Based on over 30 years’ experience as a teacher and teacher educator, including research in over 50 schools looking at digital technology strategies, I believe that Bring Your Own (BYO) is the best mobile device strategy for schools.
I use BYO to mean ‘you may bring your own internet-enabled mobile device into school to support your learning’. It is not a one-to-one strategy – because some pupils will not bring in a device (even if they have one at home) – and it would include permitting the use of smartphones.
The media has been full of stories about mobile phones being banned in France (e.g. Smith, 2018) and calls that they should be banned in English schools (e.g. BBC, 2018). However, as I have argued elsewhere (Twining, 2018), digital technology is an integral part of life (outside school) and schools have a duty to help prepare young people for the modern world. Banning mobile devices will not prevent them from being misused outside school or ‘under the desk’ but will mean that schools are abrogating responsibility for their part in educating students to use such devices appropriately and to deal with the real challenges that they throw up.
Furthermore, mobile phones are not just phones – they are powerful computers that provide students with electronic dictionaries, reference books, scientific tools, musical instruments and much more. These are things that most of us think students should have access to, but which schools may struggle to afford. Allowing students to use their own devices to support their learning immediately increases the availability of these resources. The school still needs to ensure that all students have equitable access, but rather than having to provide all of the kit, they can focus their funding on supplementing that provided by the students.
One-to-one strategies are prohibitively expensive and assume that you need one device per student. In contrast, BYO, because it does not require one device per student, is cheaper and encourages collaboration through the sharing of devices within teams of students working together. Whilst many schools are concerned about students sharing devices, I have seen this work very effectively in both primary and secondary schools, where collaboration (i.e. working in a team to produce one shared output, such as a video clip) is normal practice. For example, in a Year 3 and 4 literacy lesson, students developed a rubric for assessing their competence in reciting a poem, before practising in small groups. They took turns to be filmed reciting the poem by the other members of the group, and then reviewed their performances together. In another school, the Year 9 students were creating promotional videos of Romeo and Juliet. The focus of the lesson was on character and plot. One of the most striking things about the lesson was that despite the fact that all of the students were involved in using digital technology, the teacher spent his time focused on the literacy objectives. This contrasted with most lessons I have observed where digital technology is being used extensively, in which the teachers spend a large proportion of their time dealing with the technology. When asked about this, the teacher explained that if the students were using school equipment they expected him to show them how to use it, but if they were using their own devices they didn’t expect him to know anything about them and so didn’t seek his help in resolving technical issues. He could therefore stay focused on his literacy objectives. This appears to be another advantage of a BYO strategy.
In both of the previous examples, the students were deeply engaged in the lessons and the intended learning outcomes appeared to be being achieved. This may reflect findings from neuroscience, which indicate that if we want students to learn then we need to connect with the things that are important to them (Baird, 2012; eight minutes into the video). If mobile devices play an increasingly important role in children’s lives outside school, their use in the classroom may enhance students’ engagement and learning.
Of course, the technology was only one element of these lessons. The fact that in both cases the children were working collaboratively in teams also seemed important. BYO strategies lend themselves to the use of mobile devices as tools to enable students to find, evaluate, manipulate and represent information and to reflect on their own learning, with the emphasis being on criticality, problem-solving and communication rather than on ‘remembering’.
Do BYO strategies require changes to teaching practice?
The extent to which a BYO strategy involves changes to your practice depends upon your existing pedagogy and how comfortable you are allowing students to have some agency over their learning. Inevitably, a BYO approach involves students taking on more control of and responsibility for their learning than in a traditional classroom. At the very least, a BYO strategy means that students are responsible for managing their own devices (e.g. making sure that they are charged). A BYO approach means that the school needs to respect that these are the students’ personal devices; if the school tries to take control of them – for example, by banning music or videos being installed on them, or expecting to be able to access a student’s login password – then very quickly students will stop using their personal devices for school tasks.
Even where there is good alignment between your pedagogical approach and the use of mobile devices, introducing a BYO strategy needs careful planning and appropriate levels of staff development. It is necessary to ensure that staff, parents and students have a shared understanding of how using mobile devices aligns with the school’s educational mission, vision and goals. This includes addressing potential differences in expectation about issues such as ‘underage’ children having access to Facebook or X-rated games on their personal devices. Negotiating a responsible use policy with students is a good way to develop shared understandings and get buy-in. You may want to agree restrictions on when personal devices may be used – for example, that they be locked away during playtimes, both to avoid potential breakages and to ensure that devices do not dominate. As part of these negotiations you need to agree how inappropriate use will be dealt with – my view being that all inappropriate behaviour should be addressed under the same policies, whether or not mobile devices are involved. For example, whilst online bullying introduces some new issues compared with physical-world bullying, it should still be dealt with as part of the school’s bullying policy, and not as part of a separate digital technology policy.
You also need to deal with the pragmatic issues associated with the deployment of mobile devices – for example, ensuring that you have adequate WiFi/internet bandwidth to deal with multiple devices accessing your network simultaneously; setting up a ‘guest’ network for students’ personal devices, which provides internet access but is separate from the school’s intranet; providing secure individual storage for devices; complying with privacy legislation, such as GDPR; meeting the statutory requirements for keeping children safe; ensuring that students’ devices are appropriately insured and have suitable protective cases; and providing sufficient school devices to supplement those brought in by students.
Introducing a BYO strategy is not an easy or cheap option – so you need to think carefully about whether it is the best use of your school’s limited resources. The current context in which English schools operate is framed by the National Curriculum and assessment regimes that lend themselves to traditional pedagogical approaches (Twining et al., 2017). The balance of research evidence seems to suggest that such approaches do not benefit from digital technology (Luckin et al., 2012). However, if you want to go beyond the National Curriculum and help prepare students to flourish in the world outside formal education, then investing in the technologies that are a core part of the changes taking place in beyond school is essential. In that context, introducing a BYO strategy is probably the best option.
Acknowledgement: I would like to thank Jess Twining for her insightful teacher-eye view of ways in which the article could be improved.
Baird A (2012) Good idea? Available at: http://www.learner.org/courses/neuroscience/common_includes/si_flowplayer.html?pid=2383 (accessed 18 September 2018).
BBC (2018) The Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services... More chief inspector backs ban on phones in schools. BBC News, 21 June 2018. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-44553705 (accessed 18 September 2018).
Luckin R, Bligh B, Manches A et al. (2012) Decoding learning: The proof, promise and potential of digital education. London: Nesta. Available at: https://www.nesta.org.uk/report/decoding-learning/ (accessed 18 September 2018).
Smith R (2018) France bans smartphones from schools. CNN World +, 31 July 2018. Available at: https://edition.cnn.com/2018/07/31/europe/france-smartphones-school-ban-intl/index.html (accessed 18 September 2018).
Twining P (2018) 5 reasons why mobile phones should not be banned in schools. In: OU News. Available at: https://ounews.co/education-languages-health/education/5-reasons-why-mobile-phones-should-not-be-banned-in-schools/ (accessed 18 September 2018).
Twining P et al. (2017) NP3: New purposes, new practices, new pedagogy: A quantitative study design used to systematically assess th... More report. London: Society for Educational Studies. Available at: http://edfutures.net/NP3 (accessed 18 September 2018).