Maybe it’s not as simple as 1, 2, 3, BYOD

It’s simple, or so many of us want to believe, but…

If you want to be guaranteed access to technology in your classroom bring it yourself…for now!

Much has been shared in the last 5 years in the edublogosphere and media about bringing your own device to school. This post will attempt to share my thoughts when witnessing, discussing and reflecting on BYOD.

History and Questions

The term BYOD origjnated in “Tech” sector companies permitting workers to use their personal/preferred technology (phone, tablet, laptop etc.) with the goal to allow staff to use a favourite more user friendly option. However, over the past 4 years, BYOD represents an increasingly acceptable approach to equipping  21st Century Classrooms. In a world of austerity and cost cutting, I call this the ultimate download because it allows schools, school boards and government to abdicate much of their responsibilities to provide funding towards the substantial costs of classroom technology (laptops, tablets) all of which now gets dumped onto students and their families. 

Is BYOD fair? Not yet. It’s unfair to this point because not all students/families are able to afford technology.  It’s not fair because infrastructure does not have the bandwidth, server capacity or security measures in place to support it. It’s not fair because teachers are still stuck in transmission models of education at the expense of inquiry. It’s not fair because classrooms become another snapshot of haves and have nots. Socio-economic realities are still dictating that some students will be given tools to succeed while others will be left stranded when it comes to BYOD.

Could this be an equity issue around access, availability and apathy? Will BYOD really allow students without their own devices more frequent access to technology provided at school? Yes, in some schools, but not in others. Unfortunately, unless it can benefit all learners, and not just the ones who can afford it, the disparity will be perpetuated repeatedly unless preventive policies in are put place. Who is going to pay for all of this because it’s always doom and gloom in the world of educational funding.

““If technology is seen as the vehicle for learning, it needs to be accessible to everybody,” said Jeff Kugler, of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto. That means there has to be enough tablets or laptops to serve every child that needs one.” from the Toronto Star

In Ontario, Canada  (a.k.a home) there is a concerted push towards using technology from K to 12. My board (York Region District School Board) has adopted a very proactive approach and continues to develop and refine its policies as well as upgrading the infrastructure to accommodate this growing trend. Another such commitment to BYOD comes from the Peel District School Board. Their progressive approach  and promotion of BYOD is giving more students access to the resources of the internet and 21st Century learning and collaboration than ever. Although socio-economics dictate that this board will still need to provide tech to students, the opportunities for students are increasing.

 “some students will have a great device, some an old device, and some no device at all. But savvy schools will leverage BYOD projects in ways that will increase access to technology for all students. If a classroom has 30 students and five computers, it has a 6:1 student to computer ratio. If half of the students have a personal device that they can use, the ratio in the classroom becomes considerably lower. Schools will need to provide access to online resources by lending out individual devices or opening labs for students who do not have their own equipment.” Doug Johnson,  Power Up! On Board with BYOD

Resolving the financial constraints allowing access to all can move this favourably forward to more equitable eduction for all. So what happens then?

Favourably Fast forward

BYOD is here to stay. After millions of dollars in server upgrades, purchases and professional development students are connecting like never before to content, Web 2.0 tools are making learning come alive and on terms and platforms that modern learners are intuitively seeking to use (see graphic).

Proponents believe that BYOD allows for a more fluid access to information in the classroom. I agree and disagree.

At its finest, access to the resources and potential of the internet are everything good about this shift. In my classroom when a student has a question or inquiry I find it incredibly valuable to have them get on their device (if available) to scratch their immediate intellectual itches. With access to BYOD this becomes a seamless act allowing for neural myelination to happen. At this point, knowledge can be reinforced when the ideas and thoughts occur thus engaging us with our learning. Think of it as being able to protect your tech with a shield like an OtterBox. Myelination allows neurons to be reinforced while at the same time boosting the recall and connectivity of the neural architecture. This is where I see BYOD blowing the roof off a detractor’s arguments. Imagine the depths of engagement when students are given the latitude to control their learning the moment an idea occurs?

But wait! Students are playing Candy Crush not inquiring about Chemistry. They’re on Snapchat not researching their Social Studies. They’re taking pictures of each other in bathrooms and they’re bullying each other on social media. Aargh!!!

Of all the shadowy sides to BYOD the above seems to be the most reviled by teachers and board IT folks alike. That is the misuse of bandwidth and technology for surreptitious activities on social media, gaming and video streaming sites. Schools now have to institute and educate students and staff on acceptable use procedures and then enforce them. A great example of this working well is in New Jersey, USA via Eric Sheninger. His post BYOD begins with Trust and Respect is a good place to start. Seeing this as a teachable moment has lead to several digital citizenship lessons with students in my world.

Technology will continue being a part of learning whether we can afford it, or are prepared for it. Students must be given access to the tools, the time and the trust to use technology to advance their learning. Failing to do so is not an option. Turning the negatives into positives(teachable moments) will allow BYOD to move forward.

And going forward is good, but it comes with its share of work. No one said BYOD would be e-a-s-y as 1, 2, 3. But with patience, leadership, hard-work  and responsible funding its benefits will be immeasurably beneficial to students and teachers alike. This in itself should be the impetus for a greater commitment by schools, school boards and governments to continue moving in this direction. 

Further Resources (since you haven’t read enough) (Paul Aniceto)

Updated: May 24, 2016 — 9:50 pm

The Author

Will Gourley

J/I lead learner and SERT at Adrienne Clarkson PS in the YRDSB. Focused on disruptive, and divergent modern learning. Member of the global TED-Ed(Club) movement, 1 of 110 TED Ed Innovative Educators, and Global Math Project Ambassador. Twitter @willgourley Proudly blogging here and at


Add a Comment
  1. Vera says:

    Thank you, Will, for highlighting some of the benefits and reminding us of some of the pitfalls associated with BYOD. As with any good classroom management strategy, procedures and structures around BYOD need to be explicitly taught to students by teachers, and it’s OK for us to be co-learners with our students as we figure it out together.

    The 21st-century is moving forward, and therefore teachers need resources; you have provided several excellent links in your blog post – – thanks for sharing, much appreciated! 🙂

    1. Will Gourley says:

      Thank you for reading my post, and for your response Vera.
      It is my pleasure to share and create dialog around tech in the classroom.
      I learned and continue to learn from the best at every chance.

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