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BYOD - The new norm

With BYOD becoming common practice in education, Helen Dorritt looks at the evolution of this world-wide teaching tool

Posted by Hannah Oakman | June 09, 2016 | People

There’s no getting away from the fact that we are a hyper-connected nation, and that this trend for having technology at our fingertips is starting at a younger age than ever before. Ofcom’s November 2015 report ‘Children and Parents: Media Use and Attitudes’ shows that 53% of three–four-year-olds and 73% of five–15-year-olds use a tablet, with one in seven three–four-year-olds and two in five five–15-year-olds owning their own. Smartphone ownership among children aged five–15 is now at 35%, and adults are even more connected: two thirds of UK adults own a smartphone, rising to 90% of 16–24-year-olds, while 54% of UK households have a tablet.

So far, so statistics. The interesting question is how all these mobile devices are being harnessed by primary schools, secondary schools and universities for the good of education, and how bring your own device (BYOD) is transforming the way that students of all ages are learning. 

“BYOD is already happening,” says Robert Dragan, CEO of Learnium, a social learning platform for universities, colleges and secondary schools. He’s right – Google ‘BYOD policy’ and you’ll find page after page of school and university policies. 

It’s easy to see why it’s become popular, too. BYOD has the advantage of bringing a huge amount of resources into the classroom or lecture theatre, at no financial cost to the institution. Familiarity with their own devices means it’s easier for students to use them for learning and teachers don’t have to spend precious time introducing them to the device, focusing instead on enhancing the lesson with online connectivity.

February 2016 research from Techknowledge for Schools, an educational charity that helps schools get to grips with using mobile technology, shows that 66% of teachers surveyed felt that one-to-one mobile technology benefits weaker students and those with special educational needs, and 61% agreed that every student having a personal mobile device enables a teacher to differentiate between different learning needs (eg no longer have to ‘teach to the middle’). There is no denying the potential teaching power of BYOD. 

Access all areas

In order to make BYOD a success, the first question that has to be addressed is access; specifically, which operating systems are allowed onto the network. “‘Access anywhere’ is now the expectation, so for me, the question that institutions should ask themselves is how to ensure that the tools that students and teachers need are easily accessible on a broad range of devices,” says Robert. If the aim of BYOD is to open up learning, it can’t be seen to be too restrictive. Equally, however, the way in which BYOD is used in an institution is going to affect what systems it will support. Ability to access on multiple operating systems will be more relevant to secondary institutions and universities than the more controlled teaching style of primary schools.

Once access has been granted, the security risks posed by opening up a network for unregulated devices then have to be examined. “As devices are brought in, the proliferation of devices and the expansion of system borders brings a whole host of security issues,” explains Chris McVie from NetMotion Wireless. “Even the most carefully regulated systems will be exposed to a wide variety of use cases as students make their demands. This in turn generates a varied threat landscape: there is no longer one way into and out of the network, no drawbridge which can be simply pulled up.”

Making a network secure is therefore something that needs to tackled from the outset. “When were working on our BYOD provision, in order to set up a successful policy, we had to help people understand that the security of our systems also depends on the security of their own devices, and to follow our advice as to how to configure and use devices for the sake of their security as well as ours,” says a spokesperson from the University of Edinburgh. “Security is more than simply an IT issue. It affects everything we do.” According to Chris, “the most crucial elements of BYOD defence are the security and connectivity of each individual application, not just the device as a whole. It doesn’t and shouldn’t matter what kind of device the application is on, or who owns it.” In a school setting, for example, he feels that per-application management can help with this issue. “This gives school IT departments the flexibility and control to manage specific data, rather than relying on the security of the end-point device and its user. This makes security, authentication and management of data far simpler and far more robust, and allows support and IT admin functions to be done more effectively. What’s more, by controlling the connection of BYOD devices on a per-application basis, schools can also ensure pupils aren’t using non-work applications in school.”

Any time, any place, anywhere

These issues of access and security are common to all levels of education, but the way in which an adult university student wants and needs to use their devices will be substantially different to that of younger students. The threat landscape is much larger, due to these students being likely to have more devices and wanting to access them across multiple locations and, potentially, multiple campuses. “University students want to do their computing anywhere, anyhow, on the go, inside the campus, outside the campus,” explains Simon Furber, network and data centre manager for Brunel University. “So it isn’t just about providing access, it’s about providing it with a relevant service context.”  

As Simon notes, the change in student status, with tuition fees at an all-time high, means that students now demand the very best from their university across teaching, accommodation and leisure. When updating its BYOD policy, Brunel therefore wanted a system that wouldn't discriminate between devices – phone, laptop, tablet or gaming console – and that could be accessed for both work and play. “I don’t think we should determine what the students find relevant to their study,” says Simon. “We should help them to customise that learning for themselves.” With an increasing number of remote learners, the university also wanted to ensure both remote and campus-based students could record their lectures, join in with online discussions and, crucially, be able to do this on any device and at any point on campus. 

