Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

‘Bring Your Own Device’ could increase digital literacy training in classrooms

How do you bring technology to classrooms in budget strapped districts? By sheer will.

How do you bring technology to classrooms in budget strapped districts? By sheer will.

That’s about what we heard from educators at this weekend’s TechCamp Education and January’s EdTech meetup before it. And in Philadelphia, to keep up with a world in which already three-quarters of American teachers say they’re using digital tools to enhance learning, anything that can work should be used. That’s what motivates much of the innovation work happening in classrooms across the country.

It’s the spirit of an instructor who will find a way to make good on the promise of a compelling education no matter what that differentiates good teachers from great teachers. And, as a landmark study released last year showed, great teachers have a longer, deeper impact than ever before realized.

Technology may too.

Yet, as it turns out, there are any number of problems that can arise when integrating technology into a classroom.

Some instructors and professors are comfortable with how they’ve always taught their materials for years and may be reluctant to incorporate technology, following a century of lecture-based pedagogy practice. Old methods are ingrained. Principals and administrators who push for professional development are the answer there.

But many otherwise willing teachers face the lack of a budget for any such options, said MaryBeth Hertz, leader of the Philadelphia EdTech Meetup and a technology teacher for grades four to eight at Alliance for Progress Charter School. (Meet Hertz here). There’s no money, so we can’t do it. While it’s a big hurdle, the conversation shouldn’t stop there.


One way districts can work around financial issues, Hertz said, is to move to join the workplace movement of ‘Bring Your Own Device’ in which students can use their personal smartphones or, if wireless is available, laptops or netbooks in the classroom.

“You’re using all these tools and all these handhelds anyway, and you have them in the classroom, so you might as well use them as something you can learn with,” echoed Hertz’s coorganizer Donna Murdoch at the January EdTech event. Teaching to students with a hodgepodge of what technology is hanging around is a far cry from the iPad revolution, but getting kids engaged is success, said Hertz, no matter what.

That’s not to say that Hertz  doesn’t know that inequality among students challenges the BYOD method more than almost anything else. But smartphone adoption is happening faster in black and Hispanic, lower income communities than in more affluent white neighborhoods. It’s a digital divide hop that is leading many families to skip the desktop, laptop and wireless internet craze and head right for mobile devices. It’s happening broadly in immigrant communities too.

So while citywide a Philadelphia adult is more likely to watch TV than use a computer, their kids might be more likely to have a mobile device that could be used in a classroom than even some teachers realize.

“We should do anything that helps a kid learn,” said Hertz at a recent Hacks/Hackers event. “Technology is just another important way.”

This report was done in partnership with Temple University’s Philadelphia Neighborhoods program, the capstone class for the Temple’s Department of Journalism.

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