How the BYOD Movement is Changing the Classroom

Picture this:James, a high school student, pulls out his phone in class, just as the teacher starts writing out the Pythagorean theorem.

Instead of stopping class and reprimanding him, the teacher asks James to solve for the hypotenuse. Unfortunately, James forgets what a hypotenuse is. Luckily, he has a page on the Pythagorean theorem open on his phone, and he is able to quickly check the definition and solve the problem.

James is part of an emerging Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) program, where students are allowed to use their personal phones, tablets and computers in the classroom. In an era when educational budgets have only gotten tighter, and pressure for schools to update their technology has increased, many districts have turned to BYOD as a solution to this difficult equation. In fact, more than half of all school districts in the U.S. have already implemented some sort of BYOD program, according to the 2014 Digital School Districts Survey.

The logic behind BYOD is founded in the fact that more and more students are coming to school with the educational technology they need already in their pockets. Rather than banning these devices, schools are using them to their advantage by integrating them into the classroom. It’s a much cheaper option than providing each student with their own computer. For a BYOD program to work, only a few devices need to be purchased and be on hand for students that don’t have their own personal devices.

The truth is, students already rely heavily on technology to facilitate their educational experience. More than 9 out of 10 students do their research online, rather than going to a library. For better or for worse, Wikipedia is the most often used research resource.

However, many educators and administrators still have apprehensions about BYOD. There is the fear that it will create divides between students that have the latest technology and those who don’t. Additionally, some teachers may be uncomfortable with a shift away from traditional teaching methods. 

To cut through the clutter, we interviewed Janet Copenhaver, director of technology at Henry County Public Schools in Virginia, for an in-depth look at an actual BYOD program. The district ranked first in the Center for Digital Education’s survey of schools that did best in expanding their use of innovative technology in the classroom. 

Verizon Wireless News: How long has Henry County Public Schools had a BYOD program?

Janet Copenhaver: This is our second year so far.

VZW: Can you give me an example of how the BYOD program has transformed the classroom experience?

JC: Previously, a teacher had to go to the library, check out a cart of laptops, spend time taking them out of the cart, and then issue them to students. At the end of the class period, the process was reversed and the cart had to be taken back to library. With BYOD, there is more instruction time for the teacher and the students.

VZW: How has the program been received by teachers at your school?

JC: I was talking to a history teacher the other day and he told me how wonderful it was for his students to have instant access at any time to research a particular subject that dealt with his lesson plan. Teachers in our district have adapted quickly and are happy that they do not have to deal with telling students to put away their phones. Instead, when students come in, phones are placed on the desk so they are ready to be used.

VZW: Your schools have one of the largest digital textbook initiatives in Virginia.

JC: Yes, there is an initiative by textbook companies to provide mobile textbooks for students so that when a school division purchases a license, students can download the textbook on their own device.

VZW: I imagine you must have run into some trouble when rolling out a new program like this. 

JC: Actually it went much smoother than we thought. We sent letters home to parents with information about the program and both parents and students had to sign to participate.  Phones were then placed on our network with our mobile device manager to ensure that they were filtered during school hours.

VZW: What about the students, did they have any problems?

JC: The only concern students had was that we could “track” them when they left the school. We had to inform them it was the same scenario as if they connect their phones to Wi-Fi. They would not be tracked when they left and we would treat their phones the same way after they left school grounds. Feedback to the program has been positive so far after we made that clear.

VZW: Does the program create any noticeable tensions between students that have the latest technology and those who don’t?

JC: Not so far. We do have devices available for equity issues.

VZW: It seems like one of the biggest bonuses to BYOD are the financial savings. Do you see it as a viable option for more resource-strapped schools?

JC:  Absolutely. By allowing students to bring their own device, it frees up more dollars for other purchases.