Posted by: crudbasher | December 2, 2011

Why Bring Your Own Device To School Is Inevitable

You hear that Mr. Anderson?… That is the sound of inevitability… – Agent Smith, The Matrix

Pi Pie (cc)megpi

I wasn’t very good at math in school. It’s not that I couldn’t do it, I just was easily distracted by other things. In a way, blogging has been good for me as it forces me to focus on a single issue for a while, thus allowing deeper insights.

Even thought I’m not really good at math I respect it. It has a sort of relentlessness about it. If you setup a certain set of conditions, things will work out a certain way. Emotion doesn’t play a role. You can get mad at a math problem but it doesn’t change the solution. (I know, I’ve tried)

Why do I bring this up? It’s because when you are dealing with computers you are really dealing with math. This math tells me that the only way for every school child to have their own state of the art device in school is for them to bring their own. Here’s my reasoning.

If you were to ask someone how much a computer costs (and for this discussion let’s look at laptops) they would say between 1000 and 1800 dollars. If you were to ask them how much they expect them to cost in 5 years time they would say about the same and they would be right but it’s the wrong question. I am completely sure that in 5 years time you will be able to buy a laptop for 1800 dollars. A better question to ask is how much would today’s laptop cost in 5 years time? In other words, in 5 years time laptops will be many, many times more powerful than they are today so how much would today’s performance cost in 5 years?

This is being driven by Moore’s Law. Briefly this states that computers roughly double in performance every 12-18 months. This “law” (it’s more of an observation) has been pretty accurately followed for a long time and right now seems to be continuing. Of course nothing goes on forever but let’s assume it will continue for 5 more years. This means we can’t just look at the cost of computers, but the price per unit of performance. So how do you measure performance?

A widely accepted measure of computer performance is a FLOP. This is how many FLOating Point calculations (ex. 5.123 plus 6.545) a computer can do in one second. This is the basis of everything a computer can do. The more FLOPs, the more computation can be done, the faster a computer is.

This is a chart from a very good explanation of how computer have progressed in FLOPs over time. (Note: a Petaflop is 10 to the 15th flops, or 1,000,000,000,000,000 math operations)

FLOPs over time

As you can see, things have increased massively but notice it is not a linear chart? The jump in performance from 2005 to 2010 is vastly greater than the previous 10 years. What this means is that computers in 5 years time will be not just 5 times faster than today, but maybe 100 times faster according to Moore’s law. Therefore the cost of today’s performance will be radically cheaper. Here’s a graph I made from Wikipedia data of the cost of computing performance over the last 40 years.

FLOPs cost over time

Notice how the interval between date ranges decrease as time goes on? Also note this chart is a logarithmic chart. You can’t display it linearly at all because the change is so great everything after 1984 disappears. ūüôā

Ok so how does this affect education?

Most education reformers think that having one computer per child is a desired classroom configuration. The big question is how do you do this. Many people in the government (teachers are included in this category) think the solution has to come from the school system. On one level this doesn’t make sense to me. Schools don’t provide paper and pencils to students so why are computers different? The obvious answer is cost but it may be dawning on you by now that if you hold computer performance constant, the price will drop very quickly. In 5 years even poor families will be able to buy decent computers with equivalent performance to today’s best laptops. In fact by 2020, the cost of today’s computer will essentially be zero.

Now the inevitable argument here will be “great, so schools will be able to afford to buy every student a computer”! I don’ t think so. Have you seen how slow government moves when it comes to purchasing things? I can see outfitting a classroom with computers one month and then 6 months later they will be obsolete. If you have the students bring their own, they will always have technology better than the school. Not only that, but they will be able to take those computers home with them, enabling learning anytime and anyplace.

Having students bring their own devices entails the schools giving up some control, which makes some people uncomfortable but I see this has happening fairly soon. The article I listed below is just another signpost on this highway.

People can argue against this but I just think it’s a matter of math.

As always I am interesting in what you think!

    • Following reports that Intel plans (but also formally denied) to offer a $100 subsidy on every ultrabook, Acer president Jim Wong said on Thursday that ultrabook prices will drop down to $499 USD in 2013.
    • According to Wong, the drop in price should begin sometime around 2Q12 where he expects the new form factor to retail for $799 to $899 USD — a 20-percent price drop from the current price point. Presently the company is shipping 100,000 ultrabooks each month, but the number of units is expected to ramp up to 250,000 to 300,000 units by the end of December.

