One of the biggest arguments against BYOD initiatives in the classroom, is that in order for it to be successful/beneficial to every student, equal access to technology must exist. Rarely is this the case - in any given class, we can find students who don't own a device and have no Internet access at home, to students who have all the latest versions of multiple devices.
I've tried to level the playing field somewhat by providing a small variety of devices for my students to use when they like or need. They've been pieced together over time through various grants, some scavenging around the school, and by repurposing devices initially meant for other uses.
Unfortunately, the students can't take school devices home (though that would be ideal), but it's a start. As of right now, I have:
- a class set of datawind tablets, thanks to ORION
- 5 ipad minis
- 4 new desktop computers (that replaced 4 scavenged computers)
- my board-assigned laptop, which I do not use (I choose to use my own laptop instead)
Students prefer to use their own devicesEven if the screens are cracked so badly that you can barely read through them, even if they are tiny, even if they are old or out of date, even if students have to use their own data to access resources, students seem to prefer using their own device over a school device. This makes sense, since its operation is very familiar to them, so they can use it quickly and efficiently.
I've also seen students decline to use a school device, even if newer, faster tech is available, because their device is where they receive their text messages, calls, snapchats, etc. It's tough to give that up, even with the lure of a more efficient device.
Students prefer portable devicesThe four new desktops at the back of the room provide the students with large, flat screens, a full keyboard for easy typing, and the speed of use with which that generation is used to accessing all things online (which couldn't be said for the older desktops that were in the same space previously). Rarely, though, do my students choose to use them. They like the portability of smaller devices, allowing them to sit with their friends anywhere in the room, as opposed to being stuck in one spot.
Having said that, certain tasks do lend themselves well to being completed on a desktop. Students will choose the bigger computers when they are working on typing up a lab or doing major work in a spreadsheet. Just accessing resources, though? For that they'll choose the portability.
Students prefer new technologyOld technology, or technology that is slow, will not get used, even if students have the choice between the older technology or no technology at all. They would rather sit and do nothing than fight with a device or wait for things to load/connect.
Laptops over tabletsGiven the choice of the laptop over a tablet, it is the laptop which gets used by students almost 100% of the time. I'm not sure if this is because of the keyboard, or of the larger screen, but the fact that so many students seem to want to use it makes me wish I had more laptops available for them.
The Take-Away?So if you are starting BYOD initiatives in your classes, and you are seeking out grants to buy technology, I recommend the following:
- Don't skimp - buy new technology that will work well.
- Invest in laptops - a few tablets are a good idea, but don't just have tablets. I haven't used Chromebooks much - they might be ideal for this?
- No more than a couple of desktops - I am still glad I have them (and I won't give them up!), but don't spend the bulk of your money on these.
Disadvantages of sharing devicesFinally, there is one big factor to keep in mind if you will be providing devices for your students. While shared devices do take a big step toward making sure that all students have access to technology, one of the biggest detractors is that on many devices, it is tough to sign out of the various accounts we access. It is a multi-step process to completely log out of Google Classroom, or even Gmail on a tablet. Many students don't. And while I haven't seen anyone abuse another student's account because of it, the possibility for misuse is always there.
You may also want to take a few minutes every week to "clean up" the tablets. Though it's sometimes hard to find the time, it's well worth it to make sure selfies and random apps don't keep showing up on school devices.