I am a fan of Brian Aspinall, self-described "Dork, Teacher, Blogger, Presenter". Recently, on his excellent blog, he mused on the benefits of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policies in a post entitled "We Didn't All Learn to Drive in the Same Car". In it, he asks, when it comes to purcahsing technology for a school, "Why do we purchase all the same?" Allow me to share some thoughts on the subject.
A shared platform vastly simplifies training (not only of staff, but also of students) and support (technical). Bulk purchasing generally results in lower prices and quicker support when things go amiss, as they often do when technology is involved. Also, on the hardware side it minimizes class disruptions if all computers purchased have significant battery life. In a BYOD environment we find that student-purchased computers often have dismal battery life and the resultant jungle of power adapters is difficult to manage and slows down lessons. A shared hardware platform (as we have at our school) has allowed us to set up a "charging station" where we have the adapters set up already and students can come in and use it over lunch or other break period - also students can share chargers in class just like divers do in an emergency with SCUBA equipment.
There are clear and obvious positive network effects when using the same platform or software. A skill learned by one individual, be it student, or teacher, can more easily be shared if they share a common platform or app. It is not fair to ask a teacher to help students sort out issues with a variety of platforms and software - it is hard enough to do for non-experts on a common platform.
My previous school had a BYOD policy and at one point I dealt with the following operating systems (in one class of 20 students): Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7, Windows 8, and 2 versions of MacOSX. Furthermore, some of the computers were in Japanese, Korean, English, and even one in Chinese. Some students had Microsoft Office, while others did not and used Open Office, or iWork. As a reasonably tech savvy (and somewhat multilingual) educator, I could navigate most issues, but not everyone has my particular skillset. This type of technology mix almost inevitably leads to the least common denominator when it comes to using technology.
Of course, with the advent of Google Docs and Office 365, these issues are minimized as long as the student can open and run a browser. But again, here standardization is clearly beneficial - no school that I know of lets a student choose if they want to use Google Docs or Office 365; the school chooses a platform and that's what everyone uses. The reason is clearly that there is convenience and power in using a common platform to collaborate and communicate. The same principle extends to the computer systems and the software students are asked to use.
This doesn't mean that there is no room for individual tastes, talents, aptitudes or app choices; clearly as students increase their skill level, they rightly should be allowed to branch out, evaluate software, and utilize it. But the idea that anything goes and that a minimal level of standardization is detrimental or undesirable clearly needs rethinking.
"Of course, that's just my opinion. I could be wrong." - Dennis Miller