BYOD: A Bare Minimum

cc licensed ( BY SD ) flickr photo shared by Beige Alert

This is a true story.

I wish it wasn’t , but it is.

A good friend of mine, who is a brilliant mind in education, sits down with me at a table during a conference keynote with his superintendents joining.  As we are promoted to have a conversation about initiatives that are happening in our separate school districts, the notion of “BYOD” (Bring Your Own Device) comes up.  As I talk with his direct report, she lets me know that wireless is enabled in all of their schools but staff are not able to bring in their own devices to use because they (the staff) are “not there yet”.


My friend turned red and you can see the embarrassment in his face.  He knew exactly what I would think and he was powerless.

This was not a matter of “things not working” but simply not allowing staff to bring in their devices.  I wondered, “do they need professional development on how to use their own devices?”


This wasn’t even about working with staff to help them determine what students could now do with their own devices, and preparing staff to lead in their classrooms, it was about not letting the adults that they have hired to care for their kids to use their own devices.

Why even have wireless in the buildings if no one is able to use it?

My recollection of this was sparked by reading another article talking about BYOD and how powerful it can be.  Not about the learning that happens because of BYOD in a school, but just that kids can now bring their devices to schools and use them.

So what?  What has this really transformed in teaching and learning?

I am not arguing that BYOD shouldn’t be implemented in our schools, because it absolutely should.  But it should be the minimum standard of what is done in our schools.  As a good friend and colleague of mine says, it is the “low hanging fruit”.  If it doesn’t exist in your school(s), and you are making it happen, that is great.  That being said, it absolutely needs to go much further than the idea that we can bring our devices into schools.  It should be about what are we doing with them that improves learning?

We shouldn’t be too excited about an infrastructure that already exists at McDonalds and Starbucks should we?



  1. George, as always, I agree with most of what you said.

    However, the statement, “we shouldn’t be too excited about an infrastructure that already exists at McDonalds and Starbucks” doesn’t sit to well with me.

    Infrastructure is easy to take for granted. Designing a wireless infrastructure to support the needs of a few users at Starbucks versus designing a wireless infrastructure to support hundreds of users in large facilities with varying levels of signal interference is entirely another – and that’s just one school.

    Then there’s the infrastructure that connects all of those schools together.

    And all of this infrastructure comes at a cost – hardware, bandwidth, software, and most of all, people to support it.

    Now I say this because every time the budget gets tight the first place school boards seem to look is…the IT department. In some cases, arbitrary budget targets are established that the IT department has to hit. Yet we rarely see demand for service drop.

    The longer term risks of this approach are non-obvious and significant. Networks that cannot respond to bandwidth demands. School boards lose talented network analysts who know how to do things like put a wireless network into a school that is designed to be efficient, effective and cost effective. IT and Educational Technology support staff cut to the bone. Teachers who lose faith technology because it doesn’t perform reliably and is not adequately supported aren’t as likely to try to use technology in the classroom. If it fails…it’s a huge classroom management issue.

    But this must be an IT problem.

    Some industry benchmarks peg the education’s IT spend at approximately 4% of revenue. While I’m not sure of the accuracy of this number, or how it was arrived at, the thing to remember is this – that 4% of the budget pays for 100% of your entire school board’s IT needs.

    Infrastructure is absolutely something we should all be very excited about if we want to transform education – because until every learner brings his or her own network with them, we can’t do it without infrastructure. Your IT department cannot provide that infrastructure without your support.

    • Thanks for your thoughts Angie….here is a question for you. Are we undoing an infrastructure or creating a new one? Many school districts have had wireless for years but they weren’t “allowing” outside devices on. Have we had to put money into something that started because we did not trust outside devices to come in?

      As I said, this should be a minimum standard and should be something we are working towards but it is not enough.

      • George. Nice to meet you! Insofar as I think BYOD is critical I agree with you but angietarasoff nailed it: “Infrastructure is easy to take for granted.” Simply “having” wireless doesn’t mean it is right for BYOD. The wireless infrastructure that you’ll find at McDonalds or Starbucks is ENTIRELY different than that which you would find in a school.

