Student-owned vs. School-owned 1:1

In the chaotic world of educational technology, the Holy Grail of late seems to be the implementation of 1:1 computing initiatives. Most educators will agree that having more computers for students is a worthy goal for school districts. Therefore, many districts are rushing out to buy netbooks or macs or the handheld device du jour. But what about those districts that are starting to allow students to bring their own Internet-capable devices to school?

This solution would seem cheaper for school districts. They don’t have to buy or maintain the hardware and if a laptop is damaged or stolen it’s mostly the student’s problem. All a district need do in such a student-owned 1:1 environment would be to provide some sort of reasonably open wireless network that student devices could join. This sort of solution probably appeals to kids who have the latest and greatest tech and want to be able to use it at school. Some parents, too, might agitate for their child to be able to use the fancy new iBeast that they just bought him or her at school as well.

I’ve seen some problems, though, with allowing student-owned devices into our building. First issue is that the devices themselves become yet another dividing point between our richer and our poorer students, a shiny new status symbol, except this one doesn’t stay parked outside. Sure, iPods and phones have been status symbols in some circles for a while, but now we are talking about using these devices for delivery of educational content. What does the poorer kid who doesn’t have his own device use? A loaner from the school that probably has a big “Property of…” sticker on it? That’s not nearly as cool as bringing in your own shiny iBeast (with games to impress your friends, even).

Another issue that I am seeing is one of management. I use a set of Macbooks in my classroom, all of which are monitored and, if the need arises, controlled using Remote Desktop. I can see what students are doing, help them with technical aspects of their learning tasks, and lock their screens if I want their undivided attention.

But what about those students who bring their own laptops or iPods to my room? Their network activities are invisible to me unless I stand over them while they work. Is it fair that they are monitored less because they brought their own tech? If anything, they need to be monitored even more because I don’t know what software distractions lurk on their gadget, unlike the class set of laptops, which have a defined set of capabilities.

At this point, some of my gadget-owning students and their parents are thinking “well of course I should be able to bring my gadget to school: it’s got all my project files on it!” I’ve got four words for that argument: Evernote, DropBox, GoogleDocs, and Edmodo. All four are free web-based services that can share notes and files between school and home. Even easier, bring in one of those cheap USB flash drives with your files on it. Either way, the argument that students need their own tech to access their work is outdated. Cloud computing has seen to that.

Where does this leave a school wanting to go 1:1? I would argue, as I have previously on Edutopia, that the best entry point to 1:1 is to establish class sets of similar devices that are able to be monitored by the teacher. Aside from the egalitarian nature of equal access to technology such a setup allows, you might even convince your network admins to open up many blocked sites if you can show that you are able to constantly monitor what students are viewing. In effect, it gives the teacher the ability to become part of the filter, rather than relying on a Big Brother network filtering system that blocks access to everything.

In summary, while allowing student-owned devices may be monetarily cheaper than buying edtech gadgets, it does introduce several issues that schools should address before they let these devices inside their classrooms.

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