BYOD for education: Digging deeper into the key issues

BYOD in the education space is a hot talking point at present – but what are the key issues to be decided, and is a full rollout possible in the near future?

That’s what the latest eBook from web and email filter provider Bloxx attempts to answer. Entitled ‘Empowering Learning With BYOD’, the report looks at the key themes and issues of deployment, and concludes that enablement and education is a far more complex process than the theory suggests.

In the (hopefully near) future, schools adopting a full-range BYOD policy could completely turn educational methods on their head – it has the potential to be that much of a game changer.

85% of educational institutions are currently rolling out bring your own device in some capacity, according to a recent paper from Bradford Networks, so the demand is certainly there. Combine it with cloud computing and it’s a heady mix.

The theory, as mentioned, is simple. Time and resources are saved on the assumption that the student will be familiar with the hardware he brings to school and costs can decrease.

But perhaps most importantly, the lines between school and home will be blurred, with students being more comfortable with their own devices in a less formal environment.

Any Enterprise AppsTech readers out there, if they are of a similar age as the editorial team, will probably remember their old school computer hardware and networks with a grim loathing. This is of course not a dig at schools – budgets only go so far – but the traditional school IT environment was certainly not something that was stringently kept up to date and definitely not something to inspire creativity and learning.

That’s the theory of BYOD, anyway. It’s worth noting, as the report mentions, that cost savings with BYOD are considered by some to be a misnomer – however with everything lined out, what’s not to like?

Stumbling blocks for BYOD rollout

Of course, it’s not quite as easy as that. With a dazzling array of devices, platforms and specs, the report notes that the temptation for some schools is to just lock everything down to one particular platform.

Bloxx, however, says that so long as the devices are Internet-ready, then ‘live and let live’.

“By adopting the latter approach and by limiting the content consumption and content creation tools to those available on the browser you, in essence, help provide an inclusive, technology-rich learning experience for your students but at the same time give them the flexibility to drive this experience through their own hardware,” the report notes.

This could lead to network bandwidth issues. Schools need to ensure coverage across school grounds have no dead spots – potentially through free iOS or Android apps which provide coverage maps – increasing the range of their wide area network (WAN) if needs be.

Security, inevitably, will also be a concern. Authentication may be the route to go down, albeit with adequate education-oriented MDM software; however the possibility of malware is “an area of huge risk”.

The solution here, according to Bloxx, is to make a note in the acceptable use policy that all BYODs need to be fitted with anti-virus functionality. This author isn’t especially convinced that this will eradicate the issue, although a total rollout of specific anti-malware tools may be better.

A more personal stumbling block is that, of course, not all students are equal. Some students may need guidance on what to buy – therefore a funding model needs to be initiated.

The report advocates a choice between several funding models, from a free-for-all situation – so long as each device meets the minimum hardware requirements – to outright school procurement, to leasing. School ICT acceptable use policy would need to be updated if BYOD provisions are installed.

But what of the students whose families simply cannot afford a device? This, understandably, could cause serious problems, yet the report notes: “For 1:1 learning to be successful you must ensure that there is equality of access.

“This means that you are likely to have to put systems in place to ensure that students/families who do not have their own device can be provided with one or are provided with some capital funding to purchase their own device.

“It is important that you have clear guidance on this to ensure that children are not deprived of their digital entitlement, but also to make sure that the model you are proposing for your school is financially sustainable in the long term.”

What would lessons actually be like in a BYOD future?

The report also looks at a more overlooked aspect – teacher development. It would be futile to simply focus on the technology – the technology has to impact and improve learning. “Staff should be given as many opportunities as possible to share ideas and learn from each other’s practice,” the report explains.

Bloxx therefore examines the ‘Exciting Learning’ principle, noting that learning needs to be culturally relevant, include real-time interaction, provide different learning pathways, showcase learning achievements with authentic audiences, and be accessible to all.

BYOD, naturally, covers most of these bases. It exacerbates the possibility of pupils completing written assignments in the form of videos and podcasts – providing different learning pathways – and increases the avenues of real-time interaction, using conferencing tools.

Yet the report states the real power of BYOD lies in “the opportunity to build on current formative assessment practices and to provide learners with digital feedback on their work and progress”.

Overall, the report admits that there are plenty of challenges ahead, in infrastructure, strategy and pedagogy, although the future looks very bright once these roadblocks are overcome.

But what do you think? Can BYOD work in education? The full report can be found here (registration required).

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14 Jun 2013, 8:30 p.m.

BYOD must work in education if we expect the next generation to be work ready when leaving school. Everything will be touch in tomorrow's world from the kid who ends up as a fry cook to the students who end up as doctors and lawyers - today's tablet interface will be ubiquitous to life.

Also, Apps have already shown their learning potential - when that's combined with a formalized teaching environment you can't lose. Apps make kids want to learn.

Yes there are challenges ahead, but none that are insurmountable. Full disclosure I work for the MDM vendor MaaS360, and we've honestly addressed many of the security and enrollment concerns addressed in this article. Devices, Apps and Content are the trifecta of mobile. Any adviser worth their salt can guide schools for technology to manage all 3.

16 Jun 2013, 2:45 p.m.

More and more school districts are adopting BYOD programs for students and staff, which is not suprising, considering that this is a popular trend in the business world as well. Gadgets are such a big part of our lives that it was inevitable that BYOD would reach schools as well.

One of the challenges of BYOD is managing so many different devices, especially with the limited support staff resources found in many schools. One way to alleviate the pressure on IT staff is to limit the number of applications that they need to install on student and staff devices. This can be done by adopting a browser-based access approach.

One solution that facilitates this approach is Ericom's AccessNow HTML5 RDP client. AccessNow enables students and staff to connect from almost any device to Windows applications running on Terminal Server (Microsoft RDS) or full VDI virtual desktops and run the applications and desktops in a browser tab.

AccessNow works with iPads, Android devices, Chromebooks, Macs and Windows laptops, or any device with an HTML5-compatible browser. Support staff do not need to install any AccessNow components on the end user devices. Students and staff open their browser, click on a URL and launch their applications or desktops inside the browser. So everyone can work with the same applications regardless of device, and IT staff don't need to spend time installing and supporting applications.

Click here for more information about possible solutions for BYOD in education.

Please note that I work for Ericom