Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT), is a new evolution in the one-to-one concept in which every student has a computing device dedicated for his/her use alone. Harrisburg Academy embraced BYOT this fall with its 9th grade class.  Every 9th grader was required to arrive at school with a laptop or netbook.

But why did we choose to move in this direction?  Since 1997, when Harrisburg Academy embarked on its first “Technology Initiative”, we have been supplying students with computers to use — at first, just two computer labs comprised of 36 desktop computers, but growing over the years to include one student-accessible desktop computer in each classroom and multiple laptop computers accessible in a mobile cart system… a total of 170 computers by 2010.

By this time, however, we concluded that the cart laptop concept was at its limit, and we would never practically reach our computer accessibility goal.  The limit came in terms of keeping 170 computers running 100 percent of the time, practicality of replacements before they became too old and obsolete, logistics of sharing, and a sense of unreliability with cart laptops that made teachers feel that they could not base complete and/or daily lessons on the devices.  The obvious solution to these issues was to implement one-to-one computing; however, classic one-to-one is really just more of what we were already doing (and what was causing us to have problems moving forward).  Stalemate.

During the winter and spring of 2010, the administration of the Upper School took a rather bold step in solving this issue by deciding to remove the rule banning students from using personal electronic devices during school hours.  The remarkable conclusion after a few months of observation was that students, by and large, did not allow their devices (cell phones and iPods, for example) to disrupt classes.  Then, another remarkable observation was made as students began bringing in their own computing devices — they didn’t have any problems with them, in sharp contrast to the main issues with the cart laptops.

We also observed that students were much more comfortable and productive using their personally-owned computing devices than they were using the school-owned equipment.  The success of our program makes sense, if you think about it.  Most students have grown to be very attached to their electronics, be it a particular cell phone, laptop or other device. This close association and familiarity means they use it quickly and efficiently in their daily lives.  Up until recently, the classical school concept meant they had to leave their device — and all that capability! — at the door. With the roll-out of BYOT this year, the Academy said, “Come on, bring it in, and use it!”  And they are, to much success.

Although we initially called the BYOT program a pilot, feedback from the first 12 weeks of school have been nothing but positive, and no one calls it a pilot any longer.  I believe we will continue to see successful results through the remainder of the school year, and I look forward to expansion of the program up through 12th grade for next school year.  In addition, research is in progress to determine if we can widen the scope of machines permitted.  The goal is to eventually have a true BYOT program in which any and all devices are welcome and function transparently inside and outside of the classroom.