the mastery (the verbs). The devices
(nouns) the students carry are often
more powerful, personalized, and efficient at accomplishing what the teachers want them to demonstrate (verbs)
than the computers that their schools
own. Ideally, the students create their
own verbs, constructing education in
ways that are meaningful to them. And
the limited resources of every school
can be used instead to acquire the latest
technologies for students who lack the
means to provide their own. Isn’t this a
much better use of resources than buying dozens of low-bid-winning, underpowered devices that students, teachers,
and techs all agree are shaky, slow, and
unable to meet anyone’s needs?
Allowing students to use their
personal devices in the classroom
is imperative in a world full of ever-changing technology. Our students
are remarkably adept at discerning the
right devices for their needs. Because
Our students are remarkably adept at discerning the right devices
for their needs.
of my school’s open bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policies, I see students
using tablets, smartphones, laptops,
and e-readers of all brands and models. Students sit in the cafeteria critically assessing each device for its use
in school and personal life. Some
students create flashcards on their
phones for vocabulary review. Some
use Poll Everywhere to gather data for
math assignments. One group custom built the hardware and coded the
open source software for a multitouch
kiosk for our alumni directory.
Will students test the limits of ac-
ceptable use? Of course—they’re teen-
agers. But quite frankly, I would rather
they test boundaries in the safety of
school than out on the wild, unfiltered
web. Are there times when students
don’t know how to use a particular
device? Not often, but it’s a wonder-
ful opportunity when it does happen:
Techs, students, and teachers all get
to discover together how a new tool
works to meet educational goals.
contain microprocessors and batteries,
but as of today, their functionality is
We should not make important educational decisions based on price. A mentor told me that basing important educational decisions on price is immoral,
ineffective, and imprudent. Doing the
right thing is a matter of priorities and
leadership, not price point.
BYOD narrows the learning process to
information access and chat. Information
access, note taking, and communication
represent the tiniest fraction of what it
means to learn. Looking up the answers
to someone else’s questions online to
type an essay or make a PowerPoint
reinforces the status quo while failing to
unlock the opportunities that computational thinking provides.
BYOD increases teacher anxiety.
Schools have largely failed to inspire
teachers to use computers in even
pedestrian ways after three decades
of trying. A cornucopia of devices in
The only way to guarantee equitable educational experiences is for each
student to have access to the same materials and learning opportunities.
the classroom will only amplify their
anxiety and reduce use.
BYOD diminishes the otherwise enormous potential of educational computing
to the weakest device in the room. The
computer is an intellectual laboratory
and vehicle for self-expression that
makes it possible for children to learn
and do things in ways unthinkable just
a few years ago. We impair such empowerment when we limit educational
practice to the functionality of the least
BYOD contributes to the growing nar-
rative that education is not worthy of
investment. We reap what we sow. If
we placate those who slash budgets by
making unreasonable compromises at
the expense of children, we will find
ever fewer resources down the road.
We must not view education as some
“every man for himself” enterprise that
relies on children to find loose change
behind the sofa cushions. Democracy
and a high-quality educational system
require adequate funding.
—Gary S. Stager, PhD, is the director of the
Constructing Modern Knowledge Institute