Bring Your Own Device is an understandably attractive strategy for schools:
- It offers the potential to empower every student with the ability to use familiar technology wherever and whenever it’s helpful, a pretty huge benefit
- It links up students’ learning with their ‘real lives’
- And could save schools hundreds of thousands in refresh costs as the model shifts from institution-provided to student-owned.
But its weaknesses have historically been difficult to overcome. There are many considerations, but three critical barriers have been:
- Straightforward access to school-hosted storage (students’ files, etc). Schools have typically kept student data behind their network’s secure boundaries, and for good reason.
Integration of this with Learning Platforms has never been very satisfactory, so access for the masses tends to be restricted to the use of on-premise PCs. Equally many 1-to-1 schools are currently spending money on third-party work-arounds to enable students to access networked files via their iPad, or are setting up parallel but disconnected file systems/ workflows. These methods, in my experience, present a barrier to use (often for staff particularly) and have a substantial cost. It’s all a bit messy and expensive, in short, and far from intuitive.
- The lack of consistently available tools, meaning that uptake by staff is lower that it could be. For example, few teachers are going to risk planning a task around the use of video capture and screencasting if they can’t be sure their students have the tools for the job (and tools which the teacher is familiar with too). This problem is one of the most powerful motivations for schools to pursue 1-to-1 strategies, providing (or helping to provide) a common device to every student (most often an iPad). This is obviously expensive and doesn’t suit everyone.
- The challenge of managing students’ behaviour with their devices, which naturally makes schools and teachers nervous about making this leap, particularly those with a finely balanced formula for student success and those with daily experience of the problems caused by misuse of technology.
However, recent developments, from Microsoft in particular, remove some of the major hurdles and give BYOD a good chance of succeeding as the default choice for schools.
In my view, there are 5 vital BYOD success factors which are now coalescing and making this strategy much more achievable;
1. Free, capacious, secure cloud storage
Now that Microsoft 365 is available free to education, schools can;
- Host all their students’ data in the cloud, losing the cost of this and removing the access barrier of needing a networked device/ secure software solution at a stroke
- Allocate every student 7Gb of space, much more than most schools currently do, via the (soon to be renamed) SkyDrive
- Retain all the security benefits of their current model, as 365 identities are provisioned by the network’s Active Directory.
In effect, the only differences are the physical location of the data (which is still within the EU) and who is paying for the tin on which it sits. Oh, and that it can be accessed from any device, anywhere without any work-arounds or paid-for third-party service, which is a game changer.
2. Browser-delivered applications
This will solve the ‘consistency’ problem, and very shortly.
Once all ‘apps’ live in the cloud and are delivered live through the browser, device platform becomes irrelevant and the need for ‘everyone to have the same thing’ goes away.
Google and Microsoft have both got browser-delivered Office suites which demonstrate how effectively this can be done. Factoring in 365’s link to students’ files, their familiarity with MS Office (and its ubiquity in the world of work), and the news that it’s now as free as Google Docs, I think this will become the cornerstone of many schools’ BYOD plans.
There are lots of other browser-delivered tools (e.g. for video-editing) but they lack the slickness, reliability and ease of use of the best apps out there (think Explain Everything, iMovie or Skitch) right now.
3. Decent broadband & wireless
Schools’ broadband connections are improving in quality and capacity, as well as getting cheaper year on year. Many secondaries have a 100Gb connection now and I know of one school that has 2 (one for admin, one for student devices). Obviously if everything is hosted elsewhere, this becomes the pinch-point. The nation’s infrastructure is improving, but schools will need to continue to invest in free-flowing data.
Similarly, highly-specified managed wireless networks are increasingly standard in our schools, with an access point in every classroom providing a high-quality experience for hundreds of concurrently connected learners.
Schools’ investment in both of these elements should be seen in the context of savings made further down the line from the hundreds of PCs, laptops and tablets they won’t be replacing.
Broadband in homes is also getting more and more ubiquitous – usually somewhere north of 90%, schools find when they survey their students. The market is solving this one; bundling broadband with TV packages, the spread of 4G, etc.
4. Management tools
Managing human behaviour is best achieved by humans (through integration with schools’ behaviour policies) but Mobile Device Management software has a part to play too. It’s still a relatively immature software type, but the likes of Lightspeed, Airwatch and Meraki can help ease the admin burden (pushing settings and content to devices) and are starting to offer the ability to set time or location specific rules (e.g. Facetime doesn’t work between 9am-3pm) across multiple platforms.
5. A device
The challenge in 1-to-1 environments has always been to find a suitably robust, capable and cheap device that students will be happy to bring in, charge and (often) pay for. Once the factors above are in place, this goes away and schools can leverage any decent Android/ Apple/ Windows tablet or even phone that students already own, insure, covet and resist being separated from as a tool for learning. Wouldn’t that be something?
So it looks a lot like the pieces are coming together for BYOD to become schools’ default strategy, rather than the preserve of the innovative few. As with any change in education, challenges about, but the technology is starting to catch up with teachers’ ambition.