Technology is consuming the world around us, for better and for worse. People of all ages are becoming very reliant on smartphones and tablets. These devices hold their constant interest and keep them entertained with music, social media, news, and videos. But beyond that, they also play an important role in helping us stay connected and productive.

Smartphones and tablets aren’t just trendy tech tools in the workplace; they’re also trendy tech tools in the classroom. Some schools and workplaces have personal technology policies to restrict use, but these policies typically aren’t well-enforced. “Bring Your Own Device (“BYOD”) policies are a relatively new phenomenon, and they vary.

The Benefits of Personal Devices in the Classroom and Workplace

Personally, I think that in certain classes, such as history and English, a smartphone or a tablet can be very helpful. Between looking up words on online dictionaries and current events on online newspapers, instant access to information is key. This is similar to having access to a smartphone or tablet during a business meeting to quickly look up competitor information, website analytics, stock prices, industry statistics, or other information.

They provide access to information in real time.

I’m a high school senior. In my AP government class, we spend the first 20 minutes looking up articles about current event on our smartphones and tablets and then analyzing the issues as a class. The use of personal technology in this case is of value because it saves students time. It doesn’t prevent students from thinking on their own; it simply saves us time in the classroom, and enables us to access the latest news in real time.

My teacher commented, “I’m typically against the use of phones during class because I think they can be a real distraction. However, in this case, when I give the students permission and the purpose is constructive, they can be a good resource.” This brings up a common argument: people often criticize having cellphones and tablets in the classroom and workplace because they’re seen as a distraction. However, it’s all about using them constructively and balancing the fine line between their legitimate use or just plain fun.

They support various learning styles.

Another way that using this type of technology in schools is beneficial is that it helps support a variety of learning styles. This Forbes article sheds new light on this topic, explaining that the BYOD practice is especially helpful for students with disabilities because it provides access to assistive technologies that support learning. Additionally, there’s the availability of multiple formats that appeal to all styles of learning – some may study by reading a PDF, others by watching a video tutorial.  In comparison, IBM explains that having your own device in the workplace can aid your productivity because you work with it better and your device might have more capabilities than the standard-issue computer from IT.

They’re time-savers in the classroom.

Another time when personal technology is a positive for me is during my English class. My teacher gives students time to do research in class for a paper, which makes us more productive. It allows for the teacher to check students’ work on the spot, since they can do more of it in class, and therefore moves the process along faster. Furthermore, most high school English classes revolve around creative writing and literary analysis, and mastery of these disciplines generally can’t be demonstrated by “copying the answers” from the Internet. Our English assignments require critical thinking.

In comparison, they can also save time for work purposes. An IT manager commented about the BYOD debate, “It’s an expectation of younger employees; they are used to newer Mac products and tablets that companies right now simply don’t have. By allowing them to use their own device, it enables more productivity and makes it easier to work from home.”

The Drawbacks of Personal Devices

They divert students’ attention.

The typical classroom consists of students scrolling through Twitter on their smartphones instead of taking notes. That’s the case at my school, anyway. It’s more fun to catch up on all the gossip and news than to listen to the teacher. For some students, this is easy to do and still pass, because of all the online help that’s available.

Similarly, having the BYOD implemented in the work place can cause problems. An IT worker commented, “By allowing employees to bring their own device, it leads to increased management costs. A company has to try to take care of all sorts of configurations that their support staff might not be aware of. Additionally, when you connect to the company’s servers you are bringing additional security and virus risks that can be very difficult to manage.”

They’re distracting to others.

Using personal technology isn’t just a distraction to those who use it. A fellow senior had this to say: “It’s distracting when people are constantly on their phones during class. You even see kids with headphones in while the teacher is talking.”

My math teacher said, “I think it is rude when students are on their phones while I am giving a lesson. It makes me wonder if it is even worth the effort if they choose to not pay attention.” He also pointed out that students who use their phones during class aren’t making good use of valuable time that should be devoted to their learning.

They’re a crutch to learning.

Another major drawback of technology in educational settings is the ease of finding answers online instead of thinking on your own: “Technology has opened up many doors for finding resources and tools in the classroom,” said a classmate of mine, “but it has also, unfortunately, created the pattern of using those resources just to find the answer – the process to how that answer was solved is often lost and so is the learning that goes along with it.”

When students in chemistry class are assigned problems out of the textbook, everyone knows that pulling up Yahoo! Answers will help complete the assignment in no time during class; however, this prevents students from thinking out problems on their own like they should.

They present obstacles in early childhood education.

Some say technology in elementary classrooms is also posing a threat to learning: as students become accustomed to online learning and interactions, they lose out on social interactions and how to interact effectively with others. Furthermore, as most of their writing is done on a keyboard (rather than on paper), they become used to online chatting and shortcuts. They don’t learn spelling and grammar quite as efficiently, and their penmanship suffers, argues the writer in this Edudemic article.

Final Thoughts on BYOD

Overall, my opinion is that having personal technology in the classroom and the workplace presents both benefits and drawbacks. It’s not a black-and-white issue, but a gray area. There are many positives in that it can enhance productivity and efficiency, which is great for both settings. However, schools that allow it run the risk of pandering to “slacker” students, and companies that allow it run the risk of data security breaches and other potentially damaging outcomes.

We want your feedback! Do you think BYOD is a problem or a positive?