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The BYOT movement’s socioeconomic problem

The topic of the “bring your own technology” movement seems to be an affordable and flexible solution to the issue of bringing expensive technology into our districts. Funds are tight. Boards don’t always see the connection between technology and test scores. So administrators across the country are trying to find real ways to meet their students’ 21st-century needs. According to the latest trend, schools are adopting BYOT policies and allowing students to bring in smartphones, iPod Touches, tablet computers and laptops to school. While there are many mobile and Web-integrated technologies that can support this kind of initiative, the real issue lies in the socioeconomic status of the students. This simple act of bringing your own technology to school may also widen the achievement gap, and more importantly impose a new type of technology segregation. There is much more at stake with a BYOT policy than meets the eye.

The three most-pressing socioeconomic issues are: 1) integrating devices in an appropriate manner, 2) the availability of equitable devices and services, and 3) the social impact of technology segregation in the classroom.

While some tout the BYOT movement as a bridge to uplifting socioeconomic barriers, Deepak Subramony (2011) has a different perspective in his article, “Socio-Cultural Issues in Educational Technology Integration”: “Students must not only have the access to appropriate resources, but also know how to implement them in an empowering manner that integrates them into one’s life, learning, and work.” The devices that many lower socioeconomic students bring into schools tend to be smartphones and tablets. These students consistently use their devices on the consumer level of interaction (Web browsing and communication) but rarely in an academic manner.

When a district chooses one device or platform, the common language allows teachers and students to help develop each other’s technological proficiencies. BYOT puts each stakeholder on a different level of understanding and access, leading to some students using the technology correctly (creating a video project on an iPad), while others struggle to keep up because of their device (picture researching and writing a paper on a smartphone).

This leads to what Don Tapscott (2000) calls the real issue: availability of equitable services. If students have varying levels of access and proficiency, it could “splinter society into a race of information haves and have-nots, knowers and know-nots, doers and do-nots.” When you have students trying to complete the same task with devices that have such a different level of academic potential, the socioeconomic impact is apparent. Picture a classroom with 20 students. Ten of those students brought in their laptops, five a tablet, and the remaining five a smartphone or iPod Touch. Is there not a technology inequity in this classroom?

Now let’s look at the social impact. What if you gave different textbooks to students based on their socioeconomic background? Students would then sit in class not only with a different textbook, but also one that shows how much they can afford to pay for a textbook! We would never do that with school lunches, supplies or any other district policies. The main goal is to get all students on a level playing field when they walk into that school building, despite what their at-home situations may be like. By allowing students to bring in their own devices, we show their socioeconomic status to peers and teachers while putting them at a disadvantage due to the lack of technology power and proficiency. I urge you to think carefully before adopting a BYOT policy in your school, not only because of the technology issues at hand, but the social implications that come along with this type of learning platform.

AJ Juliani is a former English teacher and founder of Education Is My Life, and currently works as a K-12 technology staff developer.


Tapscott, D. (2000). “The digital divide.” In R. Pea (Ed.), The Jossey-Bass reader on technology and learning (pp. 127-154). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass

Subramony, Deepak Ph.D (2011). “Socio-Cultural Issues in Educational Technology Integration,” Colleagues: Vol. 6: Issue 1, Article 10.