BYO Tech: good plan for schools?

Technology and education seem to be big topics this week – today I read an article on the Bring Your Own Technology movement – apparently the Mankato Public School has signed up…

Mankato has joined the growing Bring Your Own Technology movement that allows students to use their own Netbooks, laptops, and tablets — anything that connects to the school’s wireless network — during class time.

“By allowing kids to bring in their own devices, you free up school resources for the kids who don’t have access,” says Doug Johnson, director of media and technology for the Mankato Public School System. (Johnson wrote the book — literally — on the subject; The Classroom Teacher’s Technology Survival Guide is published this month.) For example, in classrooms that have a group of four computers, finding time for all 30 students to use them can be challenging. In Mankato, 90% of the students have some sort of wireless-capable device, which leaves only eight students in a typical class who will need to use the class computers.

It’s an interesting concept. On one level, I think it’s a practical solution. Having some kids bring in their own computers does mean fewer computers required to cover the kids who don’t have their own. So it can level the playing the field during the school day, in that everyone has a computer. (Although I imagine the playing field isn’t too equal when there is such a wide range of devices out there. Forget about hand-me-down sweaters, imagine going to school with your cousin’s Commodore 64!)

From a management perspective I think this has got to be a challenge. The article brings up the broadband issue of having to plan for enough bandwidth to meet all needs. I think that’s a good problem to have and one we should be striving to solve regardless. The real issue is managing the tech support. Is each kid responsible for the upkeep on his computer? When the computer quits in the middle of the class, who helps? How do you protect the network and computers from viruses and what do you do about security and privacy? Do you allow sharing via flash drives or is everything in the cloud? (Sounds like Mankato is cloud-based but that probably works better with some devices than others.)

The article brings up similar points…

Mobile phones, and especially those that aren’t smart phones, obviously don’t have the same capabilities as computers. But when tablets and Netbooks enter the picture, it becomes less of an argument against insufficient technology and more an argument against managing multiple technologies. Stager adds that in a class full of students handling his or her own device, each one different from the other, will only “amplify [teachers’] anxiety and reduce use.”

From a teaching perspective, how do you handle so many devices and different reactions/reaction times across a classroom? I was a computer teacher in a grade school for a very short time. We had about 12 computer, 8 of which might be working at any one time. Everything was donated; everything was unique. And the network used a dialup connection to the Internet. The class was much less about teaching computer skills than about trying to repair computer issues. It sounds like the situation is Mankato is much better, but is every school so well prepared?

And although Johnson [Doug Johnson, director of media and technology for the Mankato Public School System] admits that more traditional teachers resist or are overwhelmed by this type of learning, students will need little support because they’re already familiar with their own devices. If the bandwidth and infrastructure are in place for students to access the school network, Johnson says they’ll be able to do their work with little oversight.

The advent of devices is a disruptive technology – and I applaud Mankato for taking it on. I am curious to see how this plan pans out in the long term. I think (maybe I hope) there will be a lot of trial and error in education as educators and administrator try to unleash the potential and prepare students for jobs of tomorrow – not the job of today. We can’t be afraid to fail when it comes to integrating technology into the schools – because I think by doing nothing we’re already failing the workforce of tomorrow. (That’s not to say that I think Mankato will fail – but I think their policy may see a few iterations as technology, financing and needs change.)

This entry was posted in Digital Divide, education, MN by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

I have a Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science. I have been interested or involved in providing access to information through the Internet since 1994, when I worked for Minnesota’s first Internet service provider. I am pleased to be a part of the Blandin on Broadband Team. I also work with MN Coalition on Government Information, Minnesota Rural Partners, and the American Society for Information Science and Technology.

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