Friday, 6 September 2013

BYOD - Nice or Nasty?

Sometimes it is good to look again at things that are commonly accepted norms. Many educational organisations are moving toward, or have already implemented, a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) approach. This post looks again at the advantages and disadvantages of asking/allowing students to use their own technologies.

This BYOD discussion is closely related to, although quite different from, discussions around the suitability of mobile learning, mobile devices and social networks in education. The issue with BYOD is the ‘Your Own’ bit.

BYOD arose in the corporate business world in early 2010 where bringing ‘your own devices’ to work was promoted to reduce corporate costs and increase personal productivity. The business success has seen a diffusion of the approach into the world of education. This can be seen as part of the growing trend for staff and students to be able to choose their own digital tools. Traditionally, digital technologies are provided and controlled by central IT Services but the rise of web based ‘applications’ is shifting ‘ownership’ towards the user. BYOD goes a step beyond the software and focuses on the physical devices themselves.

For some, the BYOD approach means a ‘free-for-all’ in the classroom or around the campus where there are no limits imposed on what students bring and use. A recent document from Microsoft (Bring your own device to school - briefing paper K-12.pdf) says a BYOD approach should provide “equity to ensure that all students have equal access to technology-rich experiences, and simplicity to ensure that it is easy to manage and sustain”. They suggest 5 models of decreasing centralised control:
  1. School-defined single platform laptop
  2. School-defined single platform laptop, plus another device
  3. School-defined multi-platform laptops
  4. Student-choice of laptop or tablet
  5. Bring your own whatever connects to the Internet
However, the Microsoft document looks primarily at devices and doesn’t really consider what will be accessed; organisational networks, the web, both or how the content may or may not be processed once transferred to a mobile device.

There is a large body of work on the web, much of it from the USA secondary school context, considering every aspect of BYOD but the following article gives a concise presentation of the “Questions to Consider” (the blog also has a number of other good posts on BYOD).

Despite the obvious benefits for the learner, there are still concerns and some reluctance to engage from both managers and IT system specialists in schools for children up to age 16. University and Further Education institutions seem more likely to embrace BYOD but many of the issues discussed below are relevant. A good summary, following a #ukedchat session, of the pros and cons has been created by IaninSheffield ( where you can login and influence the balance of opinion (currently the Pros outweigh the Cons by 204 to 89).

I don’t want to over emphasise one person’s contribution to the debate but in all that I’ve read, IaninSheffield is the only one to have posted the thoughts of the students:

Without performing a numerical analysis of how positive or negative the responses to this question were, I got the impression that they were largely favourably inclined to the possibility of BYOD. Some students provided positive responses; some negative and many produced balanced returns. However, whilst the general feeling was positive, it was nowhere nearly as focused and specific as the concerns they expressed:
  • Batteries often go flat.
  • You could lose them or have them stolen.
  • Not everyone has their own device.
  • Might be problems connecting to the WiFi.
  • Can sometimes get distracted and go off task.
  • I wouldn’t want someone else to borrow my phone.
  • My mum wouldn’t let me bring it.
  • Some people would text rather than doing what they should be.
  • Where would be able to store them?
  • I wouldn’t want it to cost me money.
  • I prefer not to use mobile devices for learning, although laptops are OK.
  • What programmes students use wouldn’t be controllable.
  • With everyone using it, it might slow up the Internet.
  • If it breaks, you wouldn’t be able to do any work.
  • Although a good thing, we should still be allowed to use pen and paper if we want.
  • Different students might have different programmes.

A quick poll of some of our FE students, 53 Level 2 & 3 Tourism students aged 18 and 19, showed that at home 91% had WiFi, 68% had a tablet, 73% a smart phone and 36% had a laptop/PC. Only 46% said that they used these devices for college work when at home! While almost all students bring their phones to college, 59% would not use it for learning activities because of the small screen size. Only 30% of those with a tablet would bring it to college because of loss, damage or theft. Almost all students however would use tablet devices if provided by the college. It seems that this sample mostly use mobile devices at home for social activities and are wary of bringing their technology to college even though they are keen to use mobile devices if available.

