Friday, September 30, 2011

Why BYOT (Part I)? The Consumerization of IT not equal the end of the world

it occurred to my partner in partner-in-tech @40ishoracle and I that while we have been spreading the gospel of BYOT for awhile now (and will be talking about it more locally at the Indiana Computer Educators conference and the Hoosier Educational Computer Coordinators conference in the upcoming months), we hadn’t written much about the “why” and “wherefore” on the decision. This will be the first in a couple of blogs to start on that.

Reason Number 1: A response to reality
Reason Number 2: A focus on Access
Reason Number 3: Benefits to the high-end user
Reason Number 4: Resource focus on those who need it most

Reason Number 1: A response to reality.

The buzz-phrase is “consumerization of IT” and while this has been going on since the 1980s (I’m looking at you intellivision and pong), the business/school world and the home world remained relatively separate for almost 3 decades. Certainly you could type a paper at home and turn it in at school (early 90s) and VPN technology has allowed business products to be accessible at home, but there is little dispute that for years, when the IT department declared that “this will be your computer”, that was what you used. Forever. And Ever. Until the next upgrade cycle.

What changed? I think a lot of credit goes to mobile phones, particularly the iPhone. As people became more and more mobile, the desire to combine the peronal and the professional worlds came strongly together in mobile devices (i remember my first PalmPilot’s calendar syncing feature - gold). With the iPhone and to a lesser extent other active-sync devices, IT departments were challenged by their users to sync devices that were the CHOICE of the user not the decision of the IT-cave dwellers (said affectionately as one of the trolls).

Real-world Use Case:
I am starting to plan for a cruise that i am taking with my family. my thought process with regard to technology:
  • I will be reading a lot. need my kindle because i plan to be in the sun wearing shades
  • will need to type: limited online access, so no Chromebook. Weight is a factor, so the laptop is out. Want a keyboard: GalaxyTab 10.1 with keyboard doc
  • kids need movies for the flight: not using amazon prime because it has to stream. Google movies can be pinned to the device: HTC EvoView (i don't think the Fire will store...answers in a month).

Student are already making these decisions daily often in conversation with their parents:
What device will allow me to keep track of assignments?
What do i need to complete this lab that my teacher posted?
What will let me keep track of my group member’s progress?

In the same way that we are teaching students to use the right software solution (PowerPoint vs. GoogleDocs vs. ???), we need to teach students to be discriminating choosers of the hardware that will fulfill their needs based on the assignment, the lifestyle, etc.

While i may think it is a little silly to type a 2 pg response paper on a phone, i have watched a number of students swype, swiftkey or other thumboard comfortably. As long as the document gets into my homework-hand-in box (EdLine) or submitted to the plagiarism detector (Turn-it-in), the device that it originated on should matter little to me as an instructor (or an IT support person).

Ultimately, then, IT departments can eliminate a great deal of frustration (why can’t i use a Mac? they are so much better...more intuitive...ooh shiny-pretty!; i hate the cheap trackpad on insert-bargain-basement-netbook-brand; why do i have to carry YOUR device when i already have THIS?) from users.  They work with educators to get students to think critically about the wholistic project before them (what do i want to accomplish? what tools will i use to complete this goal? what resources do i have on hand?).

The result is more informed, more critical group of students and teachers with a better understanding of how hardware, software, and people interact and work together. at the same time, IT departments shed the vernier of inflexibility and closed doors (in fact, we have experienced an increased feeling of partnership with students working through issues). 

1:1 solutions that are dictated by the IT department will have trouble creating the meta-level of critical analysis which is a natural part of a BYOT world.