Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) in Post 16 Education

I have previously written about the growing trend for Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) in the workplace, but the sweeping trend for the use of BYOD in education has prompted me to bring the topic up again. I will consider what is driving this trend and the benefits and challenges to our educational institutions and organisations, as well as to lecturers and teachers, and users themselves.

In educational institutions and organisations the mobile device enables students to access online learning materials wherever they are, use tools for interacting with the session they are attending and to participate in online activities with their fellow students. There is no doubt that adopting a BYOD approach can bring huge benefits to student engagement and the opportunity to extend learning beyond what has been possible with traditional methods. However, not everyone is on-board with this approach and it doesn’t come without its challenges for the organisation and users.

There is a real culture shift that has to happen in an organisation when everyone has 24/7 access to the internet and uses very powerful devices that can perform a wide range of functions. This change in my opinion is one of the greatest challenges in the adoption of a BYOD strategy, as it involves wide reaching changes in policy, procedures and development of staff.  Probably the second most crucial challenge is the safeguarding of students and the duty of care an establishment has to its staff. Reputation is critical to any organisation and none more so than those in the education sector; an article in the press about online bullying or a data protection breach can have a devastating impact.  Of course there are the fundamental challenges such as the devices brought in by students which are varied in make, model and operating system, that they may be harbouring viruses or malware and the device may have problems accessing required resources. As a result there are inevitably staff and learner IT support requirements that need to be addressed.  However, we mustn’t lose sight of the fact that BYOD throws up a whole list of opportunities that in my opinion out-weigh the list of challenges and risks, all of which can be addressed.

Despite the challenges, we are seeing a big change in the views of mobile devices being used in lectures and lessons. Only a few years ago having a mobile device on in lessons was frowned upon and in some cases even meant removal of the device from the student’s possession. I think the main shift that has driven this growth is the acceptance of BYOD and the more who embrace it, the more acceptable it becomes.  But, what started the trend to make it more acceptable? Well, I would say it’s mainly down to the fact that educational organisations were hindered in adopting the use of mobile devices, particularly tablets, due to the cost of supplying the devices. Having identified that so many more students own these devices and are prepared to use them for their studies meant that educators could start to plan for their use.

A lack of confidence in the use of technology amongst educators has long been one of the biggest challenges to overcome in driving forward the use of technology in education. Not understanding or the lack of practical experience in using any aspect of technology, new or old is understandably nerve racking when you’re told to use it with your students. So I think that another driver for the growing trend for lecturers and teachers to utilise BYOD is that they think they are safe in the knowledge that their students are already confident in using and understand their own mobile device. This is true in many cases, and certainly any knowledge of a device that a student is being asked to use during their studies is an advantage to the teacher and student. However, as the European Commission said last year many students might be considered as ‘digital natives’, but they are not ‘digitally competent’ in the sense that they do not know sufficiently how to use the digital world in a business context, and I would say in a learning context as well. As a passionate advocate of developing workplace digital skills in our young people I absolutely applaud the use of mobile devices and any other online tools and applications that are used in the workplace being brought into the lecture hall or class room.

There is a danger that BYOD can cause problems between the students who have smart phones or tablets and those that don’t. Understandably lecturers and teachers want to avoid any such issue arising, but I don’t think this should be used as an excuse for not enabling all students to develop the digital skills and knowledge required to use mobile devices for learning and work, if at all possible. The most important thing is identifying those that will require the loan of a device prior to them being amongst their peers in the environment when the devices will be used.

Safeguarding students is of upmost importance and so I believe that educating students in the safe use of all devices, online and offline should be a mandatory requirement of any course. Too many educators would rather avoid the subject, lock down access or prevent the use of a device. As I am often heard saying “we wouldn’t avoid teaching our children to cross the road and hope they don’t cross the road when we’re not around, so why would anyone take this approach when it comes to safety online”.

As more and more lecturers and teachers embrace the use of technology generally, something that is being encouraged by the UK government and planned to be incentivised through funding, there is more enthusiasm for BYOD. This has been helped by funded organisations such as JISC disseminating the benefits, use and understanding of mobile devices to those delivering education across the post 16 sector. I think though that there is still a lot to do to bring educators with us on the journey of using technology to benefit students, and key to the success of this is staff development on an on-going basis. Also key to successful BYOD in education is identifying the benefits and opportunities, challenges and solutions, and coming up with a strategy that will meet the needs of the organisation, its staff and students.

View a profile of Carolyn Lewis here.

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