Wednesday, October 26, 2011

BYOC: Bring Your Own Context

by Shelly Blake-Plock

A lot of discussion recently over the pros and cons of BYOD -- Bring Your Own Device. Some folks have been quite adamantly in favor or against.

For all the hub-bub, I think it's worth thinking about devices not just in relation to what kids do with them in the classroom, but rather how they relate to the connection those devices represent for them in the real world.

Fact is that we are living in a time -- not unlike those previous -- when one device will not do it all. 

Context is the key.

If I am processing audio, I want to be on a Mac. If I am tweeting on the bus, I want to be on a smartphone. If I am reading the news, I want to kick back with a tablet. If I am learning a new language, my iPod will do just fine.

Does this make life more difficult when you are trying to find a "solution" for you school? Yes. Technology is not making life easier.

Again, context is the key.

Personally, I don't think that forcing a "school standard" will change the fact that for a lot of people, the smartphone represents their connection to the Internet.

Nor is giving me a laptop going to change the fact that I personally read better on an iPad. Nor is giving me an iPad going to change the fact that I type better on a laptop.

There is no "one device".

So why do schools pretend they can provide it?

My wife loves Android. I'm waiting for Windows 8. Fortunately, we can make decisions to experience technology in the way that is most conducive to the way each of us work. So, I can't afford a new fancy Mac to do high-end video, but luckily there is a community center in town that offers time on theirs. I take my iPad to the library, but when I want to do some heavy writing, I use the desktop PCs they have there running OpenOffice. In other words, between what we can provide and what the community can provide, we have a range of options for using devices to do what we need to.

Maybe instead of trying to find the "device" or the "solution", we should step back and think about our role in schools to provide a range of computing experiences -- and to allow kids to bring a range of computing experiences with them. This after all is fundamentally what a school is meant to do: provide a range of learning experiences and accept that kids bring a range of experiences with them.

One of the biggest failures of 1:1 computing in education is school's inability to understand that there is a difference between having a machine and having a lifestyle device.

One of the biggest potential failures of BYOD is thinking that kids can provide equity on their own.

My own approach as a decision maker would probably be to strike a balance whereby the school would provide machines capable of handling the task at hand and the students are allowed to bring their own devices to complement the tech infrastructure.

We need to integrate both into a learning experience.

We need a range of devices to handle a range of problems and provide a range of opportunities.

Going hard one way or the other -- for or against BYOD -- is missing the reality of the way most of us actually compute, and missing a chance to leverage the context in the way we and our students actually understand and relate to technology.

In reality, this isn't about BYOD, it's about BYOC -- Bring Your Own Context.


  1. I think the key (and I love how you articulated it) is that the school provides the right devices for the right contexts. A tablet isn't ideal for blogging. It's simply not. A netbook kicks ass at blogging, but isn't great for multimedia creation or reading (in the same way that a tablet is).

    The issue of equity is very real, but we need to think well about equity in all areas of a student's life. I don't mind asking if we are providing devices for those who don't have them, but we better quickly move into questions of true educational equality between various districts and between students within the same school. It's sad if a kid is left out of using an iPod, but it's more tragic that "gifted" kids get project-based learning opportunities that special ed kids are often barred from.

  2. Dear Shelly and T.P.,

    I believe that you have a lot of insight into one of the major dilemmas that a teacher is faced with, but I think that you are also referring to a school that has the money to foot the bill. You may also have a solution for students that are privileged enough to have access to various technology, but not everyone can afford to have the right tool for a specific job. It is true though that most computers can do most tasks and with the ubiquitous nature of the software, that we can be okay with one device. Yes, it is true it may not be the best device for the job, but it seems that it is up to the schools to work around this issue seeing as the government does not want to properly implement or fund such needs.

  3. Alien,

    Thanks for the comment; the issues you raise are exactly the issues I am working on in developing tech access in the inner city schools whose teachers I work with.

    We've been focusing on a blend of PD opportunities -- including pro bono features that make it possible for teachers to get the training they need on mobile devices; as well as discussions with local and national firms in engineering and telecom to support this work. In addition, some teachers who have gone through our program have taken it upon themselves to build labs and lead students in building labs using donated and hand-me-down hardware. And then, of course, we are talking through BYOD. This is all before we get into some more creative solutions such as school-based community services, network outreach throughout the ed tech community online, and outside-the-box fundraising.

    So, yes, I realize the funding difficulties because I am faced with them all of the time in trying to help schools here in Baltimore. But through a blend of community engagement, re-allocation of funding, offers of time and donations of used equipment, ingenuity, and pragmatism, I think we can bring meaningful and relevant tech into any school regardless of the situation.


  4. I really like the line about schools providing a range of technologies in the classroom. I am part of a project in our board and I'm very fortunate to offer a wide range of technologies to my students. They have access to iPads, iPods, an iMac, a SMARTBoard and desktop PCs. I feel students are learning how to select the best tool for the right purpose. It's so important we help our learners be critical thinkers and show them that depending on the task or use you need to select the best tool.


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