Although bring your own device (BYOD) has been a significant trend in New Zealand’s universities for some years, it is now filtering down to schools.
According to Horizon Research, 71.9% of students owned a smartphone in March 2013, an increase of 34.5% from July 2012. While research from Statistics New Zealand shows that laptops are now the most common way for New Zealanders to connect to the internet.
Evidence suggests that students are taking their own smartphones, tablets, laptops and other devices to school, and anecdotal evidence shows that many are trying to connect them to the school network.
Although students might wish to use their device for playing games and checking their social media, there can be substantial educational benefits in a BYOD school. Allowing them to use their own phone or tablet to access educational material online and on the school network, gives them more independence and control over their own learning.
While many schools are unable to provide one desktop/laptop per student, a BYOD policy would allow them to complete schoolwork at lunchtime or before lessons, when all school equipment is being used. There is also huge potential for interactive lessons and ‘flipped-classroom’ scenarios, which would allow students to do more learning at home, so that assignments can be completed in class with the teacher’s support.
Many schools are committing to behavioural policies on smartphone and tablet use – when, where, responsibility for the device and so on – however, a sound policy for BYOD use on the school’s network is often being overlooked.
Since it is easy to get carried away with the benefits, it is important to remember that BYOD needs to be managed correctly. There are a few challenges to be acknowledged, particularly:
IT staff and policy makers need to come together to produce a clear BYOD policy that staff and students can understand, that outlines who can access the network with which devices.
There must be clear consequences for rule breaking and abuse. A single person should be in charge of implementing BYOD, and oversee the whole procedure.
The safety of students in a school setting is of paramount importance. Students must be as protected from inappropriate content as they would be on a school desktop or laptop.
Students also need to be prevented from accessing games and other non-educational material that would disrupt lessons. Effective web filters and controls need to be implemented.
Additionally, the devices themselves need to be kept safe to prevent loss or theft while in school. One solution would be to provide a secure ‘device park’ for students.
The schools’ network must not only be safe for the students, but also safe from them and the potential harm that can transferred to the network from their devices.
Firewalls and virus protection must be up to date to prevent infected devices from bringing down the entire school network. Students and visitors must also be prevented from accessing confidential information on the school network.
When a school announces that students are allowed to access its network, there will be a substantial flood of new connected devices, as well as a wide range of device types and brands used by the students.
The network needs to be able to cope with, and support, all these devices as well as the existing school-owned equipment. It may well need to be upgraded or expanded, and suitable network management software will be vital to ensure smooth running.
There is no doubting that in this highly mobile and connected world, BYOD is an issue that all schools will have to address soon. BYOD in an education environment can be managed easily, and if the right precautions are taken there is huge potential for technological development in schools.
By Ennio Carboni, president, Network Management Division of Ipswitch. Ipswitch is represented in Australia and New Zealand by Digital Networks Australia.