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We all know that children are owning and using mobile devices from an ever earlier age and younger generations expect to be able to connect and access content anytime, anywhere. It’s also undeniable that the BYOD phenomenon is of some benefit to educational institutions – bringing technology into the classroom without any significant financial outlay to the school and ensuring students are working with a platform they understand and that they can take away with them to continue learning. However, there are also some potential pitfalls that need to be considered before introducing BYOD into the classroom, such as network access and security. Educational institutions must ensure these logistical issues are covered while also having clear fair usage and device requirement policies in place to make sure both teachers and students benefit from BYOD.
To ensure access everywhere, the tools needed for learning must be accessible across devices and platforms. This is particularly true at a higher education level where students will expect to be able to access content on campus, at home and anywhere in between on smartphones, tablets and laptops depending on what works best for both subject and location. This access also must not affect a student’s ability to use their devices for personal means. Staying at universities, a successful BYOD strategy can help you to tap into the growing number of remote learners; if they are able to access recorded lectures, join in with online discussions and maintain a dialogue with tutors and fellow students they will feel more part of the class and more involved in their learning, thus reducing the dropout rate. Again, the expectation is that they will be able to do this on any device and at any point on campus or elsewhere.
When it comes to BYOD for younger students, teachers have raised concerns about devices proving a distraction in class and pupils forgetting to bring their tablets to lessons or them not being charged sufficiently. One possible way to solve this is to invest in tablets for a class along with storage and charging points. This will ensure the teacher is in control of when devices are used and it will encourage students to adopt good habits regarding returning and charging devices at the end of each lesson.
Once the issue of access has been sorted, network security will be next on the agenda. Having a host of unregulated devices on a network will obviously be a cause for concern.
Many BYOD policies contain a clause stating that personal devices be kept secure and recommend installing an up-to-date anti-virus application. However this can be difficult to manage so a simpler solution may be to provide students with a network security application or make them log in via a separate virtual local area network.
A key thing to remember is that while BYOD may seem to create a whole new set of problems, most schools already have systems in place to mitigate the threats involved – namely data security, authentication and authorisation, and data access and privacy – and the means of addressing the problems are often standard practice – encryption and passwords, virtual desktops, web filtering and the like.
When it comes to data security for example, ensuring only those with the necessary permissions can access the information and making sure data is archived regularly and according to school policy will help to minimise the risk of it being accessed by unauthorised personnel. With data increasingly stored in the cloud, make sure your service provider has the necessary level of security in place for your sensitive data.
When introducing BYOD into a school, it is important that formal policies are established and students and staff know and agree to the policy to ensure data security. Crucially, this policy should make clear distinctions between what is acceptable and what isn’t, when it comes to both usage and behaviour.
While the points above are all important considerations when it comes to a BYOD policy, the outcome will vary school by school. The keys to success will be listening to the concerns and suggestions of the ICT team, being clear how teachers expect to be able to utilise devices, and ensuring both teachers and students have a thorough understanding of their responsibilities when it comes to accessing devices for learning.