Despite Increases in Mobile Use, Educators Still Apprehensive About Bring Your Own Device Policies

November 15, 2012
Kelsey Herron
Common Sense Media
San Francisco, CA
CATEGORIES In the Classroom, Research & Studies, Technology Integration

Still thinking about letting students use their own devices in the classroom? Last month, national education nonprofit group Project Tomorrow and Blackboard Inc. released a new study gauging how social media and mobile devices assist personalized learning in K-12 classrooms across the country.

The survey is part of a series of annual reports the groups have been doing since 2007 examining trends in technology use in schools. Researchers surveyed school officials, students, and parents about the barriers and benefits of BYOD classrooms, as well as school policy on mobile devices, and the study exposed a general growing acceptance toward bringing mobile devices and personalized technology into schools.

As the study pointed out, students have more access than ever to mobile devices, such as smart phones and tablets, and 56 percent of middle and high schools students surveyed identified “not being able to use their own mobile device” as a “major obstacle” to using technology at school. The majority of students maintained that, despite this obstacle, they still use social networking sites like Twitter to share academic information, and use their mobile devices for self-organization to stay on top of their schoolwork. Study results also showed that students with a tablet are twice as likely as their non-tablet using peers to use a mobile app to keep their schoolwork organized.

While students are saying that the lack of a BYOD model is affecting their access to technology at school, 87 percent of parents said that the effective implementation of technology in the classroom is important to their child’s success. At the same time, school principals and teachers still seem to express trepidation when it comes to allowing students to bring their own devices. Much of this concern stems from the idea that if students are bringing devices, they will also be bringing their own networks and, thus, may be able to circumvent school-wide security codes which would enable them to access previously restricted sites.

Principals, in particular, identified six key issues that they say have prevented them from changing “no device policies”:

  • 50 percent mentioned theft of devices
  • 45 percent said managing network security with students’ devices
  • 43 percent were concerned about ensuring a level of equity among students
  • 40 percent were worried that personal devices could be a distraction from the learning process
  • 39 percent noted internet safety concerns and district liability
  • 43 percent identified the proper training of teachers to use mobile devices in their instruction as a roadblock

If one thing stood out in the study, it was the need to train teachers on new mobile devices. Only 36 percent of principals surveyed said that a BYOD policy would improve teacher productivity, meanwhile 27 percent of teachers identified a lack of knowledge on how to integrate these devices into instruction as a roadblock to implementing such policies. Another 26 percent said their curriculum simply does not support the use of mobile devices, and 27 percent said they were unsure how to teach their students to use their devices responsibly.

At the same time, many teachers and school administrators expressed enthusiasm toward making the changes necessary to have more tech-friendly classrooms in their schools. “We are looking at what policy changes we need to make and planning to expand our infrastructure. Cost and how to change instruction to meet 21st century needs are our largest hurdles,” said one participating curriculum and instruction supervisor from Indiana.

Others, however, raised additional concerns, joining principals in their fear that allowing students to bring their own mobile devices might encourage disruption in the classrooms. More than one-third of teachers surveyed also worried about cheating on tests with mobile devices.

This apprehension is noteworthy, as teachers are the ones who work with our students on a daily basis, monitoring their successes and struggles. Their anxiety about going BYOD cannot solely be attributed to a lack of digital media training. While some may think immersing students in technology yields responsible use, it’s undeniable that kids are, well, kids, and will use that technology to access social networking sites and chat with friends – even during class time. Perhaps a new 21st century literacy will be teaching kids (and adults) how to manage the temptation of instant access and distractibility.