BYOD in Schools: A Beginner's Guide
BYOD—or “bring your own device”— is a growing trend in the professional and educational worlds. While it’s viewed by the corporate world more as a policy of optional device use during business hours, many educational institutions are embracing BYOD as a core device strategy for broadening access to digital learning technologies.
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The truth is providing devices, wifi, software, and tech support for every student and teacher is an extra expense for districts that are already facing financial challenges. And considering that in 2015, 73 percent of teens owned or had access to a smartphone, BYOD seems like a viable step towards digital learning.
While a BYOD strategy has advantages, it also has its fair share of disadvantages. It’s a strategy that requires careful consideration of desired device use, compatibility with educational software, security, and educational equity.
Given all that, we wanted to provide you with a deeper look at the data, advantages, disadvantages, and policy considerations for this burgeoning device strategy.
What the Data Says About BYOD
A recent Schoology survey found that just 9.1 percent of schools used a BYOD policy as their primary hardware source, compared to nearly 33 percent that used shared carts of devices for students. By contrast, just over half of schools surveyed had a 1:1 device program of some kind.
Despite that relatively small BYOD number, THE Journal reported in 2014 that BYOD policies were growing steadily, and the number of schools developing a BYOD program more than doubled from 2013 to 2014. BYOD is most common in high schools, and it is expected to continue to grow as the use of cellphones in schools becomes less taboo and more useful with each passing year. These devices just aren't banned anymore—and educators are finding ways to incorporate them into lessons.
Advantages of BYOD in Schools
Though many educators still have a knee-jerk reaction about cellphones—that is, that they were an inappropriate distraction in the classroom—it's now clear that there are many advantages to allowing students to access their own devices for learning throughout the day.
- Affordability—When students bring their own tech, school districts don't have to make room for expensive devices in their budgets. Even if only some students can afford devices, it takes the burden off schools to provide tech for all so they can focus on meeting the needs of the students who really need it.
- Easy Sharing—From sending an update linked to an assignment to a sick classmate to continuing a group discussion via an LMS mobile app, it's never been easier to share information and insights to enhance learning.
- Academic Access—LMSs and other learning platforms are increasingly mobile friendly—some even designed to be mobile first—enabling students to access the information from their courses, assignments, tests, calendars, school announcements, and extracurriculars from their devices.
- The World at Students’ Fingertips—The great promise of the internet is that students can access photos, videos, and other learning materials from around the world easily. BYOD lets them keep that wealth of information in their pockets wherever they go.
- Skill Building—With BYOD becoming the norm in the workplace, students will have no trouble adapting to office expectations when they've grown up with BYOD expectations in school.
- Encourages Differentiation and Personalization—When students have individual internet access, it's easier for teachers to assign work tailored to their skills and needs instead of relying on whole-class delivery of knowledge.
BYOD Disadvantages and How to Avoid Them
While BYOD has a lot of potential, it also comes with its fair share of challenges. These issues are not impossible to overcome, but it takes careful planning and troubleshooting to make BYOD strategies a success.
- Security Breaches—With lots of different, unregulated devices on school networks, it's possible for kids to gain access to administrative servers and other sensitive data. This can be solved with robust networking systems that show clearly who's doing what and when, and that can grant or deny access to important programs.
- Socio-Economic Inequality—BYOD is ideal when everyone has a device to bring, but students who can't afford the latest tech can be left out. This can be solved by reserving a collection of school devices for students who need them most and offering tutorials on how to use tech to get up to speed with peers.
- Disruption—It's not easy for teachers to know when students are using their tech for learning or for social media. Clear classroom policies, learning expectations, and a strong culture of respect will help smooth the road as the school community implements BYOD. It's also possible to set up a firewall that limits access to certain internet sites and apps.
- Cheating—The ease of sharing information can also make it easier for students to cheat on tests. While school culture will go a long way toward solving this problem, educators may also consider setting up tech-free zones or having students turn in devices while they take exams.
- Teacher Training—The sheer variety of devices that show up in a BYOD program can present a challenge for teachers unfamiliar with a certain operating system or piece of hardware. Professional development and IT systems that are easy to troubleshoot are crucial supports.
- Incompatibility—Another downside to the variety of devices lies in whether or not they’re all compatible with your school or districts edtech systems. If all students can’t perform the same tasks or access the same programs via their devices, then the purpose of BYOD is undermined. Making sure to choose edtech that fits your BYOD model and both understanding and clearly communicating which kinds of devices will work and which won’t is key.
5 Considerations Before Implementing a BYOD Strategy
Okay. Let’s say you have a clear understanding of the advantages and disadvantages of BYOD, and you’re still interested in developing a strategy for your school. Great! Before you dive in head first, let’s make sure we’ve covered all of our bases. Here are five important considerations to mull over before implementing a BYOD strategy:
- Planning for Sustainability and Scalability—Ensure your BYOD strategy not only aligns with, but also supports your school’s educational goals. Strategies that use technology as a starting point are rarely successful, as technology should be an extension of a larger plan—a means to an end, not the end itself.
While implementing a BYOD strategy can be significantly less costly than 1:1, schools must consider the budget required to sustain network infrastructure over time. Since a BYOD policy implies that students and teachers will require a device for learning and/or teaching, schools should also consider the need for loaner or school issued devices, in case a personal device is temporarily unavailable.
- Surveying Parents and Guardians About Internet Connectivity at Home—The level of internet access students have outside of school can vary greatly from student to student. There is no one-size-fits-all approach for determining what students are working with at home.
Consider distributing a survey at the beginning of the school year to gain more insight on internet access at home. This survey can even address other pertinent information, such as how parents prefer to receive school communications or if they need additional support with the learning management system (LMS).
- Safeguarding Student Data—Keeping student data safe is an essential part of using data to support learning. The nature of BYOD involves devices traveling throughout the school, community, and beyond. It’s imperative that schools implement policies and procedures are to address the appropriate use of and access to student data. Consider clarifying ownership of student and teacher work and data that is stored in the cloud, and determine how accessible this information will be off-campus.
- Encouraging Teacher Experimentation—Educators need the knowledge, skills, and support to take full advantage of technology. They need to feel safe enough to take risks, and make mistakes, and to try various approaches and applications. Consider taking a step back from requiring teachers to use specific applications, and instead, encourage them to offer feedback on what works for them.
- Measuring Impact—Develop a plan to measure the impact and effectiveness of the BYOD strategy before rolling out. Consider setting aside time in collaborative team meetings or staff development for teachers to share and analyze what they’ve learned, what they struggle with, and what they’d like to see from the new policy.
* For more info on planning out your BYOD program, see this great resource from the Massachusetts Department of Education
As prevalence of student-owned devices continues to grow, BYOD will continue to be a viable option for broadening access to technology in the classroom. As you learn more about BYOD, keep a realistic perspective of the benefits and challenges, as well as the considerations we discussed above. With a thoughtful strategy and effective implementation, BYOD can provide a workable solution for schools seeking to upgrade their students access to educational technology.