Those of you who don’t know Gary need to learn more about him.  He is one of the more articulate thinkers about technology and children of our time, and he shares his insights through a variety of means, including his own blog, Stager to Go.  In a recent post ( Gary says that “BYOD” is the worst idea of the 21st century.  His concerns are many, including the observation that the adoption of student-owned technologies absolves schools of the responsibility to provide powerful computing tools for all children, thus perpetuating the digital divide.  He also correctly states that a cell phone is not a personal computer, and that these tools make it easy to think of education as an information-gathering enterprise, not something that cultivates creativity and thinking.

What he leaves out is the fact that this is rapidly changing.  Powerful tablets running Android 3 provide access to many wonderful activities, and (as I mention below) students will soon be able to create their own programs for these devices using a Logo-like language (Scratch morphed into AppInventor).  Ever since Apple banned the MIT Medialab’s Scratch language from the iPad, Mitch Resnick and his band of followers have redoubled their efforts to bring this powerful language to what is destined to become the dominant platform. (Over a half-million Android devices are set up for the first time every day of the week.)

So, Gary got part of it right, but I respectfully suggest that the situation he describes is not nearly so dire as my response (below) to his blog suggests.

As always, you stimulate thought. The fact is that schools don’t WANT one to one computing. As you correctly state, this would be amazingly cheap to do. One to one was fought because it is a real game changer. Now to the point. The reason BYOD is interesting is because it is a consumer-driven revolution – children are bringing their own tools to class with every expectation they will be allowed to use them. Schools are clamoring to set up the right backbone to handle traffic from myriad devices. While you are right to say that a phone is not a computer, that vision is blurring. The rise of powerful, inexpensive tablets will have quite an impact. Maybe you never heard of anyone going into Best Buy to purchase a “device,” but I’ve never heard a kid ask for a new “clicker”. What passes for technology adoption in many schools is a sad attempt to co-opt the revolution.

Like you, I believe children should use their tools as tools for creativity and deep understanding. This is why I’m so actively supporting the Scratch and AppInventor projects at MIT, especially now that they are merging. While you are correct to point out that some devices (like the iPad, for example) do a horrid job of supporting kids creative expression through programming, this is an Apple issue, not a platform problem. Android devices are far more flexible, and the release of Scratch on that platform later this year will bear that out.

If there is a downside to BYOD, it is simply that the establishement of education actively fought student technology until the kids brought it into their own hands. As Papert said, “Unless schools change, the students will create a revolution” The revolution is at hand.