I’m a big fan of BYOL – Bring Your Own Laptop to school.

The laptop is the new pencil… a tool necessary for an effective education today.  I also think that a district-provided laptop, in public education, is not financially feasible. However, supporting families that can not afford to send their child to school with a laptop is supportable, effective and essential to a BYOL program. When I wrote the (intentionally oversimplified) ‘5 Year Technology Plan‘, my emphasis was on infrastructure: Keeping a year ahead (not 5 years ahead) with your network, providing opportunities for teachers to get learning/technical support, and making sure that students have access to the infrastructure. The best way to provide students with opportunities to take advantage of a well-planned infrastructure is to put laptops in their hands… or more specifically, to have them bring those laptops to school.

Why BYOL and not BYOD – Bring Your Own Device?

I have an admitted bias here: I think a keyboard is still an essential tool in school. If you want to build inequity then have students try writing, for any extended period of time, on a phone -vs- on an iPad -vs- on a laptop. Essentially laptops, compared to phones or iPads, are a superior product for construction and creation of content rather than just consumption of content. This may change, but not soon enough. Looking ahead, I see student/family owned laptops as the best route to go. Here are some key points to consider:

– Providing laptops to students is not a cost effective use of resources in public education.

– Any laptop purchased in the last 3 years would meet all ‘minimum requirements’ needed with respect to speed and storage needs.

– Open source products like Open Office allow all students to share common software for group work and projects.

– Cloud computing allows personal and shared learning spaces that both store and back-up student work.

– A wireless projector could allow any student to contribute to the class without the need for an expensive interactive whiteboard solution.

– An optional, district run, lease-to-own program could help support many families that want an affordable option, while full support of those who are truly in need would have to happen no matter what program you use to provide technology to students.

– A student owned program means that students have the necessary technology both at school and at home.

– A laptop program does not mean that laptops are always open. Just as there are times and places for other tools (even pencils) there are times and places for laptops to be put away and other tools and learning strategies to be implemented.

The iPad is a great tool, and yes you can add a keyboard, but I don’t think iPads are as personalized for education as they should be. Either students own their own accounts and every pay-for app that comes along is an added expense each family must incur, or all the iPads are on a single account and that account is operated by someone other than the intended user (likely the teacher). Although the really good apps are getting better, they still tend to cost money and they still don’t do things as well as laptop versions.

A perfect example to exemplify my point is Blogsy, the blogging app. This app has gotten more and more user-friendly and is really making it easier to blog from your iPad. But I’d still rather write this post on my laptop, with upcoming links in open tabs. I also like how easy it is for me to bookmark those tabs on diigo, and add copied text to my description of the link, which is a royal pain to do on my iPad. I tend to consume things on my iPad and iPhone, and when I want to do more, I email the link to myself to engage further on my laptop.

Don’t get me wrong, the iPad is a great tool. I think it has already transformed education when it comes to providing an all-in-one tool for many special needs students and programs. I also think it has a ways to go before I can say that it is a better overall student owned device than a simple laptop. An iPad is a great addition to a laptop program… Actually, in a way I’m advocating for BYOL and BYOD, with BYOD standing for Bring Your OTHER Device, (as well as your laptop). I’ve also seen this referred to as BYOT – Bring Your Own Technology.

Students want to film a 3 minute video clip? Great! Let them pull out their phone or iPad and start filming. Want to take a photo? Or record a voice? Go ahead and use another device, (not mandatory but available to anyone who wants to bring them). I see the laptop as the required device, and students are welcome to supplement that. Once we have laptops in every student’s hands, the next step is to make sure that teacher practice is such that the laptops are used to their fullest potential… but that’s a whole other post!

Please share your thoughts (and links) with me. Below are some links and resources that you may find helpful.



13 comments on “BYOL vs BYOD

  1. Hey David – I agree that a keyboard is essential for most school related tasks … but not that a laptop is the best way of providing one. I currently use a lapdock with my Droid Razr which essentially turns my phone into a computer. Schools could get the same result with Chromebooks or iPads and a Bluetooth keyboard.

    A laptop brings with it too many other costs in terms of software and operating systems. I think money is better spent on portable devises that better utilize web-based applications.

    A keyboard alone is not enough to justify the extra expense of a laptop.