The main advantages of BYOD seem to be:
  1. Promotes participation in class and heightens interest.
  2. More immediate and engaging especially when media rich resources are used / created.
  3. Students more likely to take ownership of/responsibility for their own learning when they use technologies THEY have chosen.
  4. Students can choose from a variety ways to produce and present their work.
  5. Greatly extends the digital tools and resources available for support, assessment, learning and teaching.
  6. With institution wide WiFi access, any location can become a digital classroom.
  7. Easier to share/collaborate online wherever and whenever.
  8. Reduces the barrier to school/home learning (extending the classroom).
  9. Develops digital literacy practices and skills.
  10. Fully managed access to WiFi can reduce some of the problems.
  11. Free (or very cheap) apps available for anything you want to do (enthusiasts can easily create custom apps).
  12. Students with disabilities often have customised devices that could be used in mainstream classes.
  13. Many students already use devices that are more powerful, up-to-date and flexible than current classroom computers.
  14. Reduces organisational costs (but cannot abdicate responsibility and force students to purchase own - this may come in time when devices are cheap and ALL students have them eg pen/biro, calculators).
Weighed against this are the disadvantages:
  1. Status issues (equity divide) amongst students and financial pressure on parents.
  2. Increasing the chances of problems from damage, theft, bullying etc.
  3. Pupils may get distracted form educational task by social apps, gaming etc.
  4. Charging of devices during the day for poor battery life.
  5. Difficulty of filtering out inappropriate material (not if managed WiFi is provided).
  6. Inappropriate material from home is easier to bring into school.
  7. Security issues of confidential information going to/from home (data security).
  8. Many teachers don't have the confidence or competence to use or troubleshoot mobile devices.
  9. Wide range of devices and models and software within the classroom.
  10. Cost to schools to provide WiFi infrastructure and devices for student loan.
  11. No economies of scale if bought individually on the high street (consumerisation of IT).
  12. Increase of non-standard IT kit and software and security issues for devices accessing organisations network.
  13. Wireless and bandwidth issues needing the attention of IT support staff along with potential shift in emphasis from Network to User.
Many disadvantages can be overcome by the BYOD approach chosen and the way it is implemented and the resources provided (it is also true that many advantages can be lost without careful planning and implementation). Decisions on BYOD usually don’t rely on a simple weighing of pros and cons. It seems that it is the social implications that cause greatest concern. The effect of BYOD on children and their families where buying ‘the latest device’ is not possible is undesirable for some teachers especially for pupils at the ages where peer pressure is felt most strongly.

We work now in a more enlightened and compassionate era than when I was a school when we had to find our own way through the injustices of life. Currently, some states in North America don’t operate a BYOD policy for younger students but I can’t help feeling that that is not the answer.

Despite some reluctance shown by students themselves, learners are missing out on the benefits of mobile web access and mobile apps and could also be being given the message that learning in school is different and separate from home.

In the secondary school context, if this debate were about providing a hot meal for pupils at lunch time there would be little doubt that lunch would be provided and all steps taken to minimise the social impact of disadvantage. Similarly, we don’t ban students from bringing in their own lunch on the grounds that this might create undesirable peer-pressure due to financial/social inequality.

I don’t want to minimise the pressures that disadvantage can bring but why should digital devices be any different from other social pressures in schools? Do we really want Bring Your Own Dinner to be OK but Bring Your Own Device to be avoided?

And from the student voice mentioned earlier, perhaps the lesson to learn is that mobile learning using tablet devices with WiFi connectivity is popular and shows potential benefits but institutions need to make these resources available centrally rather than rely on students/parents to do the job for them.

This debate could run and run so TGIF ....

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