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It started out with a standardized writing prompt and was never intended to move outside of the small testing window. However, when students finished writing a persuasive text on whether students should  be allowed to have cell phones and MP3 players (a student aptly pointed out that banning MP3 players would still allow him to have an iPod, because they don’t use the MP3 format), they wanted to create their own BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policies

The Process
I began by asking students to create a series of questions. After tweaking the language, the guiding questions became:

  • How do we ensure equity? What investments might we need to make in bandwidth or in additional devices?
  • What behavioral expectations should we have for students using devices? How do we help students see devices as learning tools rather than toys?
  • Who is responsible for broken and stolen property?
  • Should the apps and tools used be universal across platforms? Or do we allow students to choose the tools based upon their devices?
  • What type of professional development will teachers need for BYOD to be successful? What paradigm shifts would they need to make?

Notice what is not covered in this. Students were not concerned about whether or not students should have to share (they wouldn’t be forced to share pencils or paper and yet they often share those). Nor were they concerned about hurt feelings (many pointed out that there is more jealousy over nice shoes than an iPod). When I asked about digital citizenship and cyberbullying, they were quick to point out that bullying has nothing to do with devices and shouldn’t be included in a BYOD policy.

Next, students worked in small groups and developed their policies on Google Docs. I know. Pretty simple technology. From there, they had to create a two-minute “pitch” to convince the class that their plan would be the most effective. They could create an audio-visual podcast, a video or a series of image-oriented slides with a two-minute talk.

Students presented their ideas to the class, followed by a short question and answer (with sentence stems for support). I wanted to move to a whole-class plan, but we never quite got there.

The Results
It turns out that students can be really mature about how they view devices, equity and responsibility. Here were some general trends that I saw:

  • Students should sign a release for BYOD that includes what will happen in cases of theft and damaged technology
  • Schools should have half-sets or quarter-sets of devices so that they can go one-to-one.
  • A few school-wide behavior guidelines make sense: Devices away when the teacher is talking (unless instructed to do so), during individual assignments, students can use devices and have their headphones on
  • Students need to use the devices for the purpose of learning and a teacher can require a student to put it away if it becomes a distraction
  • Teachers can attend optional training on apps, classroom management and how to integrate the tools into the curriculum. One group had the idea of letting teachers watch a BYOD class in action, or even having a “test class” that tries it out for a quarter before going school-wide.

The results were not perfect. However, I was struck by the fact that students were able to have a dialogue about this subject in a way that is often more mature than what I see with adults who are quick to take a radical stance (ban it altogether or let kids bring it and use it whenever the want). Instead, I saw a view that was reasonable, nuanced and multifaceted.

Maybe it’s time schools take a similar approach.

John Spencer

My goal is simple. I want to make something each day. Sometimes I make things. Sometimes I make a difference. On a good day, I get to do both.More about me


  • Knaus says:

    I love letting the students have the voice in this conversation. It sounds like they did a great job with this.

    You point about bullying is key. The tool is not the problem. Students don't lose the privilege of having a notebook if they had one that used as a slam book. Yet they loose computer rights if they send inappropriate emails. I really dislike that. I've never seen a teacher/administrator say that Johnny can't use pencils in class.

    I don't know where I fall on the PD part of this. Teachers do need to learn technology. Teachers that don't know technology won't connect. However, what I use in my classroom may not work for what you do in your classroom. How do you structure PD around that. Maybe the P in PD or PLC is "Personal" and Professional. Somehow you still need to share what you are learning and doing. I got super annoyed by a standard PD/PLC model that isn't reflective of my classroom.

    Excellent post. Thanks for sharing.

    • John Spencer says:

      I agree with you on the PD part, but I do think that people sometimes underestimate just how low some teachers are with regards to their tech knowledge.

      By the way, I got a ton of pushback on Facebook with that visual.

  • EdTechSandyK says:

    John, this was an awesome exercise for your sixth graders! I would love to see some of the guidelines the groups came up with. As we move toward BYOD in my district, it would be instructive to show our teachers what kids think about BYOD.

    Thank you for sharing!

  • learnbopfred says:

    I really appreciate your article. We shouldn't admonish students for using technology in the classroom we should find ways of redirecting that energy.
    Not a week goes by that you don't hear about a smaller or poorly performing district seeing a radical turn around in performance by using the advantages of technology. At the company I work for ( we are trying to enhance teacher's efforts to do just that.

    We are at time when the teacher to student ratio is already being skewed in the wrong direction because of funding or availability. Technology and adaptive software helps counter that trend.

  • Mr. Chase says:

    Was there a conversation of the school or the class making recommendations about devices or writing reviews of which devices might be most helpful for students in a particular class or school?

  • Mr. Chase says:

    Was there conversation about students, classes, or schools making recommendations about which devices were ideal for the learning in different spaces or writing reviews for families and students considering getting a new device?

  • This goes to show that students are aware of what these devices can accomplish. Perhaps not in the same level as how adults would see things, but the fact that these kids know what advantages these devices can do for their classroom activities is an important factor that schools/universities, educators and parents to consider. It's really about finding the appropriate approach for specific groups of learners and integrate BYOD the best way possible for learning & skills development. Thanks for sharing this post, John.

  • Karl says:

    Really interesting to see your experience with this. We're just going through this process now and we really need to involve students more. Great post!

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