How BYOD/T is Getting Easier, How it’s Getting Harder

I’ve written more posts on BYOD/BYOT (Bring Your Own Device/Technology) than Sylvia Plath penned woebegone prose, so I’m going to put all of you out of your misery and promise you this is the last one. It’s been just over five school years now that I’ve invited students to bring their own wifi enabled devices into the classroom to use for learning. The first couple of years were a whirlwind of learning for everyone involved, but I can say fairly that the dust has settled quite a bit in the time since. Has it gotten easier or harder, you ask? As my fourth grade French teacher would say, comme ci comme ça.

And another thing: “easier” and “harder” aren’t exactly the most appropriate words here, but they’re as correct as one can get. Kind of like how kids says their teacher is “nice” or “mean”; it means nothing and it means everything at the same time. I was initially going to juxtapose “the good and the bad” as far as my experience has gone, but I simply couldn’t position the ideas in that way. I think this is because it’s hard to discuss BYOD/BYOT without the uncomfortable merging of pedagogical, sociological, psychological, and nuts-n-bolts practical considerations. In other words, the plight of the teacher in general. After year five of saying, “Ya, sure, kid, get out that mini supercomputer you got for Christmas”, here’s my little State of the Union.


My experience doing BYOD has always been in relatively affluent public school communities. We’ve also been fortunate to be well supported by my school board with technology to provide for students who do not bring their own devices in. This is to say that I really don’t know what to say about our progress in equity, because we can speak about this issue from many different vistas and contexts. I will say that I’ve always had great difficulty pinpointing what makes a student more or less likely to: a) own a personal device; or b) have permission to bring it in. It isn’t easily defined by their parents’ income, political stance, or cultural background. It’s also weird but unsurprising to me that technology is just another item on the epic novel that are our school supply lists for parents.

Stakeholder Support

In the first few years of this initiative, my part-time job was as communicator and, unfortunately, evangelist for why BYOD should at least be allowed in a classroom. Whether it was colleagues, administrators, parents, and even, in some cases, the students themselves, I spent a lot of energy touting its benefit for learning. These days, no one asks questions anymore. Ironically, I myself have more critical questions than ever.

Apps and Software

Nearly all apps and tools are in the cloud and device agnostic these days, so it’s never been easier to have multiple devices talk to one another, and share/sync files with. There have been numerous times where we’d find a clever DIY workaround to a software problem, but folks like Google and Apple have taken care of a lot of that hassle. Again, the irony being that it has made our devices more… vanilla.

Focus and Attention

Over four years ago I wrote that one of the best ways BYOD can succeed in your learning environment is to rethink what it means to be attentive. I still whole heartedly contend that we need to abolish the notion that eyes-on-teacher-hands-in-lap is the Everest of attentiveness (perhaps we should remember that this may have always been the case, regardless of the exponential growth of digital and mobile technologies). These days, however, I will admit that I find it more challenging than ever to teach BYOD students to be focussed learners, able to block out some of the distractions their devices present. The writings of Maria Konnikova on multitasking have made me reflect even harder on this of late. Which leads me naturally to…

Social Media

As with the proviso on ‘attention’ above, another tenant of successful BYOD implementation I’ve always touted is the need to at least address social media. Considering BYOD in any school without contemplating how social media will be leveraged is like buying your kid a car and expecting them not to go anywhere unexpected. Which is why I’ve always integrated social media spaces and tools into classroom learning. In 2014, though, this has been more difficult than ever. The world of social media for youth is, at times, the antithesis of school culture. Where school functions on rules set out by adults, social media spaces are governed by the adolescents themselves; where there is a state-sanctioned curriculum in school, there is only fun, intrigue, and experimentation in social media. What is more, particularly because of the work of danah boyd, I’m very wary these days of what I perceive as an over-step by educators into the social lives of teens online. But I’ll leave that little morsel for you to chew on, and perhaps write about in a future blogpost.

This post is neither an endorsement nor rejection of policies or approaches to students bringing their own technology for education. Deal with the murky ground, folks; it’s actually joyful and soothing.