  2. Dave, have you seen kids write/input on their phones and tablets? They don’t seem to struggle.I don’t want to outright disagree with you regarding your opinion around the NEED for a keyboard in class, but perhaps it is indeed “your” need that you are drawing your context from.
    I have never been a proficient keyboarder, but I have always gotten by. However, over the past 3-4 years I have had both a Smart phone and Tablet on which I have become increasingly efficient at writing on – Have you seen the iPad’s “Split Keyboard”? Of course I couldn’t do this all day but as you mentioned, we wouldn’t be writing all day anyway!
    I really see that it is BYOL “OR” BYOD. The device should be as unique as the student and meet the learning (and inputting) needs of that student. We constantly speak about individualized learning, let’s let it truely be!

  3. Perhaps the key factor is the amount of work students are required to produce. Yes, I would have a bias toward keyboards – a bias my students might not have. I think my students would agree that social chat is as easy on a mobile device as a keyboard. I’ll have to ask them whether or not they iPads would be adequate for long pieces of prose.

    Laptops have the added advantage of easy movement between screens – so students can be researching and typing at the same time. I see new apps coming out for multiple screens, but haven’t used one.

    Our 1:1 program is laptops, not iPads. We have a class set (to be shared around the school) of iTouches – which are a great addition. I don’t use them much because the app I want is often not installed. The process by which we must defend a purchase and the wait time between paperwork and download makes me not want to bother – especially when there is a work-around on a laptop. All the laptop programs are installed. I can do pretty much everything for communication, collaboration, and creation without the need to add more software.

    Does the constant need for app update/purchase inhibit use in 1:1 iPad schools?

  4. I just asked my 5th graders. They agree that they could do anything on an iPad that they can do on their MacBook pros. However, they prefer the computer keyboard. These kids have been typing on keyboards for two years, tho.

    One student said that, if he had to carry the computer around a lot, they would want iPads. Since they don’t carry them much, they prefer the MacBooks.

    Input from 11-year-olds :).

  5. Excellent comments, thank you!

    I think I’ll share one more comment, a tweet from Chris Kennedy who said, “We need to give advice for today – so I recommend a laptop for students; of course in 5 years that advice may be very different”.

    While I fully realize that my laptop bias may be generational, or as Dave suggests, ‘my need’, I still find issue with letting students bring ‘any’ device to work on in a classroom where I want every student to be connected, working together, and sometimes ‘on the same page’ as the rest of the class. Perhaps laptop or tablet may be more flexible? Would that provide more opportunities for individuality or would it invite more inequity with students bring different tools that limit what they can do compared to the student next to them?

    For now, I still admit my bias and would want laptops. It isn’t just the keyboard but also, as Janet suggests, the ability to jump between screens, as well as the easy of copy/paste and the general freedom to move text and content around… which I think many smaller devices still struggle with. As for Chromebooks, well, if I had a choice I’d actually go Macbooks, but I’m not sure of the feasibility of asking parents to send students to school with a specific tool if we are asking them to purchase it? This is a discussion about Bring Your Own, and the context is public education. Macbooks are just too expensive to ask for, and I question if a Chromebook offers everything a laptop does, (but I don’t know as I have not spent any time looking at them)?

    We’ll see what happens next year when I start teaching my Digital Literacy course at the Inquiry Hub. Will students choose to use their other devices rather than their laptop? Thanks for asking your students Janet, I think we do need to pay attention to their interests as we move forward… and yet we also need to think of the big picture, and if we want ‘bring your own’ to work effectively, I do think there needs to be some consistency in expectations of what tools would be the minimum requirement.

  6. Hey Dave,

    Having worked at a school as their network admin, I, too, prefer the use of laptops over devices. Like you said, a laptop that was bought 3 years ago are still perfectly capable of performing up to par with respect to storage or speed. They are much easier to manage, and harder to break. iPads are a great, and kids absolutely love them, but they are not ready as an every day education tool.


  7. In typical fashion, I was “reading” my iPad right before bed, when I came across your article. I wanted to respond so I went and pulled out my laptop!

    I’ve had my iPad for 4 months now. I appreciate it for “Flipboard” but everytime I read anything interesting, I feel like I should bookmark it and sometimes make a comment…and then I have to pull out my laptop. (I bookmark to Chrome and the only way I can bookmark in Flipboard, Zite etc. is to bookmark to Safari.) I’ve tried commenting on the iPad but it’s just too painful and I find myself saying less than I intended as I can’t type on the iPad the way I can on a keyboard.

    I once made a comment to someone in the States that if they hear “screaming” from across the pond, that’s me finally strangling Siri 🙂

    I’m trying to give the device a “chance”. Maybe the kids aren’t put off the way us “Digital Immigrants” are?

    I think eventually, the iPad will become more complex as laptops get slimmer, lighter. They’ll “fuse” and become “one device”. Until then, I would not give up my laptop for the world 🙂


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