My failure with BYOD

I failed!  I started this year with many assets: I had a lot of experience working with digital technology and students, I had read/thought/learned a lot, I had 10 IPods, 3 Macs, 3 desk tops, and access to 3 ABEL laptops for ½ the day, I also had a nice, personable class of 28 students.  With all these assets, I decided to operate a BYOD classroom with free and open technology to be integrated as needed in all subject areas.  In spite of all these assets, it was with reluctance and regret that I found myself banning the use of all digital technology (at the suggestion of my principal) in our class on December 18. I hope that it’s only temporary, but I’m not sure.  Having struggled for 4 months, I had to concede that it wasn’t enhancing their learner; quite the opposite, it was detracting from their learning.  

How will I ever attend an edcamp again; how will I tell Heidi Siwak, Monica Batac, Stephen Hurley, colleagues at CEA and all the other individuals who helped me reach the point where I thought I could run a BYOD classroom?

The problem is I’m not quite certain why it failed.  I couldn’t get the students to buy in.  Very few of them use the technology to aid their learning.  The primary uses were listening to music, playing flash games, and texting for social reasons.  Using it for academic purposes was a distant 4th.  I couldn’t get them to a point where they could resist the temptation of distraction and focus on their learning tasks/goals. 

Sure, there were some who used it well and seamlessly in their learning.  They’d make a quick search to find something to add to a discussion, or look on Google images to see examples of art to help them learn technique; however, this was not the majority experience.  Whenever my back was turned (or sometimes right in front of me) or my focus on helping individuals, there was always more than a few who took advantage of me, their agreement, and the technology to do as they pleased.

Many have written that we shouldn’t take the technology away; that we wouldn’t take a pencil away if they were misused it.  I guess I disagree- if the pencil became a constant distraction, a danger, if it were constantly abused, I hope that we would take it away and look for other more successful options.

I still think that BYOD classrooms can work, once equity can be guaranteed.  I still see many aspects of the learning process that digital technology can enhance.  As I said, I have failed, not the program.

Many have been writing recently about how failure is necessary to learn.  I haven’t figured that part out in this situation yet….any suggestions?



  1. #1 by Cal Armstrong (@sig225) on December 20, 2012 - 10:32 am

    What you were (are) looking for is a cultural shift — and you did see some beginnings of that in some students. But there is considerable educational, individual and social inertia.
    I tried to think of a parallel: when police officers drive police cars, they become accustomed to all other vehicles keeping a wide berth. When they get into their own vehicles, they tend to drive assuming the same behaviour on behalf of other drivers — to uncomfortable effect on the roads.
    In the same way, you have students who, in their own lives, use the types of technology you gave them for almost continual social and recreational effect. And now, you ask them to use it for an educational purpose for which they are (no one’s fault) unprepared and unacquainted and which doesn’t fit their natural (to them) mindset of social/fun immersion when using technology. How many adults, used to using their devices whenever and wherever, find it impossible to not use them in their vehicles, in offices, etc?
    This also mimics experiences with collaborative learning — this is a l.o.n.g. process and what you get throughout (there is no “end” to the process because you always get new students) is not what you remember seeing class as like. Here, we’re almost 20 years into a 1:1 system and students are continually learning how to exist within it. And some kids can’t cope with the social/recreational distraction (yet)…. but then there are always students who “misuse” the classroom window by staring out of it regardless of how engaging you try to make the experience, or how you encourage them to find constructive uses for it.

  2. #2 by mhrussel on December 20, 2012 - 3:25 pm

    Please hang in there. We need more courageous teachers as yourself to start the movement.

  3. #3 by Mark on December 21, 2012 - 6:31 am

    Very interesting post. Just yesterday I have made a similar decision. No matter how hard I have tried, several students have not kept up with their work. It is very discouraging. So, while I am not considering going completely dark, I am going to be selectively banning students from the network that are not keeping up, or are repeat offenders with inappropriate use during class time. Unfortunately I have been forced into a corner where I have students with piles of assignments that are not complete so I am going to treat the wifi as a privilege not as a right. It will be more work for me for sure but the alternative is constant monitoring. Thanks for being open and honest about your experiences.

  4. #4 by Patrick Tucker on February 7, 2013 - 8:49 am

    About 2 weeks ago, we lifted the ban on digital technology after a few discussions and a retooling of our class culture. Things are going well; I hope to write about it soon…

  5. #5 by Dylan on February 26, 2016 - 10:25 am

    A bring your own device classroom can be very hard especially when communication between students is getting easier every day. Texting, taking pictures and even just playing games are not something students should be doing in class, but the teacher cannot observe what everyone is doing at every second. I feel that having students bring in their own devices can come in handy when there are not enough devices for everyone to be using one, but it should also be a privilege for students to bring them in.
    Students should see a BYOD classroom as an opportunity to get work done on a device that they can bring home with them to finish the work given. Teachers should not have to worry about student’s texting behind their backs when they are not looking, or taking pictures of people who do not feel comfortable having their pictures taken.
    To conclude I think that BYOD classrooms should be in place in every classroom, and teachers should be able to trust that their students are not doing the wrong thing behind their backs.

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