Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) is one of those ideas that looks like an instant winner. Rather than providing students with the latest technology at great cost to facilitate new forms of learning, a school can instead allow them to use their own devices. At a time when finances are being squeezed, it is an appealing way of making your ICT budget cost-effective.
There are other benefits, too: BYOD means that learning can take place any time, anywhere - in the classroom and at home, but also in the spaces in between.
However, when school leaders introduce BYOD to their schools, they often face multiple challenges. Security and compatibility are big concerns, but before you even begin to worry about these factors you must consider the fact that many of your students may not have a device to bring in. Although such potential problems can scare a lot of headteachers away from BYOD, they can be mitigated.
Beat the budget
The first issue is clearly the quality and type of device that students own - or more importantly, whether they own a smartphone or tablet at all. One option is to keep a stock of additional devices. This requires setting aside part of the ICT budget, but means that a school can still reach full coverage at a fraction of the cost of a full plan. Given the plentiful evidence that digital technologies can support learning, using pupil premium funding to help finance eligible students can go a long way.
Alternatively, staff and parent purchase schemes can remove cost barriers and give leaders increased control over the type of devices used in the school. With a well-run scheme, parents can take advantage of inclusive insurance for theft, loss and damage, which is often not available for minors.
Once every student has a device, the next step is to assess compatibility. Not all will be compatible with each other or the school software; older devices are particularly likely to be problematic.
A solution may be to select a range of options that meet the appropriate standards of compatibility and security while also giving students the flexibility to choose one that they are comfortable with. The best way to keep students and parents on board with this is to provide a package of device, accessories and insurance at a lower price than on the high street, and with better finance options. You should inform parents of the choices as early as possible - for example, on open evenings - before they buy something different.
The schools I have spoken to say the rate of students switching to a device on the advised list is typically very high. And as reluctant parents see the benefit that the phones or tablets are having - as a real learning tool and not a gimmick - they may wish to opt in later. This is why running parental sign-up every term can be useful.
Once you have found a way to make BYOD possible, you then have to ensure that it is going to work. Although it is understandable to want to get going as quickly as possible, time and planning are essential to make sure your programme is a success.
To ensure widespread backing for your plan, you should put together a written case, outlining the benefits and expected outcomes - and be ready to engage in discussion to assuage any concerns. Parents and students should not be neglected in this process. To work effectively, a BYOD scheme requires support at home as well as in the classroom.
However, a successful start does not mean that you can relax. BYOD inevitably means relinquishing some control over students' devices. The key to mitigating risks is finding a balance between the level of security you need and the usability required to enable students to reap the benefits. Allowing pupils to use their own devices means you cannot prevent them from accessing certain websites during class time. In the end, the best solution is adult supervision.
So BYOD is indeed a challenge for schools, but there are ways to conquer those challenges that mean this really beneficial ICT strategy can work.
Chris Pates is head of infrastructure services at education technology company Frog
A teacher tells all about his own school's Bring Your Own Device scheme.
Overhyped or a force for good? TESS explores the pain and pleasure of mobile devices.
For ideas on how to introduce and enforce BYOD in your own school, see this staff handbook.
This guide to good practice will help you keep your students safe once their wi-fi devices are up and running.