What about you? How’s the BYOD going in your school or classroom?

spice up your inbox

If you liked this post, you can subscribe to receive new posts right into your inbox!


  1. says

    What an excellent summary of the situation, Royan. Nicely done. I think that there are a lot of red herrings in the discussion, especially the one on equity. Good teachers will always find ways to get around that professionally so that nobody is really disadvantaged.

    I think that, ultimately, the success (or failure) of any program relies on the teacher. We all know that, when that door is closed (metaphorically, of course) classrooms will morph into whatever environment the teacher/students wish it to be.

    Until technology is mandated as compulsory, its use will be governed by the professional judgement of a teacher and I’m really OK with that.

    • royanlee says

      I agree that so much of classroom learning falls on the choices, skills, actions of the teacher, but I still think the province, the boards, and administration have an incredibly important role to play. Thanks for the feedback, Doug.

      • says

        No doubt, and I’m with you there, Royan. However, they can be slow to react and slow to change. Mr. Lee’s class is far more nimble and can experiment on a daily basis as opposed to the entire province. I think that the real power of the Ontario Curriculum is that it outlines expectations per grade level / course and then lets the classroom teacher how best to address them.

  2. says

    So much to say…

    I think the part that really struck a chord was focus and attention. Maybe that’s because I’m reading too much Stuart Shanker. Maybe it’s because I’ve upped my yoga practice… I’m not sure.

    The benefit of having devices handy is that we can follow up on tangents as our brain hits them. “That makes me think of _____” can be accompanied by a search, a tweet, a whatever.

    The ugly side of this access to tangents is that we become the people that don’t really listen when others talk to us. You know, those people that are formulating their next comments instead of paying attention to what’s happening around them… and I’m not really sure how well those people learn from/with others.

    I’m not saying that we need to sit and mull over every single thing we see/hear/experience. That’s silly. However, cultivating deep focusing skills seems to be increasingly important. Even more important is knowing when to use those skills.

    • royanlee says

      How about this: What if some subjects or learning moments work better with BYOD and the internet than others? For instance, I think devices need to be put away when I’m asking students to solve a math problem in pairs. I also think we need to put them away when it’s time to focus on a particular text. Then there are times when devices and the internet are so wonderful, as in moments of project-based learning and inquiry. The right tools and spaces for the right learning.

      • says

        Your comment really struck a chord with me because I used to have these same discussions with my students. Last year, many of my Grade 5’s brought in their own devices. I know that they wanted to use them, and I know that they knew how to use them well, but I think that they needed to think deeply about when to use them best. I started having these discussions with them. Before students started to work, I asked them, “What tools might work well for this activity? Why? What tools might not work as well? Why?” At the beginning, this discussion took some time, but as the year went on, students were thinking through this on their own and we didn’t have to have this conversation. Yes, I see value to BYOD(T), but I also see value in sometimes putting the devices away.

        As always, a great, thought-provoking post, Royan!

    • says

      I’m not comfortable with leaving it totally up to the teacher. I will always be gentle and supportive, but the teacher who does not encourage BYOD is saying that a whole avenue of learning will be closed off to their teachers. It’s like saying, no, I don’t really think Canadian history is relevant, so I’ll skip that.

      Maybe this is politically incorrect, but a bit of a push would be a good idea.

      I also think school boards could be much more aggressive at facilitating the purchase of machines through suppliers, but that’s another topic, I guess.

  3. dshareski says

    I’ve just added this post to my Masters course on “Sustaining Digital Literacy”. It presents a great balanced view of this topic.

