Many schools and parents have mixed feelings giving children their own digital device in the classroom. Do we need to prepare children to be responsible, safe and secure in the new global, digital world?

One initiative challenging the boundaries of traditional schooling is the introduction of digital technology into classrooms.

'Bring your own device' or BYOD - is a much-heard acronym inside and outside schools today. It describes situations where, rather than using school computers, students are encouraged to bring their own portable digital device to classes.

The underlying concepts are not only to provide a ratio of 1:1 student to device, but to encourage continuing learning outside the classroom. Having their own device allows students to continue to work seamlessly on research and assignments at home.

While there are many positives, there are some downsides too.


There are two significant factors in this debate: student ownership and cost.

When all students have the same device it's easier for the teacher to support learning and to helpsolve technical issues when they arise. But it is a bit like a school uniform - the cost of the specific device has to be borne by whanau.

And insisting students use a particular device can hamper their enthusiasm and constrain their ability to manage and take control of their own learning.

Enter the second generation -'Bring your own technology' or BYOT. By removing the requirement to use a specific digital device, schools are recognising that many students have mobile devices that can connect to the internet and be used to support learning.

When the costs associated with a school-designated device are removed, whanau and students can decide what device they already have that can be brought to class. A dedicated device is no longer essential - being able to use one device for multiple purposes is not only sensible but cost-effective.

Students will be highly familiar with their chosen device, often spending their own time - out of school - exploring and discovering the best apps - for them - to complete certain tasks. While teachers may not have the same confidence and skill level to problem-solve across multiple types of device, students' familiarity with their own devices can be used to learn and discover these skills.

But some schools and teachers are concerned about BYOT. It opens up the classroom door to devices like mobile phones, with all the possible distractions that can bring.While this is a genuine concern, it appears, to me, that it also introduces opportunities for teaching moments.

How many of us, as adults, go anywhere without our mobile phones?

As they have developed to be part of our lives we have learnt when it is appropriate to check and send messages, as well as when to take or make phone calls. By teaching these behaviours we can do our students a service.

This also applies to what students are actually able to do with their devices in lessons. We all know the internet is a potentially hazardous place.

To navigate it to find accurate and trustworthy information, requires the development of digital literacy skills and critical thinking skills. These are life skills that teachers need to be able to teach their students.

Schools all too often impose draconian firewalls on their internet in the name of safety. Blocking access to internet sites deemed inappropriate for school, such as YouTube and Facebook, on the surface may be a sensible move.

Keeping young people safe in classrooms by reducing access to the world outside won't keep them safe when they are out there. Teaching them skills they can apply when navigating the internet via digital technology can.


Rather than blocking sites, shouldn't we be teaching our students what it is and is not appropriate to be accessing via the internet to support their learning?

Consider this. How do young children learn to cross the street? Hold hands with an adult. Stand at the side of the road. Look both ways, walk sensibly across, looking and listening all the time. As they get older and need to pass these skills onto others, we encourage them to use their judgement. See how fast the vehicle is travelling towards you. Use this to make an informed decision about whether to cross now or wait a little longer.

In schools we often lock down internet access. We don't routinely hand-hold to demonstrate how to know which sites are safe to access. That means we are not teaching the life skills of digital literacy and critical thinking as integral parts of the school curriculum.

Think about the road crossing analogy.

Can you learn to judge speed without someone supporting you to do so - or do you just make a dash for it and hope for the best?

Schools are at a new place in history. Teachers no longer control access to knowledge and information - if you want to find out something, ask Google.

Instead, teachers need to teach their students how to access knowledge and trustworthy information in safe ways.

Keeping young people safe in classrooms by reducing access to the world outside won't keep them safe when they are out there. Teaching them skills they can apply when navigating the internet via digital technology can.