Erin Scott

By Katrina Schwartz

As more schools start to integrate their own mobile learning strategies and Bring Your Own Device policies, one school district in a suburb of Houston has managed to come up with what appears to be a successful BYOD program.

Katy Independent School District (ISD) has a student population of 63,000 students and 56 schools – elementary, middle and high schools. There are 83 languages spoken by students in the district and 31 percent of the student population is on free or reduced lunch programs.

In 2009, Katy began a three-year plan to change instruction in the school district by promoting a standardized toolbox of web-based tools dubbed “Web 2.0.” They also set out guidelines for behavior in the digital space called “Digital Citizenship,” in the hopes that the school would not just teach kids math and reading, but also how to behave in a public digital world.

But first, the school district needed to understand the ins and outs of mobile learning. Lenny Schad, the Chief Information Officer for the district led the effort who has become the go-to guy for educators looking to implement their own mobile learning strategy has one primary piece of advice: Mobile learning is a holistic educational plan, not just introducing technology into existing structures.

“Mobile learning is all about changing instruction. Because if the instruction doesn’t change, allowing the kids to bring their own device will do nothing,” he explained in a recent EdWeb webinar.

Schad stressed that the teacher’s role in a mobile learning classroom changes significantly. Rather than standing up front or sitting behind a desk and transmitting information, kids are doing a lot of the learning on their own. The teacher’s job is to get up, walk around, monitor the kids’ progress and make sure they’re staying on task.

“It completely changed the dynamic of the classroom,” Schad said. The students became excited to demonstrate what they had learned or how they worked out a problem. And they didn’t seem to mind school work anymore — Schad said kids played educational games for hours without realizing they were learning.


The district rolled out its mobile learning strategy slowly, at first only focusing on the early adopters from the teaching staff, and a limited group of students. The district gave out 130 mobile learning devices to fifth-graders. The devices were web-enabled, but could only access sites approved on the main network. Phone and text functions were turned off. Students loved it. Schad said they were immediately more engaged in the classroom and student achievement scores went up. So, in 2010 the district expanded the program to 11 campuses and handed out 1,700 devices.

Katy put together an approved package of mobile learning tools for teachers, part of the Web 2.0 kits. They use Edmodo, a social networking site for teachers and students to share information about school work. Shad is also excited about Discovery Education, a tool that allows students to bring the world into the classroom. For example, a student could build a virtual circuit on a tablet, and understand the process by actually doing it.


But mobile devices are just one set of tools in the district’s toolbox. Schad says there are times when mobile learning works best, often in math and science, but at other times laptops or pen-and-pencil instruction are more appropriate.

“Part of this education we’ve going through for the past three years is helping our teachers to understand when it’s appropriate to use this and when it’s not,” he said.

After all the groundwork Katy had been laid to test mobile learning with students, teachers, and parents, the BOYD program seemed inevitable — a natural progression. Teachers wanted more devices and that was an easy way to get them. At the end of the three-year implementation, the district surveyed students and found that 77 percent were bringing their own devices to school, 54 percent of which were smartphones. They also surveyed their 4,000 teachers, got 1,609 responses and found that 33 percent of those respondents were already regularly incorporating BYOD into instruction. Another 46 percent said they would use BYOD more if they had more devices.

Schad attributed the hesitancy of half the teachers to concerns over equity – teachers didn’t want to use BYOD if not everyone had a device. Schad said that could be easily solved by having students work in teams – a student without a device collaborates with a student who does have one.

Schad explained that at the beginning of the program, middle school students were only allowed to bring out their devices when directed to by a teacher. They were not allowed to use them at lunch or when passing in the halls. However, the high school students were allowed to have theirs all day. Schad said when establishing these rules restricting use, students behaved more responsibly.

“It changed the tone and helped with the kids understanding of digital citizenship, when it’s appropriate and when it’s not,” he said. There were so few problems with abuse that this school year the district loosened the middle school rules to mirror the high school.

As for funding, Katy received a number of grants that helped the district upgrade its Wi-Fi, which helped kick-start this initiative. Schad estimates that each device costs about $100 and the data plan costs $34. That doesn’t include any of the costs of maintaining the system like training, outreach and the other support roles that made the Katy three-year plan a success.


How to Launch a Successful BYOD Program 12 September,2012MindShift

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  • Kathy

    Thanks for sharing this. It is nice to see that other schools have tried this and have been successful. I think starting slow and working with teachers and hearing their fears is important. I think the ideas in BOYD programs really opens the world of Education to truly reaching every student. It helps drive home the ideas presented in the Universal Design for Learning approach to education. I would be curious to see/hear how much time and money was devoted to teacher and student training and teaching of digital citizenship and safety.

  • Kevin

    In light of many states looking more into the BYOD option for bringing a personal touch of technology into the schools, a lot of my concerns deal with equity as well. What other options exist besides sharing? Especially at the middle school level, does not having a device and needing to find a classmate to share with result in further issues (i.e. – selfishness, resentment, etc.) and if so, how are these issues then dealt with and turned into instructional situations? I am in great support of 1:1 programs, however, the equity issue raises a lot of eyebrows in almost every conversation I have been involved in and is now making me think more and more…

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  • Justin

    BYDD is definitely the way to go.

    • Sean

      I tend to agree with you Justin. I’ve been through the implementation of a BYOD program, and in retrospect, BYDD would have been far easier to manage and less costly to implement.

  • darren coxon

    This very much parallels our own current experiences. We began BYOD this term, and have found the exact same issues over parity of access and teachers learning how to use them well. Some early adopters are really running with it, and some are lagging behind. We mustn’t forget the importance of getting the students’ input into the process, ensuring we are talking to them all the time and getting their feedback. We have started a forum with a young, enthusiastic teacher leading, and it has been very successful.

    The other issue we’ve had is with parental buy in. Living in Cambridge (UK) has meant that we have been up against some pretty robust and well researched opposition. One of the main elements of my role has been to work with parents to bring them on side. It’s a slow process, but we’re getting there.

    The main issue from the students is that they see it has share your own device rather than bring your own device. It’s all well and good asking them to get into teams, but there are times when you really want parity.

    I do think it’s the way forward though: we went with iPad 1 to 1 with our 6th form last year and it worked pretty well, but was not sustainable. By going BYOD we are able to spend money on much needed infrastructure improvements!

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  • I think you hit the nail right on the head as far as the advantages of implementing BYOD policies. However, there are many legitimate things that must be addressed by the implementing school/district. This includes content equity/equality, Wi-Fi access and functionality, teacher professional development, and expectation transparency.

    To learn more about the thorough preparation needed when implementing a BYOD or BYOT policy, check out

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  • Chp2114

    Great article that reinforces the role of digital citizenship and the active participation of the teachers to change the dynamic of the classroom thus making the BYOD program successful and to actively engage students.

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