  4. says

    Hi Royan,
    I really enjoyed your post and the subsequent conversations. You touch upon many classroom realities and as a BYOD “pioneer,” your perspective is valuable as well as thought-provoking.
    I too have been contemplating the idea of attention lately (no connection to increased Yoga, unfortunately), and have had many conversations about this with colleagues. Because my role is a central one, I have fewer issues with students not engaging: there are two teachers in the room, students are allowed to use their own devices (where normally they wouldn’t), and much planning around a thoughtful and engaging lesson has been done before the lesson gets to the classroom. What you describe is the reality that occurs “in between” an inquiry; when the day to day curriculum needs to be met, (and in my case, I have gone to another classroom).
    Thankfully, our Curriculum is much less structured than that of other countries, and since we need to evaluate the Overalls and just hit the Specifics, we do have more flexibility than other places. Because I have been working with Language/English teachers, there are very few (if any) content restrictions. In other subjects and in elementary classrooms, however, there is much to cover and when our students are distracted, this is indeed problematic.
    I agree wholeheartedly that students need to know when to use their devices and when they shouldn’t. “The right tool at the right place”! I see adults who pull out their phones in the middle of dinner or mid-conversation; how then can we expect anything different from our students unless we explicitly teach them that there are times when it is necessary to give someone their full attention, and times when consulting their device is OK .
    I also think about how much time I can engage in deep learning before I need a break, and how often I check Facebook or Twitter when I’m bored.
    I’m wondering it it’s realistic that students be in “flow” for an entire school day? If not, then how much time is acceptable? 50%? 70%? Does it need to be 100%? Can we afford to spend the rest of the time teaching learning skills like collaboration? Are these as valuable? If so, what then does this conversation look like with parents and other stakeholders?
    I also wonder if this discussion is as much about BYOD as it is about teaching modern learners in a time when technology is ubiquitous?
    Thanks for pushing my thinking on a Sunday morning.

    • royanlee says

      Great questions, Jennifer. I actually do think it is a question of BYOD because I believe a personal device where you are signed in to all of your accounts is very different to a neutral one. Our devices are not meant for focussing on one task. To be able to do this takes incredible self-discipline, something most adults (let alone children) are on a learning curve with.

  5. says

    Thanks for the post.Love the notion of having a conversation with students about the best tools for the task from @adunsiger! I really don’t think this is a new problem/issue but just one that focuses on a particular tool/device. After all, just this weekend I shared some important news (at least to me) with my husband and he didn’t hear it.,,

  6. says

    As ever, you rock – and I love the feedback in the comments, too, you crew. These are important questions and important ideas to think about. I looked at my teaching last year, and found that I wasn’t asking my students to pull their devices out as often as I had the year before – not necessarily because we were doing really different things, but more because I was thinking, like Aviva mentions, about what the right tool might be for that particular task. I need to have those discussions more transparently with my students, and continue to provide the opportunity, in my language-focused class, for students to figure out which modality works best for them.

    Stepan, your comment about “making the next comment” really hit home for me; working to be an active listener has been an ongoing journey for me, and I know that social media has allowed me to “unfocus” during events like staff meetings, for example – which is exactly the behaviour I am trying not to encourage in my students. So that’s another one to really think about.

    I, too, am questioning – I have two questing, inquiring young men in my own household, and we’re trying to figure out what productive (outside of school work) computer time might look like. They don’t want to do what their Dad and I do – despite the fact that one is a teen and one a tween, they see social media as our thing (other than G+, which their particular group of peers really likes – go figure) – so I’m starting to wrap my head around the fact that when they’re reading on their own Zite accounts and sharing, or digging through Kickstarter or the LittleBits website, that that can fit into those “c’s”. Maybe it’s not blogging or Youtubing or Tumblring – but they don’t want to be in the same spaces as I am…and that needs to be okay. I think introducing those spaces to younger students is different than asking intermediate students to use their social spaces in a school context (yeah, I’ve been reading Danah Boyd, too).

    Lots to process, as always.

    • royanlee says

      Maybe we need to make a big distinction between learning and education on social media. There is always the former in these spaces, but is there the latter?

  7. says

    So now that BYOD/T is moving beyond the novelty stage we owe it to ourselves to make sure we are asking the right questions about why this might have been a good idea in the first place. Far too many folks, not just educators, fail to realize that you shouldn’t stop thinking critically just because an idea might be tenacious. The right tool for the right purpose has never been more important than it is now. The paradox of choice is going to play and increasingly important role as this conversation matures.

    • royanlee says

      I think teachers are put in a tough spot these days because BYOD is happening (in pockets, backpacks, etc.) regardless of whether it is “allowed”. Maybe we just have to deal.

Leave a Comment!