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Bringing their own future

Helen Dorritt explores how primary and secondary schools are harnessing BYOD for the benefit of learning

Posted by Rebecca Paddick | June 17, 2015 | Technology

When mobile phones first became a ubiquitous part of day-to-day life, they were an immediate distraction for students and teachers battled to keep them out of the classroom. But with the advent of smartphones and tablets creating instant access to limitless information and resources, more and more schools are changing their attitudes to these beeping interlopers and actually embracing their presence through BYOD – bring your own device.

YouGov research from 2014 shows that 81% of UK 13–18-year-olds own their own smartphone, with 34% also owning a tablet. Primary-aged children are equally tech savvy, with statistics from the same year recording that 25% of children own their own tablet before the age of eight and 70% are confident in using mobile devices by the time they go to school. So whether you like it or not, there's no getting away from the fact that technology is an intrinsic part of life today, and more and more schools are realising the benefits of integrating it into their teaching in order to benefit learning. “The way that students work on a day-to-day basis is completely different now,” says Brian Fischer, assistant headteacher of Tibshelf Community School. They expect access to Wi-Fi at all times and to be able to use their devices.”

BYOD is a simple idea: students bring in their own smartphones, tablets and laptops for use in the classroom. Teachers can plan a lesson around them, or use them in a more spontaneous manner to encourage independent research. Tablets for Schools, a charity that helps schools use the transformative powers of technology to build learning and attainment, has done a great deal of research into the benefits of using devices in the classroom and records that: “Many learning benefits were apparent soon after tablets were introduced, from greater engagement through to independent learning, communication, collaboration and content that could be customised for different learning styles and abilities. Students themselves reported learning benefits.”

'If a student wants to know something, we encourage them to take out their phone and find it out for themselves.' Brian Fischer, Assistant Headteacher, Tibshelf Community School

Tibshelf, a secondary school in Derbyshire, is currently exploring the benefits of BYOD for its 700 students. The school moved into new premises in 2013 and took this opportunity to integrate technology into its everyday teaching practice, of which BYOD was a part from the beginning. “We started out small, asking students to use their devices to undertake research in lessons,” explains Brian. “For example, if a student wants to know something, we encourage them to take out their phone and find it out for themselves. This also has the advantage of lessons being more spontaneous and allowing teachers to react to events in class – they don't have to have planned everything in advance. It's also useful for students to be able to access simple apps such as dictionaries and calculators.”

In terms of more complex functions, Tibshelf is trialling a free student planner app, where homework assignments can be automatically uploaded to a student's network profile by teachers, and that parents can also access to check what work their child should be doing. There have also been some unexpected uses of BYOD that teachers hadn't predicted. “We've found that some students are taking photos of things on the board, such as diagrams or equations, as it's a quick and easy way to capture information.” Tibshelf's BYOD scheme has been received enthusiastically by its students, with 95% of them accessing the network – some even accessed it on Christmas Day! “They love it, and see having Wi-Fi at school as a massive bonus.”

In addition to educational benefits, there's no denying the financial benefit too: with budgets shrinking more every year, schools are often unable to provide students with up-to-date devices for use in the classroom, so having them use their own is a simple and cost-effective way to obtain and maintain equipment that's fit for purpose. Recent research by the British Educational Suppliers' Association shows that 81% of schools would 'consider' using BYOD and 16% would 'prefer' it to bulk-buying equipment for the school. We've also found that no student has ever broken their own device,” says Brian. “And generally what they own is better than what we could provide.”

When using BYOD in a school setting, then the infrastructure is vital. Tibshelf worked closely with its chosen ICT providers, the Stone Group, to build a system that would be able to support a multitude of devices being used all at once, that would work for both Apple and Android platforms and that would stop devices from bringing viruses into the school system. “Security was also a huge concern for us,” says Brian. “We needed it to be completely secure, with no chance of it being hacked.” The students' server is therefore separate from the staff one, so sensitive information is not accessible.

As well as keeping the network safe, the ability to keep devices secure is also vital, so the issue of storage needs to be considered. LapSafe Products manufactures trolleys and lockers for just this very purpose, and which have the added bonus of being able to charge devices too. “It's important to ensure that you provide the right kind of storage, security and availability of lockers as well as a number of charging methods to support the multitude of devices available today,” says Mark Exley, LapSafe's Business Development Director.

'Not all devices are the same, and that must be considered when introducing BYOD into a school; you must provide a universal solution that is manageable, scalable and, of course, cost effective.” Mark Exley, LapSafe's Business Development Director

 

'Not all devices are the same, and that must be considered when introducing BYOD into a school; you must provide a universal solution that is manageable, scalable and, of course, cost effective.” The company will work closely with a school and its staff to establish a BYOD storage and charging solution that works for them. There are clearly a myriad of positive benefits of such a system, but what problems has Tibshelf encountered? “Student misuse and how to deal with it is the biggest issue,” explains Brian. “So we made it clear from the beginning that the teacher has to ask students to bring out their devices – it's not a given assumption in every lesson. 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 can instantly cut off their access.”

Getting all of the staff on board had to be considered as well, as some were more reticent to implement it into their teaching practice than others due to concerns about abuse of the system and its appropriateness in a school setting. “We didn't enforce it,” Brian says. “Teachers had the option to use it or not. But my attitude is, if something is better than what you already have, why wouldn't you use it?”

Another concern of BYOD is that not all students come from the same economic background, meaning that they may not own their own device, or could have a cheaper version. This could lead to both bullying from other students and also be an educational disadvantage. To overcome this, Tablets for Schools recommends that schools operate a financial support strategy which offers loans, lease-to-own schemes, grants or donations.

Brian has some tips to share with other schools who might be thinking of bringing in BYOD. “A good network is vital; one that is secure and has the capability to handle a large number of devices on it. I would suggest getting in experts who know the field well rather than doing things in-house – I can't recommend the Stone Group enough. You have to sell the idea of BYOD to staff, so involve them from the very beginning and allay any fears they may have. Share some ideas with them on how to use it in their lessons. Once you've got some wins and positive uses, you'll be able to build on these. We're really pleased with how it's going and what it can be used for in the future.”

BYOD – The Pros and Cons at a glance

Pros 
✔ Devices are an everyday part of life today and students always have them in their pocket or bag
✔ Students tend to look after their own devices better than school property
✔ It allows students to have access to the latest technology at no cost to the school
✔ It gives the ability to be spontaneous in lessons
✔ Having students use devices that they are familiar with means there's no need for an introduction on how to use them

Cons
✖ Student misuse of the system and accessing inappropriate content
✖ Resistance from teachers in integrating it into their lessons
✖Overloading and compromising the safety of the school system
✖ Keeping devices safe from theft
✖ Applications not working across all platforms

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