One innovation that is sweeping American institutions of learning is the BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) movement. The reasons are compelling. Instead of schools and universities purchasing expensive technology and paying for its upkeep, individual students simply use the devices that they already have. A recent ECAR survey reports that over half of collegiate students now own smartphones and over 85% own laptop computers. Simply allowing students to use the devices they already own reduces the financial burden to schools. It also allows students to use those devices with which they are already comfortable. Many students customize the look and feel of their computers and phones to suit the needs. Schools that embrace BYOD recognize the importance of individualized technological experiences for students. BYOD schools also recognize the power that these technologies can have on learning. Educators can use affordable student response systems like iClicker or PollEverywhere to engage and assess their students. Additionally, through increased academic use, students will better understand how to use devices they already own as tools for learning.
When schools embrace BYOD, however, new challenges emerge. For instance, a recent study by Junco & Cotten shows that multitasking during schoolwork can a strong negative impact on a collegiate student’s GPA. While activities like Google searching during schoolwork do not significantly impact a student’s GPA, the study shows that using Facebook and Twitter does. This study provides empirical evidence for what many educators already know: Students can’t be updating their Facebook statuses or Tweeting when they’re trying to study and be successful students. The study also reinforces work by Wood and her colleagues that showed the negative impact that off-task multi-tasking during classroom lessons could have on student performance.
These studies provide some interesting obstacles for those of us advocating for the BYOD movement. With students using their own devices, isn’t there a greater likelihood that they’ll be tempted to check their Facebook page or their Twitter feed during classtime? Don’t these research studies show the BYOD is doomed and we should just ban students’ distracting technologies from our classrooms? While some may argue that the studies would support a prohibition of technology from our classroom, I tend to read the research more broadly. The studies absolutely show that technologies can have negative impact on student performance. But examined collectively, the studies also show that students will be distracted from their schoolwork whether they’re in our classrooms or not. We can’t ban technologies from their lives completely. It’s really an age old challenge that parents, educators, and politicians (and others) find themselves facing time and time again: Education vs. Prohibition. Do we ban soft drinks and sweets completely or do we teach children to balance their diets? Do we ban certain types of literature or do we teach readers the value of great literature? Do we ban sites like Wikipedia completely or do we teach students how to critically analyze information and vet sources? Do we ban distracting technologies or teach students how to better manage their technical lives so they’re less distracted?
I believe we need to educate students about appropriate use of technology and show students that they will be more productive and more engaged when they focus on a single task without the distractions from Facebook and Twitter. This is a 21st Century life skill that will help them be better students, but it will also help them be more attentive friends, partners and parents.