more students will be able to find devices. When schools can show results, which is very possible, the funding will follow.

    As someone who coaches schools on implementation of new technologies, I've had administrators say, "Thank you for showing us how to make this work in a classroom. Now, I can get funding to replicate it across the district."