BYOD: A LifeSaver or a Money Spender?
By Andrew Kiama '19
February 2019 Issue
In the fall of 2016, St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes School introduced a program aimed at revolutionizing the way its students learn, produce, and develop: the “Bring Your Own Device” Program or BYOD program in short.
Previously, students across all three campuses were part of a more communal approach to the use of technology on campus. In the Upper School, students working on research papers would either have to have their teachers “rent” out laptop carts for the class or take a field trip down to the library’s computer lab. Students were not expected to bring their own devices from home, but to use school computers for all their work on campus.
This posed a series of challenges for both teachers and students. Laptop carts were not always available to rent and the library’s computer lab was often occupied. In the chance that either was available, time would be wasted in rolling the cart to the classroom or walking to and from the library.
When the school announced the introduction of the BYOD program, there were several common goals the school aimed to achieve. These goals revolved around preparing students for a changing and complex world, to help students better adapt to college life in the future, and to revolutionize the way students interact in the classroom.
In an e-letter released to the school community in the fall of 2016, the administration talked about “a BYOD program [ensuring] that all students have the tools they need to actively participate in the learning opportunities our school provides” and “serves as a critical component of personalized, relevant, student-centered learning experiences.”
The administration went on to cite some research they conducted in deciding whether to implement such a program. Statistics such as 70% of Upper School students “currently [as of fall 2016] own a laptop they are using for school-related purposes.” They elaborated further, adding an example that students in AP Government classes “abandoned the need for a textbook,” choosing to access all their necessary resources and materials online.
Finally, the e-letter concluded with the following statement: “in our research, we have learned that a BYOD program allows computers to enhance learning, but they do not replace all other interactions in a classroom. [...]
A BYOD environment represents the next step in a well-designed educational technology plan to challenge and support our students, and to best prepare our Saints for the world beyond St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes.”
Mr. Ebner, an Upper School history teacher, agreed with that conclusion, saying, “this was the direction the wind was blowing,” making a connection between SSSAS being a college preparatory school and most college students now using personal laptops for most of their academic work.
Both David Weissman ‘20 and Emma Hughes ‘21 followed up on Mr. Ebner’s comment, adding that laptops “[teach] skills for college going forward” and “for the students, it’s a computer they will have needed to buy for college.”
In debating whether this program achieved its goals over the last three years, it was best to gauge opinions from current students and teachers. I asked five students and three faculty members about what they felt the goal of the BYOD program was, the achievement of those goals, and how they thought the rest of the school community felt about the BYOD program.
James Hurley ‘19, Aron Sobers ‘19, and Emma Hughes shared similar thoughts as to why the school chose the BYOD program, claiming part of it was a way for the school to save money. When asked if the school had achieved that goal, James added, “considering they built three jumbotrons across campus this year, I’d say yes.”
On the other hand, Ms. McNeil, the SSSAS technology director, had a different reasoning for the goal of the BYOD program, saying that the program would “ensure that all students had equitable access to powerful, reliable technology tools that would enrich the curriculum and their educational experience.” Mr. Ebner elaborated further, adding, “because more kids that are coming to us now have needs for greater academic support, it goes beyond being something convenient. It can be a tool.”
Ms. Nadler, an Upper School English teacher and Associate Dean, adds that “I can have a 40 minute in-class writing where students spend five minutes logging into Google Drive and 40 minutes writing […] which would not have been the case if we were dealing with computer carts” in a regular class period.
Mr. King, an Upper School math teacher, claims that each student having their own laptop is useful for when he individually meets with students. Since all homework solutions are posted online, he doesn’t need to go through physical paper, the students can pull up any homework problems they might have questions about directly from their laptop.
Similar to thoughts about the goals of BYOD program, there was disparity in the response to whether most teachers are supportive of the program. Aron Sobers simply responded “no.” On the other hand, all the other interviewees agreed that most teachers believe the program streamlined the incorporation of technology into classrooms and made it more efficient.
James Hurley, Jenn Lansing ‘21, and Mr. Ebner claimed each student having their own computer made activities requiring technology a lot easier, with Mr. Ebner providing an example of the Oral History Project done by juniors in January.
Ms. McNeil added that teachers “were the ones who had to roll those big laptop carts down the hallways to their classes, and deal with the scheduling complexities … now teachers don’t have to plan two weeks in advance when you want to offer a technology-related lesson.” Jenn claimed that “since technology and the internet have become so crucial for learning, always having a device on you makes life easier for everyone.”
However, Mr. Ebner added that there were some reservations from teachers about the program before it was implemented. Some wondered whether the laptops would become a major distraction in class. Mr. Ebner used the example that some students “come to class and spend time on fantasy football and look at videos and play games, but it’s on me to make sure they’re not.”
Both Mr. Ebner and Ms. Nadler employ the same strategy of making the students face the opposite way with laptops facing the teachers to minimize distractions on the screens. However, Ms. Nadler did add that this strategy doesn't work for class discussions, as the students need to be facing each other the entire time.
Although supportive of the program, Ms. Nadler did mention that for short in-class writing, she usually tends to make students use notebooks, as “handwriting helps ease some our perfectionism around writing; it can't be perfect because you can't delete and there's no little red line under the thing you spelled wrong.”
Contrary to common believe that only students get distracted by their laptops, Ms. Nadler argued that teachers also get distracted, adding that “if my students are taking a quiz and I go onto my computer and suddenly I’m checking my email, the students would go, ‘Ms. Nadler, we’re done!’ and I’m on my computer in class. That's ridiculous, I’m the teacher.”
Although this program is not without controversy, it seems unlikely that the school will revert back to school days without laptops. As David said, “I love the idea of having my own device because then I can learn the responsibility of having my own device. Also I have to take ownership of the device because if I brake it it’s on my dime to fix it.” By teaching responsibility and also opening up new means of classwork, the BYOD program sure isn’t going anywhere.