I’m trying to get my head around a decision that my school, and likely many other schools, are facing in terms of whether to move to a managed 1:1 computer policy where the school provides the same device for every student, or whether we proceed into an official Bring Your Own Device programme.  I’m having a hard time getting my head around the issues for a number of reasons, the biggest of which is that it seems like each side of the argument effectively ignores, rather than addressing, the concerns of the other.

My gut reaction is that BYOD is the way to go.  Since we currently have no official policy, students bring their own devices, if they have them, and use them as the individual classroom teacher allows.  This, to me is not a bad approach.  We cater to a fairly wealthy demographic (by virtue of the fact that we are a tuition-based, private school) so the vast majority already have their own device or devices.  Our IT department estimates 2.5 devices per person connected to our school’s wifi at any given moment.  The equity issue is pretty much non-existent and any cases where there is a difficulty in supplying one’s own device could easily be dealt with via bursary or some such approach.  The thing that I like most about this approach is that it says that we are student-centred.  The student should work with any device that he is comfortable with and use whatever software he wishes, provided that there is a base set of expectations that a teacher can rely upon in terms of planning for technology use in the class.  Education as a whole is at least trying to move toward a more student-centred approach and this seems to be in line with that.

I completely understand the managed 1:1 argument as well.  From a support perspective, there would certainly be less down-time when the entire infrastructure is design around one device.  Software support and teaching becomes easy in the sense that there is a common approach to everything.  There is no “well, on a Windows machine you do it this way and on a Mac you do it this other way.”  There is only one way.  It streamlines the support side of the classroom.  In our environment, the family pays for the device regardless.  In BYOD, they pay the bill up front, when they want/need to.  In a managed 1:1, the cost of the device gets rolled into tuition or becomes a technology fee.  The difference is that when buying a school’s worth of devices, you can negotiate better terms and pricing than if you are buying one.

I’ve yet to be able to find really good research supporting either side of the argument.  Admittedly, the 1:1 side is more organized in their data collection and the way they present it given that they are administered in a top-down manner and data is easy to collect.  The BYOD camp is, by nature, more organic and more difficult to gather data on.  An IT department wouldn’t know how much and what type of service an individual machine has required because it is not their job to service privately owned machines.  Both sides tend to talk about the benefits of using individual devices in a class or school regardless of how they are managed.  They don’t talk about arguments against the management part of the equation and claim the same evidence as benefits of using technology in the class.

The primary argument that the BYOD camp uses is one of differentiation.  I know the basic tenets of differentiated education but do not purport to be an expert on the intricacies of the pedagogy.  Certainly, allowing students to use their own devices set up as they wish caters to an individualized approach and should allow students the opportunity to become experts on their machine.  But, over time, a managed 1:1 would also potentially permit students to do the same (depending on what school policies are).  The only difference would be in the initial learning curve in moving to a new device.

At the end of the day, I feel like managed 1:1 is an extension of the old factory model of education.  We push the kids through in groups based on the coincidence of their birth date, hold them in classrooms while we fill their heads full of “knowledge,”  get them to colour some little circles at the end of the process as proof that they came out smarter and we can make sure that they have identical technology skills by giving them identical machines.  They will be assimilated.  Maybe an Orwellian or Borg comparison is a little harsh, but that’s the sense I get from it.  The problem is that there is an inherent efficiency to that model as long as we don’t care who we leave behind.

I would love some help getting my head around this issue.  Point me in the direction of great research.  Comment below with your feelings on the subject.  Enlighten me as to what part of all of this I’m missing.  I would be forever in your debt!

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