BYOD in schools: Good idea, or bad idea?

In a whitepaper jointly written by Mr. Mok Chee Hong from Fuji Xerox Singapore and Professor Ravi Sharma from Nanyang Technological University, the possibility of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) and OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) for education were brought up. Would equipping every child with a tablet or laptop connected to learning resources on the internet sufficiently educate a child in places where educators are short in supply? Without giving the game away, the paper explored the pros and cons of the idea and ended up with a potential solution which involves teachers, a “good enough” device and the involvement of corporations in the alleviation of poverty by empowering children through education technology.
Again, such a possibility was unheard of just 10 years ago. That was when I received my first mobile phone, a Nokia 3310, in my final year of Junior College (Pre-University). Back then, phones with colored displays and internet connectivity were only just starting to get popular. However, due to the limited media storage space and internet connection speed (We were using WAP or Wireless Application Protocol back then), all we could do with our phones was download some wallpapers, a few ringtones and a handful of games. These days, children are bringing smart phones and tablets even more powerful than the desktop computer I had 10 years ago to school. Some schools even issue iPads and Macbooks to every student.

However, just as the whitepaper mentioned, there are multiple concerns about issuing such devices, especially to young children. 
They include but are not limited to:
  1. Tendency to become self-focused and lacking the ability to collaborate.[1] Professor Clifford Nass at Stanford University found that people who are addicted to the new media fail to learn how to talk and socialize with people face-to-face, and usually resort to texting instead of having any direct conversations. 
  2. Lack of security/parental control in what the children can access. ·         Lack of exercise - Children are so pre-occupied with games and activities in tablets and gadgets that they don't find the idea of playing outside fascinating. They tend to stay indoors playing with these gadgets.
  3. Addiction - These gadgets and the applications are addictive in nature, but usually for the wrong reasons.
  4. Health/Mental issues - Shortened attention span (when they jump from one game application to another) can affect their social life. Professor Clifford Nass at Stanford University found that average college students use three media sources at the same time and 25% of them usually use four or more. This research indicates that this type of multitasking “impedes the ability to focus on relevant information or pay attention”.[2] 
Young students are not the only ones being affected either. With so many expensive and delicate devices to maintain and track, schools who issue these devices in large numbers incur high expenses in terms of manpower and IT spending to deal with troubleshooting and repair.

One way to solve this problem is to outsource the management and maintenance of such devices to a vendor who can provide an on premise “clinic” for such devices. Many schools are doing this not just for smart devices, but also for their print infrastructure. This is not limited to Managed Print Services, where schools outsourced the management of their print devices around the school to a vendor, but can also include a one stop print and mail room. Both of these services not only free up manpower resources to manage them, a good vendor also ensures that they meet the objectives the schools set out to achieve. This can include print cost savings, space cost savings, improved staff and student satisfaction levels and environmental sustainability. Through this exercise, schools often learn that more is not always better. With a thorough assessment, the right placement and implementation of appropriate technologies, schools often find that fewer, strategically placed devices taking up less space and wasting less electricity, serve the school population just as well, if not better.
This is similar to the BYOD approach. In our interactions with one of the elite schools in Singapore, we were amazed to hear the results from a survey they did when they were considering the issuance of smart devices to each student. When asked whether they felt smart devices would be helpful to their learning experience, the students actually said that it would be distracting and that while these devices had a role to play, they should only be given as and when they are required in a lesson. As a result, the Education Technology Department only had to purchase and maintain 30 iPads as opposed to 3000 if they were to deploy these devices to the entire school.

We can see from here that every technological implementation, it is crucial to first assess the current situation of the stakeholders before determining what to do. Are you working with an industry leading vendor to accomplish that for you?


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