Bring Your Own Device: Universatopia or Digital Divide 2.0?


The new buzzwords among the geeky-type educators—people like myself—are BYOD (or bring your own device). With a sufficient network infrastructure and access assumed, BYOD would allow colleges and universities to lower their investments in hardware and while expanding access to learning environments populated with information. In this universatopia everyone is happy. Schools save money. Students access from wherever, whenever with their preferred device. There’s just one problem. Not everyone has a device to “bring.”

In my dissertation study[1] last year (2011) of digital communication technology adoption and use by community college students in Florida, the data clearly indicate digital maturity—nearly everyone has access to basic technology. But digital maturity does not equate with mobile technology or the types of technology needed for a BYOD environment. For example, a desktop computer is moveable but not mobile. A laptop is a mobile device but not as mobile as a smart phone or tablet computer. Therefore, digital maturity is a statement of basic access to information and communication via digital telecommunication systems, but a BYOD model requires mobile digital communication technologies. As my research indicated, implementing a policy of BYOD would create a Digital Divide 2.0. Particularly Native Americans, Hispanics, and lower-income African-Americans do not have sufficient access to mobile devices to participate in a BYOD world at the same levels as Whites and Asians.

I am as excited as the next educator about the prospect of ubiquitous learning environments, but before we jump into another “computer in every classroom” money-pit or create another digital divide—the last one took decades to close—we should know a few things: 1) how do students want to use these devices for learning, 2) what platforms will be supported and why, 3) what type of support system will be developed to assist students with technical problems, 4) and how do we create new opportunities for those, either by choice or necessity, that use legacy technologies? These and many more questions require an answer before we move too fast with BYOD initiatives.

[1] Weidert, J. W. (2012) The mobile college community: A study of adult learners’ adoption and use of digital communication technologies on the campuses of Florida’s community colleges (Dissertation) Fielding Graduate University, Santa Barbara, CA. (Go here for UMI/Proquest information, preview, and purchase.)