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.



  1. Mobile tools like tablets and smartphones are likely to be even more prevalent than laptops or other form-factors of traditional computers. This article (;txt) — although a few months old now — gives some insight into the numbers of mobile tools that will be purchased over the next few years. In my opinion, the question for school district administration should not be how do we buy enough technology to support 1:1 models, but instead, how can we build and support deployment and security infrastructure to support Bring Your Own Device models. It’s a big question.

    • Hi Amy,

      I agree that smartphones and tablets will be the first on the scene. I think that is mostly because of the price point. Would agree that a laptop is probably more useful for a wider range of tasks if you are contained in a classroom. It’s not because of it’s power, but because of it’s interface. For now, a keyboard and mouse is the best interface. I can see a time in the not too distant future where computers and interface will become separate units. You will have a tiny computer in your pocket and then will use whatever interface works best for what you are doing.

      That being said, I totally agree with you that infrastructure will be critical to support the BYOD flood that is coming.

      Thank you so much for the great link and your thoughts!!

  2. my foundation distributes laptop computers to inner city children in St. Louis that meet 2 criteria. They must qualify for the Federal free and reduced student lunch program and be homeschooled or virtual schooled.

    A motivated, poor parent can already stitch together several free virtual school websites that can easily compete against an unaccredited government school system. More will choose this option over time as we surf along the path of Moore’s Law.


    • Hi Victor. Thank you so much for you comment and for the work your foundation does! I agree completely that Moore’s law will change the economics of the school system. You are right on the front lines!!

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  6. […] you like it or not, the BYOD to school is inevitable as this blogpost explains. It already happens in schools, starting with colleges and even high schools. From simple […]

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  10. […] om l√§rande rum. Nedan finns l√§nkar till de webbplatser vi n√§mner i programmet: BETT-m√§ssan Bloggat om Bring your own device Ann Bamford om 3D Makerbot – en annan 3D-printer Varf√∂r jag √§lskar min 3D-printer Microsoft […]

  11. […] the iPad 2, I bet it will drop to $99. ¬†The implications for education are huge. This is why Bring Your Own Device is inevitable. This is Moore’s Law in action. How many schools have made the decision to buy iPad 2s, and […]

  12. […] A continent wide wireless based Internet can be created with mesh style technology. This doesn’t rely on stringing miles of expensive wire. It’s all satellite node based. This will allow villages to power and connect a system of smartphones. In 5 more years a smartphone of today’s capacity will cost essentially zero because of Moore’s Law. (see¬†Why Bring Your Own Device To School Is Inevitable) […]

  13. […] From an education standpoint this simply means classrooms will be more populated with devices the students bring themselves. The other thing to keep in mind is your students will be more likely to be writing their own apps and games, especially when they have access to educational materials like video games that teach you to program. (see Why BYOD Is Inevitable) […]

  14. […]   […]

  15. […] times that BYOD will be the way that modern computing gets into every student’s hand. (see¬†Why Bring Your Own Device To School Is Inevitable) Right now it looks to me that only BYOD Kindles would work but I can see them expanding it to […]

  16. […] It didn’t take me too long to understand how this works. Also to note is there is a corollary to go along with this observation. The level of performance on the very top end will be only mid level next year because of Moore’s Law. (See Why Bring Your Own Device To School Is Inevitable) […]

  17. […] technology is the continuing miniaturization of computer technology due to Moore’s Law (see¬†Why Bring Your Own Device To School Is Inevitable). I just read about the latest version of the Raspberry Pi¬†mini computer. This tiny computer costs […]

  18. […]… […]

  19. […] The first supercomputer capable of a Teraflop was¬†ASCI Red¬†and was used to develop nuclear weapons by simulating the reactions. It went online in 1996 and was decommissioned about 10 years later, which is a long time for a computer. (for a lot more on this idea please see Why Bring Your Own Device To School Is Inevitable) […]

  20. […] The price didn’t change but the phone got faster. Moore’s Law in action. (see¬†Why Bring Your Own Device To School Is Inevitable) […]

  21. […] See also Why Bring Your Own Device To School Is Inevitable […]

  22. […] Why Bring Your Own Device To School Is Inevitable […]

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