One of the big conversations in education technology recently is the question of of whether allowing any device within classes (aka, BYOD, or Bring Your Own Device) is better, or worse, than standardizing around a single platform.
Advocates for BYOD say (in general terms) it is a step closer to true student-centered learning, and that it mirrors more of the real world, where people use the same device for both professional and personal use (unless, of course, you work for a company that cares about security).
Advocates for a standardized approach say (in general terms) that having students and teachers on the same platform (generally one defined by and often provided by the school) allows for a greater degree of precision in lessons, which results in better use of class time, and smoother running technology. Additionally, there are concerns that BYOD programs give yet another advantage to students from wealthier families.
The prevalence of these conversations, however, is a sign that edtech is lost and confused. The BYOD/school-provided discussion is at best, a sideshow, and at worst, a distraction from what really matters. It's also a sign that educators and administrators have bought into the narrative that a "better" or "reformed" educational system is something that we can somehow buy our way into.
If we are focused on the device, we are not focused on people.
If we are focused on cases, charging stations, the best cleaning wipes (I'm not making this up; I've seen multiple threads about the best wipe for iPad screens), automated deployment strategies for apps on tablets, managing apps, whether an iPad should be in active for for one, two, or three years, etc, we are stuck in a conversation about management issues that are at least one step removed from actual people, and actual learning. Management issues are not learning issues, and we conflate them to the detriment of learning.
People selling hardware have a lot to gain from these discussions, as it keeps the focus on their products - and, by extension, on their marketing, hype, and outreach efforts. And management of hardware is important, and it matters. But the emphasis has gone pear-shaped, with the amount of time and attention devoted to BYOD and device maintenance in general outstripping the amount of time devoted to the actual learning people can do with a device.
If a teacher opened a class by saying that Microsoft Word was an essential element to learning how to write, they would be justifiably laughed out of the room. Yet we tolerate comparably specious statements about (as just one example) the utility of things like iBook author.
So here's my question: why not devote comparable time and mindshare to describing the types of behaviors and habits of mind we want students and teachers to develop? Then, we could trust the people achieving them to define the tools they needed to succeed.
The question of BYOD relative to other options is small subset of the actual problems technology needs to solve. It is, however, the problem that vendors want us to focus on, as it increases their visibility - and by extension their importantance - in what people consider the essential questions around learning. We need to restore a level of balance to the conversation, and keep our focus on the things that matter.
PS. This is probably coming off as more harsh than is intended. There are a lot of great, intelligent, dedicated, caring people working in and around educational technology, and if this post comes off as a slight, my apologies, and I'll gladly buy you a pint/cup of coffee and go through the details the next time we are in the same physical space together (provided, of course, you are still talking to me). But the point here is that we need to get out of the device-focused rut in which we find ourselves. When we allow our stories to be told/mediated through the products we use, we diminish our voice and our efficacy, and, simply, that's not okay.
Image Credit: "Red Herring" taken by 'No Matter" Project, published under an Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives license.