Brunel created its network using Cisco BYOD Smart Solution technology, and now has over 1,000 access points across 70 campus buildings, over half of which are residential. Cisco’s portal can identify different users and determine their policy accordingly, including recognising visitors who can be granted ‘sponsored’ access. 

A large part of its successful implementation was the way the university responded “to what people consider to be the norm, rather than what we consider to be the norm,” explains Simon.

'Access anywhere' is now the expectation, so for me, the question that institutions should ask themselves is how to ensure that the tools that students and teachers need are easily accessible on a broad range of devices 

Looking at what this norm is for younger students highlights that setting up a BYOD policy in a school also presents several distinct issues. The Techknowledge for Schools research showed that three quarters of the teachers surveyed agreed that managing the potential for distraction is a major problem for some students. Other problems noted were unreliable infrastructure – disruptions to lessons caused by students not bringing their devices to class or not charging their device were found to be common.

Investing in a set of school-owned tablets can provide an answer, allowing the school to ensure that students are still benefiting from devices but in a more controlled manner than a free-for-all BYOD. 

“Our tablets are made specifically for the classroom and as such, the main benefit is that teachers can have complete control over tablets in the classroom,” explains Jo Butler, marketing manager for Learnpad, which manufactures education-specific tablets. “Teachers can also customise tablet content for individuals or groups of students, which facilitates differentiated learning and helps improve confidence and achievement with self-paced learning and teacher-assigned tasks.” Buying school tablets also deals with another big issue, that of students from poorer backgrounds not being able to afford their own device, and ensuring that devices are well-maintained, well-charged and compatible with the school’s network.  

If a school does decide to allow students to use their own devices, then the per-application management mentioned by Chris can help prevent abuse of the system. There’s also the option of the ‘carrot and stick’ approach adopted by Tibshelf Community School in Sheffield. “We made it clear from the beginning [of our BYOD policy] that the teacher has to ask students to bring out their devices – it’s not a given assumption in every lesson,” explains assistant headteacher Brian Fischer. “As a carrot, we gave permission for students to use the Wi-Fi at break times for personal use, but the stick is that if they misuse the system in class, we instantly cut off their access.”

The next steps

Once BYOD is well-established in an institution, the next logical step in its development is ensuring that students and teachers can get the most from it, setting up infrastructures within classrooms and lecture theatres to facilitate the best type of learning. One area of this development is specialist software that enables teachers to ‘connect the classroom’, such as Promethean’s innovative ClassFlow. A cloud-based learning platform that allows teachers to plan and deliver lessons, as well as providing real-time assessment, ClassFlow can be used to create collaborative lessons that encourage the sharing of ideas across interactive displays, laptops and devices.

“In order to fully support lesson delivery and assessment, schools need to implement third-party software solutions,” says Ian Curtis, Head of Europe, Africa and Australasia for Promethean. “The concept of ClassFlow has always been to support a diverse range of teaching and learning activities, regardless of the devices that are in use. Using ClassFlow gives teachers a central point for lesson preparation, lesson delivery and student assessment, while the interactive features of ClassFlow empower both teacher and student to engage in truly collaborative learning opportunities.” 

Chris Long, who teaches at the English International College in Marbella, sees software such as ClassFlow as a way to teach traditional subjects in more creative ways. “It’s much easier to add a new dimension to lesson content. You can ask students to take a picture using the camera on their iPad and then share this by sending the picture to the front of the class on the board. Similarly, it enables me as a teacher to send out content to individuals that I want them to work on specifically. Plus, the students love it!”

Secure social network platforms for teachers and students are also another development in BYOD, such as the one run by Learnium. This cloud-based platform allows teachers and students to communicate with each other across a social network platform to create, curate and share digital resources. Dr Richard Perks at Cardiff University’s school of engineering introduced Learnium into one of his modules as a support platform to great success. “Using Learnium enabled me, as a lecturer of 400 students, to globally respond to multiple requests for help on the same subject. Most importantly, however, was that students were able to offer peer-to-peer assistance, freeing up much of my time. 

The familiar feel and style of Learnium meant that students were easily able to adapt to the platform quickly, having previously used Facebook.” Education providers can expect to see a lot more uptake of such services in response to both student and teacher demand.

In looking at the evolution of BYOD, Robert feels that there’s also one final important point to note: there is a huge advantage in how it presents the institution. “Implementing a BYOD strategy will place the institution in a positive light to both staff and students,” he details. “New teachers will perceive a BYOD institution as flexible and therefore a more attractive employer. Student satisfaction is also likely to improve since the institution is better supporting students’ learning needs.” And in an increasingly competitive education market, this is more relevant than ever before. 

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