Raise a toast to ‘bring your own’ in classrooms

15th July 2016 at 00:00
With multiple devices often at students’ disposal, the software now exists to use across varied tech platforms

Bring Your own device: four words that when combined in that order can make some people in education very angry and nervous. Students texting friends in tutor time, screening YouTube videos during science and ringing their mates in maths class – why would you let them use their own devices? Well, because fears of misuse are usually unfounded and because bring your own device (BYOD) strategies have finally come of age.

It used to be near impossible to implement a BYOD scheme. Mobile-device-management (MDM) solutions are relatively recent additions to the tech arena; before, you had to teach students to manage their device if you wanted to adopt BYOD.

When we launched a 1:1 programme – where the school gives a device to each child – in 2012, we had to support children and families to manage the devices themselves. We, of course, met safeguarding and online safety obligations with our firewalls, but the school had to do a lot to make it work.

By using wi-fi in school, MDM can now be used to control which features work in school, what access students have to different apps and more.

BYOD wasn’t a realistic option back then for another reason: the consistency of approaches across multiple platforms didn’t exist in the way they do now. Apple is still very Apple-centric, with classroom tools such as iTunes U only available on Apple devices. But Microsoft and Google have created more open opportunities for use in education, which has really helped to level the playing field. Microsoft’s Office 365 is a relative newcomer to the scene compared with the more established Google Apps For Education (GAFE) solution.

These two factors have combined to make BYOD much more viable.

Don’t just bring it, use it

One trailblazer, who has been developing the use of multiple devices in his school, is Gary Spracklen, head of King Barrow School, part of the Isle of Portland Aldridge Community Academy (IPACA).

Spracklen prefers not to call the e-learning at his school BYOD, but instead refers to it as a “use my own device” (UMOD) initiative. He says it’s no good just bringing it – you need pupils to use it. His school has a Meraki wi-fi network and students can sign on to their UMOD network using their GAFE credentials. Irrespective of which device students bring in, they can access their learning opportunities.

Chromebooks and Android tablets are the most popular devices, Spracklen says. “One student brings in four devices: a Chromebook, an iPhone, an Apple Watch and an Android tablet.”

He says that this diversity of devices makes BYOD better than a 1:1 programme.

“UMOD has loads more advantages to 1:1,” he explains, “but a key one is that you can use the best device for the task in hand.”

The disadvantaged students at the school have a Chromebook purchased for them with pupil-premium funds.

Of course, BYOD still needs to prove its worth. Just as technology changes frequently, so too does education over time. With research playing a more important role in our schools than ever before and with more and more teachers taking the time to become truly connected educators, learning with technology must show its benefit if schools are to invest their time, money and continuous professional development. Amid shrinking budgets, a policy such as Spracklen’s is compelling – and much more of a reality than it was five years ago.

‘BYOD is the utopia’

Some remain sceptical. Nigel Wright, associate headteacher at Bohunt School in Hampshire, believes that “BYOD is the utopia, but it can never truly work”. That may have been true five years ago, but with new opportunities opening up every day for schools to engage in BYOD or UMOD, we are at a turning point – and Wright’s dream can become a reality. Put simply: it is now something that schools need to seriously consider.

As children grow into adulthood, it is likely that they will use multiple devices across different platforms. They may have an iPhone for personal use, a Chromebook for home use and a Windows device at work. BYOD truly helps to prepare our children for the diverse technological world of their futures. Why not open that up for discussion in your next meeting about school IT procurement?

The software is free and the devices come with the students. And if you adopted BYOD, think of the budget you would free up by not having to buy all those costly desktop PCs...

Mark Anderson is a former assistant headteacher and advises schools on technology @ICTEvangelist

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