BYOI (Bring Your Own Internet) and K-12 Students: Perils and Opportunities

Nothing New

Mobile internet connectivity is nothing new.

Back in the 1990s, many of us were running around with Ricochet modems and PPP connections on our fat heavy laptops maybe getting 19200 bps around the streets of San Francisco. For New Year’s Eve 2000, I was shelled into email on my Palm V with my slick/expensive OmniSky wireless modem cradle while champagne and fireworks were all-around me near the Ferry Building so I could email by CEO right after we rolled-over to the year 2000 and prove we were okay for Y2K. We were.

After Y2k, and onward, smartphones like the Handspring Treo (later Palm Treo) really started to provide constant connectivity for email and simple web-browsing. Blackberry was in there as well. But, the mobile viewing of the internet and the speeds that one could achieve via the device itself or using a phone as a COM port or USB port ‘tether’ was never that great enough to provide such a wide-spread movement akin to the migration to the mobile phone we have seen over the last few years from the traditional ‘land-line’ POTS phones.

But that really seems to be changing now. With beefier smartphones and more complex handheld computers with robust operating systems that power them mainly from Apple, Google but also from other vendors like RIM, HP and Microsoft, we are starting to see the real likelihood of bringing all the internet you need with you for all your devices. For the average user, this can mean some wonderful freedom and flexibility. For the technology directors of K-12 schools, this means a lot more to worry about and evaluate. The main perils and opportunities I see relate to content filtering, equity and new possibilities for learning.

Content Filtering Efforts

The whole concept of being able to control the content students have access to via network content filtering will fade away. All of us who have chosen to implement content filtering know the limitations, false-positives and other perils it can generate, but still do it as a way to try and protect the school from content that adolescents might mistakenly or intentionally pull into the school environment and cause harm to others in the process. Right now many in my school have smartphones and will most certainly be flipping-on their iPhone Hotspot or Android Hotspot to use personally or to allow their friends to connect. Helping students take breaks from technology and gaming will become even more difficult than today. If students don’t need to go through you and your network, then they don’t need to understand or respect what your school is trying to setup as a learning environment. For lower and middle schools, the dilemma of unleashing the internet on students at all is also something that the school decides on.

I think this sort of shift will makes school administrators in the independent school world go one of two ways. Either they will embrace it like many 1-1 schools do now when looking at the folly and flaws of attempting content filtering combined with their sense that students can self-regulate or go down the road of further clampdown of technology through limiting access in a way to try and protect the school environment and culture. I think the real solution is somewhere in the middle and directly dependent on how your school values technology supporting the curriculum.

Absent of content filtering, many schools allow full access to the internet. Even though content filtering is quite problematic, it is a useful tool in the dialog or helping students understand what is appropriate in a the school environment and many independent school administrators move forward on that tenet. But, now with the BYOI concept, this mechanism will not be available for the school and schools will need to adapt usage policies and culture.

Equity of Student Body

All independent schools focus on their culture and what it means to be at that school. Honor codes, community and a sense of equity for all students at a basic sense, is quite common throughout all independent schools. Diversity of background is something that that many schools, like mine, cherish for the learning environment. But, I see this kind of shift in the portable power of information as something that can potential harm such focus on the creation of equity between students in schools.

Again, this is nothing new but perhaps just the nouns have changed. Used to be (and still is) some students have resources from their families to have cars, nicer clothes, take vacations to exotic places, etc. while others do not. I think this expanded sense of internet connectivity and ability to bypass the network structure of the schools for those that ‘have’ will be the new noun. School admin spend a lot of time and effort creating an environment where all students can thrive and have equal opportunity. This kind of differentiation – some students with the ability to go where they want whenever they want vs. those that cannot because they don’t have the tools and resources could really add another barrier to teachers and admin in schools. In a public school setting, the effects ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ will be even more severe. I can also see how different forms of ‘cliques’ of hotspots could manifest based on student groups access to information.

Equity in some form with technology will have to be addressed in schools that are ‘laptop’ schools or not. Also, just making sure every student has a laptop doesn’t address it anymore than giving a laptop (or any tech) to a student and assuming they know how to use it or will use it effectively for learning.

New Opportunities For Learning

I just mentioned a couple of perils of the the current shift and future acceleration of students bringing their own internet to schools, but I can also see a great deal of opportunities in this for the schools. There are many to think about but I can see a few examples right now. For schools in urban environments like mine, field trips to museums could be now structured with immediate online resource on works the students are looking at. Students could use social media tools for something productive related to their course while they were traversing the art or history.

In addition to augmenting class outings, students can use their mobile internet devices to coordinate with others in the area on projects in real-time. They can update their digital portfolios with content they are interacting with and creating immediately. There are many different models right now for distance learning and as that continues to evolve, mobile internet can allow schools to connect with students in rural areas not supported by wired broadband.


In conclusion, there are many ways this new shift toward BYOI can go but understanding that it is either happening at your school today or will be happening and accelerating in the future means you have to think about how will affect your schools mission, culture and technology structure. With all new innovation there can be wonderful opportunities and possible perils. The one sure peril for your school would be to ignore or gloss over the fact that students are going to be increasingly empowered with their own access to the internet whether you are ready for it or not.

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