The Trouble with Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) in ELT

Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) can allow teachers to use technology where it would otherwise be unavailable
BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) is the only solution for educators who wish to use technology in the classroom when access to a CALL lab or institutional set of devices is not available.

Almost all university freshmen in Japan now possess a smartphone of some description. These are generally either iPhones running iOS or OEM handsets running Android. iOS seems to be somewhat more popular in Japan, but there are still a fair number of students with Android handsets, and a few with rarer hardware/software combinations.

If you are relying on BYOD for your tech-powered teaching, the fact that not all your students will have the exact same device is where your problems begin, but not, unfortunately, where they end.


OS fragmentation is “a barrier to a consistent user experience, a security risk, and a challenge for app developers.” It is caused by mobile device owners’ unwillingness or inability to update to the latest version of their device operating system whenever an update is released. This problem is particularly pronounced for Android handsets, but also exists in relation to iOS.

This might not be a problem for individual users, but it becomes a major issue when leading a group of students in lock-step through a structured learning process. The fact that the “user experience” is inconsistent means that there is no single set of instructions that all students will be able to follow. The fact that developing for every possible OS/handset combination is a challenge means that many apps only run on the latest OS versions of the most popular handsets.

So, although every student may possess a smartphone, not every smartphone will be able to run the cool CALL app you have in mind. Even if they can, you will either have to give individual support to every student in helping them set up the activity, or create multiple iterations of the instructions to cover every OS/device eventuality.

Mobile devices are cornucopias of personal and private data

Unlike institutionally owned devices, which can be easily wiped after the user logs out or finishes the class, student owned devices contain a trove of personal data: photos, messages, appointments, contact information, and more.

Most students would probably feel uncomfortable sharing at least some of this information with their teachers. So when we walk around the room monitoring students to make sure they are on-task, or helping them set up the mobile-based CALL activities, we have to be careful not to inadvertently peek into the personal lives behind the tiny glowing screens in their hands.


Ever since Apple overhauled the iOS notification system, it seems that every app and its dog wants to send me updates, offers, news and status reports. While I endeavor to disable notifications for any app that doesn’t absolutely need them, my students tend to be less discerning. There’s nothing worse than setting up a class activity on mobile devices, only to have students navigate away from the app or site the moment a giant emoji-laden message drops down from the top of the screen. Even the students who diligently dismiss annoying messages from friends must find them a distraction from the learning process.

And I haven’t even begun to mention the students who will double click the home button and go back to Candy Crush the minute you’re not hovering over their shoulders and spying on their screens.

The millennial version of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

The modified version of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs now puts battery life right at the bottom of the pyramid, directly below “Wi-Fi”. Yes, this a sarcastic dig at millennials’ seeming inability to pull themselves away from their devices and do something healthy like.. climb a tree. However, in the CALL-based EFL classroom, it is a very pertinent observation.

Battery life hasn’t really improved as much as we’d like in recent years, and certainly not as much as storage capacity or processor speeds. It seems that battery life isn’t subject to Moore’s law, as the science behind it is based on thermodynamics rather than electrodynamics.

This means that students, who are already heavy mobile users, may simple not have enough juice to utilize their devices during study time as well as break time. Where this is the case, you’d better hope that you have enough power outlets and charging cables to get them hooked back up to the mainline.


Capped data plans on mobile are generally the norm these days. There may be actual technological reasons behind this, but the cynical side of me suspects it’s just the carriers trying to milk heavy users for more money.

In any event, if you don’t have an easily accessible Wi-Fi network in your classroom (which isn’t restricted to just teachers) and you’re asking students to use their own data connections to engage with your chosen app or website, you have to be careful not to inadvertently incur additional charges for your students. Usually they will be quick to let you know when this is the case, but it can be yet another barrier to the successful exploitation of BYOD.


If you can overcome the difficulties presented by various models of various handsets running various versions of various operating systems, and all students have a fully juiced up device with plenty of bandwidth, and they are able to pull themselves away from Candy Crush, and ignore messages from their friends in other classes, then BYOD can be a good way to gain access to mobile technology in the classroom.

However, we must be careful not to appropriate students personal (and often private) devices as our own teaching tools, despite how cool that new ELT app may be.

5 thoughts on “The Trouble with Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) in ELT

  1. hi Paul

    one thing edu app developers can consider is making offline versions available.

    i know that for more sophisticated web apps this will be challenging but it is something to consider

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Mura, thanks for the comment. This would be a good idea to help overcome the “data” issue mentioned above, but it the other issues may still present difficulties


      • Interesting article. Must admit, the growing plethora of apps and other web based tools can make a teacher salivate at the prospect of such a rich field of options! But the updated hierarchy does throw up a problem. Namely battery life. Power extensions are a must, especially as you see new facilities being built with multiple power sockets now to cope with the demand for the ability to charge people have these days. Most people don’t leave home without a power cord now!

        Though it will be interesting to see if the NEED for offline apps actually becomes serious, since more and more places offer Wi-Fi these days. I used to work in Japan, and the mobile network was excellent, and my data usage was never capped (but the bill would remind me of how heavily I would use my phone on occasion!), but on my return to the UK, my data usage as recorded by my network has dropped massively. Not because I am using my phone less, but the vast majority of places offer free Wi-Fi now, so my phone in effect hops from one spot to the next! Will be interesting to see how it all pans out in the long run…


  2. Great article!

    I’ve found that if you divide the class into iPhone and Android groups, they can work together to figure out how to use apps or fix problems. This encourages communication and interaction between students.

    I usually bring a space digital device and an extension power cord to class.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Extension cord an excellent idea! Not sure what a “space digital device” is – can you elaborate on that?

      Also, dividing into Android and iPhone groups is a cool idea, I may try that next time. Cheers for the comment!


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