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BYOT: An idea whose time has come

6 min read


Technology becomes more embedded in all aspects of society. As a father, I see this firsthand with my first-grader son. The gift he wanted the most this past Christmas was an iPod Touch, which Santa was kind enough to bring him. Then there is his younger sister, who will regularly ask to use my iPad so she can care for her virtual horse or dress Barbies in creative ways.

As I download all of the apps, the majority of their time is spent engaged in games that can require thought, creativity and collaboration. My point here is that many children are accessing technology outside of school in a variety of ways. Many older children also possess their own devices (cellphones, smartphones, laptops, tablets, e-readers, etc.).

As society continues to advance in innovation, technology and global connectivity, schools have been stymied by relentless budget cuts. This has resulted in reduced staff, larger class sizes, lack of follow-through on repairing aging buildings and failing to keep up with purchasing and replacing educational technology. It is essential that we rectify all of the above, but technology is often perceived as the least important to invest precious funds into. This is why the time is now for districts and schools to seriously consider developing a bring-your-own-technology (BYOT) initiative.

The world of education is often defined by the “haves” and “have nots.” It is this separation that ultimately drives decisions when it comes to educational technology. Why should students in less affluent districts not be afforded the same opportunities as those with large budgets to utilize technology to create, collaborate, connect, communicate and develop essential media literacies? A BYOT initiative makes sense, as we can leverage a variety of devices that many students already possess. It is how we utilize these student-owned devices in schools that is the key to a successful BYOT initiative.

There are many well-respected educators whom I admire who feel that BYOT has no place in schools. Their main reasons include equity in terms of students who have devices and the belief that each district should provide technology for in-school use by students. I wholeheartedly agree with their positions, but those of us in the trenches must play with the cards that we have been dealt with. As educators, it is our duty to work to provide students with the best learning opportunities possible; in many cases, allowing students to bring their own devices to school assists in meeting this lofty goal.

We launched our BYOT program at New Milford High School in September after piloting it with the senior class in the previous spring. There have been many lessons learned from this journey, the most important being that the students have greatly appreciated this shift. Policies have been developed for students to bring their computing devices, a ban on cellphone use during noninstructional time has been lifted, and educational programs help teach our students about digital citizenship, responsibility and footprints. We did not let excuses such as equity stop us from moving forward with an initiative that is providing real value to students and teachers.

Key components of a successful BYOT initiative include the following:

  • Begin to change the way students view their devices by changing the language when they are referenced. Students need to fully understand that they are tools for learning. Make consistent efforts to refer to them as mobile learning devices.
  • When in the classroom, the teacher must ensure that there is a specific learning outcome connected to the device.
  • Ensuring equity is important, and we must be cognizant of those students who might not own a device. Determining those that do not in a confidential manner is very important. If using mobile phones, teachers can easily pair students up.
  • A BYOT initiative can actually supplement what a school already has in terms of technology and increase access. For example, a school with a laptop cart but only 20 devices for 25 students in the class could utilize student-owned technology to close this gap.
  • Develop appropriate support structures that align with current acceptable-use policies.
  • Provide professional development and resources to teachers so that they can successfully implement mobile learning devices.
  • Treat students like 21st century adolescents. Many of them own and use these devices outside of school. If we can focus use on learning, then why would we not allow them to bring these tools and use in school?
  • Deal with unacceptable use based on the school discipline code. This should not be considered different than any other infraction. Off-task behavior in the classroom is most likely the result of a poorly planned lesson or ineffective classroom-management techniques.
  • Promote use of student-owned devices for learning during non-instructional time. At NMHS, one can routinely see students using devices during lunch to conduct research for projects, complete homework assignments and organize their responsibilities. Additionally, we have seen a dramatic reduction in behavior issues.

Instead of bashing BYOT and saying how and why it won’t work or is unfair, we would be best served to brainstorm ways in which it can become an educational component of our schools. The excuses to write off BYOT only serve to undermine the students that we are tasked with educating. A BYOT initiative will be unique to each district and should be carefully constructed based on socioeconomics and community dynamics. To begin the process, students should be asked for their input.

What are your thoughts on BYOT in schools? If it has worked for you, please share your experiences in the comments.


Eric Sheninger is the principal at New Milford High School in New Jersey, 2012 winner of the National Association of Secondary School Principals’ Digital Principal Award, a Google Certified Teacher, a 2011 Conference Scholar of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, co-author of “Communicating and Connecting With Social Media: Essentials for Principals,” an education writer for The Huffington Post and co-creator of the Edscape Conference. His blog, A Principal’s Reflections, was selected as Best School Administrator Blog in 2011 by Edublogs. Learn more about Sheninger.