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September 23, 2014 Joe Bower

Bring-your-own-device: It’s awesome except for the inequity

It’s the end of my first week at my new school and it has been awesome!

I’m teaching six classes: two Grade 6 social studies, two Grade 6 language arts and two Grade 8 social studies.

As we started up the school year, we discussed what we will and won’t be doing in our classroom. One of the big topics of discussion was electronic devices.

My school has a free guest wireless network that has no password, and the school rule is that students may use their devices in class if they have their teacher’s permission. I told my students that if they are using their phone appropriately then they have my permission—even if they didn’t officially ask—but if they are using it inappropriately, then they do not have my permission, even if they did ask.

This led to a discussion about texting. Here’s what we came up with.

If they are using their device in class and they receive a text or a notification, we agreed that it only takes two seconds to read it, so reading it is OK. But we agreed that they would not reply to the text or the notification unless it was an emergency. If it’s an emergency, they are to come and speak with me and then together we will decide on whether an immediate reply is appropriate.

I told my students that I can’t be looking over their shoulders to make sure they follow through with this. I told them that I trust them, which I do. I’m prepared to trust kids until I am provided with evidence that suggests that I can’t. I also said that, unlike when they are holding an actual book or paper, I can’t easily identify what they are doing with their electronic devices, so they may need to show me their screen and explain to me what they are up to.

It’s been two days. Here’s what I’ve seen.

During silent, free reading, not every student that had a device used it, but some did:

  • Jackson went to Wikipedia to read about small engines and how they work.
  • Brayden researched the history of books and how they were made and printed.
  • Lots of students are using an app called WattPad to read free stuff. I downloaded the app and started playing around with it. Looks like it’s free and offers tons of different genres for students to read. Lots of potential here.

When we were designing our portfolios (plain manila folder), many students searched for things they wanted to draw. They placed their devices on their table so they could look at the image and draw it on their portfolio:

  • Mike found the NHL’s logo.
  • Ty found some native art.
  • Maggy found some cartoon eyes.
  • Tim found the Vans logo.

At lunch time, a couple of students took turns airplaying songs from their Apple devices to the Apple TV.

This was all very cool. I can’t afford, and neither can the school, to buy all of the books that interest my students. I can’t afford to have the printed equivalent of Wikipedia on my bookshelf, so I love it that they can access all this great stuff via their devices.

It’s also important to note that some of these students are prone to misbehave because they might not know how or what to draw. I felt like the devices set my students up for success.

But, even though things have gone well so far, I have two concerns:

  1. I’m not naive enough to think that students will always use their devices appropriately—and when it happens, I will see it as a teachable moment (not a punishable moment) and work with the students to learn how to use their devices appropriately.
  2. There are huge inequities with bringing your own device. I have students who have no devices and unless I provide them with access to a device, they might go without for the entire school year. Because great schools are built on equity for all (not excellence or elitism for a few), this is a problem that must be addressed.

For now, my classroom will be a hybrid between bring-your-own-device and school-supplied devices. Now, I’m off to the library to see how many school devices are available so I can make my classroom more equitable. ❚

Joe Bower is a Red Deer teacher dedicated to exploring progressive forms of education. He originally published this article on his blog “For the love of learning,” which can be found at


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