August 11, 2022

Going Mobile: Key issues to consider for schools weighing BYOD


No doubt, 2011 was the year of the tablet. From the release of Apple’s iPad2 in March to the recent debut of hybrid ereaders like the Nook Tablet and Kindle Fire, mobile computing has made great strides. This year, we’ll see those devices go to school.

And, boy, are we in for some changes, as districts nationwide ponder BYOD (bring your own device) schemes. The lifting of restrictions around student devices was born of necessity—tight budgets, plus increasing tech adoption among kids. Practically speaking, BYOD means schools will need to purchase less equipment. The idea has merit, but needs serious consideration before it can be implemented.

First, districts will need to review school board policies regarding student devices. It may be necessary to amend the district’s acceptable use policy; I’d also recommend proactively addressing financial liability for student devices. Moreover, a school’s wireless network will need to be evaluated to avoid connection nightmares. Teachers will also require training to help them develop and administer content across mobile platforms.

But there are greater social, ethical, and cultural implications with BYOD. The following are based on media critic Neil Postman’s essay “Five Things We Need to Know About Technological Change.”

1. The adoption of new technology amounts to a Faustian bargain. New capabilities are gained, but at what price? BYOD may be an economical way to adopt hardware, but there will be additional cost in network capacity, teacher training, and managing lost, stolen, or damaged student property.

2. Technological change creates winners and losers. Moreover, the “winners always try to persuade the losers that they are really winners,” states Postman. So of course, families able to afford smartphones and tablets want schools to allow them. And the notion that the school can then buy devices for the students who need them sounds great in theory. But can districts actually make good on this commitment? And will the devices be comparable?

3. Technology carries its own perspective. If you have a hammer, the saying goes, every problem is a nail. If students all have smartphones, does that make every lesson social? How else could mobile devices change schools? The iPad is a “lean back” technology, said Steve Jobs, better suited to use in an easy chair. So will couches replace desks, transforming the traditional classroom environment?

4. Technological change is ecological as opposed to additive. Schools that adopt BYOD are not the same institutions plus a few smartphones, they’re an entirely new ecology. Or at least they better be. When students have mobile access to information, standard assignments become obsolete. BYOD means students can engage in actual research and create authentic content for sharing with their peers and beyond.

5. Finally, beware of the mythos of technology. BYOD is not a panacea. Smartphones won’t make kids any smarter unless the devices are used to their full potential.

This isn’t meant to scare you off BYOD. But we must rise beyond the hype. Now is the time to seriously consider the possibilities of bringing personal devices into schools as well as a strategy for getting our administrators to say yes to BYOD.


Photo by derricktakase

Christopher Harris About Christopher Harris

Christopher Harris ( is coordinator of the school library system of the Genesee Valley (NY) Educational Partnership.


  1. Christopher you make some good points. I don’t quite see the relevance of basing your piece on something Neil Postman wrote however. Neil Postman’s been dead for almost a decade. And it’s quite possible considering his age, his experience with technology was highly limited.

    Also, I don’t see schools “going mobile” unless you consider a laptop going mobile. You reference an the iPad2 in your piece, but you seem to equate it with a cellphone (smartphone). I strongly believe any educational applications being used on an iPad with be much closer in functionality to what you do on a computer. It just happens that the educational applications developed will run on iPads rather than say MacBooks or an equivalent PC laptop. Nobody is going to teach with cell phones … or at least I hope not.

    As with anything, especially technological advances, there’s plus and minuses. And not everyone will initially get the same opportunities. But these are logistical issues that will have to be worked out, not insurmountable obstacles. Also, of course not everything that will be learned will takes place electronically – as is true with the chalkboard or overhead projector.

    Technology, and specifically the iPad – could be a game changer in the education world. Just the information updating would be worth it. At present, the lower the income school, the further out of date their textbooks are. And I’m not even going to go into the individual instruction possibilities.

    Rather than develop a piece around possible “challenges” in implementing technology … why not address possible solutions to these challenges. Then this comment stream might evolve into a discussion refining these solutions – rather than just the same pros and cons argument that has been done since … well, since Neil Postman was still alive.

  2. I respect Postman, but you’ve also got a host of purely technical and techno-logistical issues to deal with, as well as the small matter of fairness.

    at the technology level you have a rats nest of network security issues that are introduced by BYOD. And there are a lot that are at the purely technological level, involving security, mostly.

    At the technology-human interface level, still more questions arise: How do you control outside access? (Do you try? And if you don’t, do you admit that you’re not trying or just let that storm hit when it will?) What about the spread of malware? Inappropriate content, inappropriate contacts — how do you prevent them or enforce your standards? (Or again, do you not try?) What about support — both students and teachers will need technical support.

    And that last raises an issue that I seldom hear raised in these discussions. We often blithely assume that because they’re kids, they’ll be into tech. Nope. In the past people have complained about how generations of educational strategy have enabled some kinds while hindering others, and this is absolutely no different in that regard: Kids — people — who are comfortable with the technology will be enabled and empowered, others will see their experience DEGRADED.

    Fairness, in fairness, you do touch on, but only obliquely: will districts be able to provide devices for people who can’t afford their own. Maybe, maybe not; the reality is going to be that BYOD will be implemented in many scenarios where significant chunks of people won’t be able to get Ds. Do we have to rectify that? The answer isn’t necessarily yes (though I would like it to be).

  3. I am the Director of Information Technology at a BYOD school for grades 6-12 (we are a preK-12 Independent school with 850 students.) Students are not required to bring their own device; they supplement but do not replace our existing technology resources. About half of the eligible students sign the required paperwork to bring devices on campus. We allow teachers to decide whether or not to allow BYOD usage in their individual classrooms. Last year we piloted the program in grades 11-12 before extending it down to 6th grade.

    We provide a public (filtered) wireless network for students which is completely separate from our secured network. Our mobile computing device policy outlines student responsibilities and parents must acknowledge that cellular internet access is NOT filtered but that students are still bound by our Acceptable Use Policy. If they violate the AUP, we treat it as a discipline issue, not as a technology issue. We do not generally provide technical support for student owned devices and it has not been a problem.

    Some of our teachers are doing really cool and innovative things with student owned mobile computing devices. Others don’t allow them in their classes. But we give teachers the choice.

    When we first extended our program down to grade 6, we held our breath and waited for the shoe to drop…but to our surprise, there were no discipline problems related to policy implementation. We had a fairly robust wireless network before implementing the program but are continuing to add access points as needed. Adequate infrastructure is definitely key.

    I think that individual schools need to make decisions about BYOD based on what is best for them and their individual communities. What works for one school may not work for another. BYOD is definitely not a one-size-fits-all proposition and should not be approached as such.