A Teacher’s Guide to Equal Access in the Age of BYOD, Web 2.0, and Mobile Computing

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BYOD iPhone

BYOD iPhone (Photo credit: IntelFreePress)

Classroom Responses Systems (AKA “clickers”) offer teachers and students a way to make classroom lectures more interactive and engaging than lectures alone. Eric Mazur, Derek Bruff and others have pioneered ways to use classroom response clickers to promote Higher Order Thinking Skills and inquiry-based education within the standard lecture format.

Since the introduction of these radio-powered clicker devices, powerful smartphones and tablets have enabled cheap access to powerful web-based classroom response software that enables students to go beyond multiple-choice quizzes and to participate in a rich backchannel during lectures. Students can take polls, ask questions, propose answers, and contribute photos without interrupting the lecture.

These powerful web-based solutions come with a catch, though– they depend on all students having a personal device that they can bring to class and get on the web with. Though many college students bring their own laptops or smartphones to class, it can be a financial burden for some students to provide their own mobile devices just to participate in classroom activities. This can create issues around unequal access to educational opportunities if students are required to own specialized equipment in order to participate in class meetings. It’s also a fundamental change in the relationship of student to school, as it effectively shifts the burden of owning and maintaining instructional technology from the university to the student and unfairly punishes students who do not already own “up-to-date” devices.

How can you capitalize on the power of smartphones and tablets as classroom response systems if your student population doesn’t have the resources to afford them? Below are some suggestions, but I’d very much appreciate your ideas in the comments.

Divert the existing budget for clickers into a set of loaner tablets or smart devices and a cloud classroom response service.

If your institution is already paying to license physical clickers, those costs are likely enough to cover a set of “loaner” Nexus 7 tablets and a cloud classroom response solution. You do not need enough tablets to cover every student– just enough to cover the students who are not already bringing their own laptop or smart device.

Offer a subsidized laptop/tablet buyers’ program.

Your school may be able to partner with a local computer reseller to offer computers at reduced prices to students who qualify. It may be worth the expense if you could help your students gain reliable access to the internet.

Publish recommendations of low-cost computing devices for students to buy.

The prices for PCs, laptops, and smart devices has been falling dramatically in the last few years. Your students and their families may not know they can get a decent tablet or even an OK laptop for under $100. Even the $25 Raspberry Pi computer has enough computing power to handle most students’ requirements– though some assembly is required. They may just need you to let them know that a decent computing device is within reach at any budget.

Find (or start!) organizations to collect e-waste computers, rebuild them, and give them to students in need.

Here is a list of local programs that connect used and refurbished computers with the people that need them. These programs not only help people afford computers, but they keep toxic materials out of landfills– good for people and the Earth!



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Written by

Ted Curran is a Learning Experience Designer/Developer for Autodesk. He is committed to empowering educators and learners to create transformational change through effective pedagogy and technology integration. You can follow Ted on Mastodon, LinkedIn or learn more at my 'About" page. These thoughts are my own.

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