        I agree that BYOD is low hanging fruit and perhaps it should be a “minimum standard” but there is a great deal of behind the scenes work that needs to happen to make a BYOD-friendly environment.

        Assuming that “BYOD” is simply as easy as unblocking the masses is selling the needs of a BYOD-friendly system a bit short. If it were as simple as handing out network passwords to anyone that wanted it then every one would do it. But it isn’t. In many cases, layering BYOD on top of existing systems actually requires MORE planning than if one were to do BYOD from scratch.

        How many existing installed systems can handle the internal and external bandwidth that BYOD devices will add to the network? How many IT departments have elastic budgets and friendly administrators that are willing to fund upgrades every few years to keep system stable? How many of these systems have appropriate security to ensure that BYOD devices don’t disrupt internal devices (think virus activity, spambots, and the like)? How many have the ability to ensure that BYOD is being used for appropriate use, ensuring that policy and regulatory statutes are enforceable? How many have support staff in place and trained to help troubleshoot the myriad of devices that consumers carry around?

        Administrators, boards, teachers, and the general public tend to over-assume and over-simplify the capabilities of IT infrastructure. Similarly, IT departments are often a little too defensive and come across as self-serving. (See, I’m doing it _right_now_).

        The reality is that successful environments (be they BYOD or not) are executed through thoughtful cross-disciplinary discussion, requirements gathering, proper design and implementation, and appropriate short and long-term funding.

        • I actually work directly with our IT department and know that it does take a lot of work, especially to have it running smoothly. I don’t doubt that work. That being said, from the learning side, just having BYOD does not necessarily change the teaching and learning that is happening. Why have so many 1:1 programs failed? Because a lot of the programs do the exact same thing that they have always done but now just have a computer. Should we be putting all of the work in on an IT side without actually being a better model?

          The other aspect of it is that yes McDonalds has wifi, but the point is, that is kind of an expectations for many organizations outside of school. When I go to the airport, I expect WiFi to be there. Should I expect something different at a school? I am not discrediting the work, but I am saying it is a minimum.

          A question back for you…what have you done for professional development with BYOD for teachers? If a school district is putting a lot of time and effort to create this environment, should they not be putting money into learning for staff as well? We often focus only on the infrastructure but not the learning that it is meant to support.

    • Infrastructure for BYOD isn’t magic or even arcane. I’ve done it. The real problem is that most school superintendents are so swamped by the everyday demands of running a district (financial, regulatory, meeting changing requirements, testing, etc.) that they really don’t have time to understand how the world has changed and how technology changes learning today and learning tomorrow. Yes, they should be doing this, but it’s the responsibility of every administrator to help guide and educate the superintendent.

      So, enter the IT Director, who should be leading the discussion – but the IT Director has an IT background where command, control, and stability, not supporting learning, are rewarded. The problem is that the IT director doesn’t understand education and doesn’t feel responsible for supporting learning, and is so far out of education that he believes the two are incompatible.

      One requirement for change is that the IT Director truly believe that he or she is as responsible for the success of that child in the fifth grade class or the ninth grade class as the teachers are – and truly believes it.

      When will people stop making excuses and start leading?

  2. Bring the benefit stats in a highly visual Infographic and then tweet it to top Educators. This would be interesting conversation. Just a thought… I would enjoy seeing that topic fluster feathers. It will be like the biggest twitter pillow fight. Fun.

  3. George you make some great points and ideas that we as educators need to consider. Just like questioning some of the teaching practices that have been done for decades, I think this fits right in there. The issue at hand I feel is loss of control. The one issue I have with BYOD is the separation of the “haves” from the “have nots”.

    • Then I would say your job is to provide for the “have nots” so that they do not grow up to be adults that are “have nots”. If they don’t have the skills that they need to thrive later, how will we break the cycle?

  4. George wrote:

    We shouldn’t be too excited about an infrastructure that already exists at McDonalds and Starbucks should we?

    – – – – – – – – –

    This is a great line, George. It really puts into perspective the BYOD challenge.

    When we can’t even provide for our kids the same thing that McDonald’s provides for its customers — or to put it another way, when fast food joints provide more learning opportunities for people than schools — we’re screwed.

    Thanks for pushing my thinking in a fun direction this morning. Hope you’re well!

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