The question of “Bring Your Own Device” (BYOD) is dividing opinion across the world of Ed Tech – and increasing scrutiny over how schooling budgets are spent is fuelling the debate. In essence, BYOD is about letting students bring their own devices – from mobile phones to full blown laptop PCs – into school as part of formal learning. Regardless of whether this approach is right or wrong, increasing numbers of schools – particularly in the United States – are adopting this approach.
In the US, BYOD is often seen as a strategy for schools to do more with less. EdWeek reported that one US State paid $56k in repairs for the computers they lease for $175k annually, so it’s easy to see how BYOD can seem an obvious approach for some. However, shifting the ownership of devices has many complex implications for how schooling systems operate. BYOD has complex and hidden costs which need to be considered carefully.
This article sets out the arguments for and against BYOD, highlights key considerations and proposes some potential ways forward.
What is BYOD?
In adopting BYOD, schooling is following a broader trend in the world of business. Monica Basso, Research VP at Gartner, predicts that by 2014 “90% of organizations will support corporate applications on personal devices.” At companies like Kraft Foods, rather than providing some employees with a standard laptop configuration, money is offered to let staff go out and get what they want.
Delloite observes that “most [business] users strongly believe they should be allowed to install any mobile application, visit any mobile website, and store any personal data they want on their personal device regardless of who paid for it”.
According to Forbes, reported on Yahoo, the adoption of technologies in the enterprise is increasingly being driven by consumer preference, not corporate initiative. “Many organizations are considering allowing personally-owned mobile devices to access business applications in order to drive employee satisfaction and productivity, while reducing their mobile expenses”.
In schooling, BYOD has different goal – it’s about enabling students and teachers to bring their own devices into school to support formal learning and productivity.
Why Should BYOD Be Considered?
From just a utility perspective, BYOD makes perfect sense. Why have a computer gather dust in the student’s bedroom while they are in school, and why have a school computer gathering dust in the 85% of time that students are not in school? Consolidating two resources into one has great potential for cost savings. Where the number of computers in a school is low, BYOD can be a quick way to boost access levels.
BYOD saves the school having to buy all the children a device, allowing school funds to be focused on providing access to the less well-off pupils.
Cary Harrod writing on the AALF blog –
“We launched our BYOL program this past January with our 7th graders. It was an overwhelming success in several key ways:
Out of 559 7th graders, we had 353 students bring in their own laptop, netbook or tablet pc. Add that to the 160 district owned devices and it’s easy to see that one of our major goals was met…to increase access to technology for ALL 7th graders… we successfully increased access to students who were unable/unwilling to purchase their own device access to technology without the barrier of having to check out a cart of laptops”.
Carry’s school didn’t’ service the computers either. “It was made clear to the parents that they owned the device… it was no different to when I take my device to Starbucks; Starbucks does not assume responsibility for my device…I do”.
Carry’s school is teaching their students “how to select the best computer and the most appropriate tools for their individual needs” and “through intensive professional development “we were able to move our teachers towards a student-centered way”
Why not BYOD?
Not everyone supports the BYOD concept. In fact, many people do not. Jim Wynn, former Headteacher and now senior Director at Promethean doesn’t believe BYOD is a viable concept for the classroom yet.
Imagine the possibility of 25 students walking into a classroom with what could amount to 25 different devices – with a teacher who is afraid of computers! Imagine the kinds of things that teachers could potentially hear in a BYOD environment:
“Miss, how can I get my phone to see the Wi-Fi”
“Sir, my battery has run out”
“Sir, a big boy put my computer in the bin”
Even the most advanced adult technology users frequently suffer from common technical issues such as getting Bluetooth devices to connect, so letting students loose across a range of technologies during classes is a recipie for potential chaos.
There are other factors to consider too:
- The most commonly owned mobile device is mobile phones. Not everyone has got a phone that is powerful enough to enable high quality research, homework, coursework, revision, etc
- Variation in the different types of student-owned devices, from Blackberries to i-Pads to Laptops, may make it hard for teachers to run lessons where they may want all the students to undertake the same tasks
- Health & safety liability and requirement for all devices to be tested for suitability for use in a schooling environment
Gary Stager writing in AALF news asks “BYOD – Worst Idea of the 21st Century?” and says that BOYD:
- Enshrines inequity
- Narrows the learning process to information access and chat
- Increases teacher anxiety
- Diminishes the otherwise enormous potential of educational computing to the weakest “device” in the room
- Contributes to the growing narrative that education is not worthy of investment
“Of course teachers should welcome any object, device, book or idea a student brings to class that contributes to the learning process. However, BYOD is bad policy that constrains student creativity, limits learning opportunities and will lead to less support for public education in the future”.
Gary Stager, asks “when was the last time you walked into a computer store and said, “I’d like to buy a device please?” Nobody does that. You buy a computer….. BYOD simplistically creates false equivalencies between any object that happens to use electricity… Repeat after me! Cell phones are not computers! They may both contain microprocessors and batteries, but as of today, their functionality is quite different”.
“Kids need a personal computer capable of doing anything you imagine they should be able to do, plus leave plenty of room for growth and childlike ingenuity”.
Whilst Cloud computing and HTML 5 will make the type of computer that you are using less important in the longer run, let’s be clear – effective learning with and through technology requires that students have computers. Ultimately, we want students to produce content – not just consume it – and develop their own learning experiences.
Ideally, every student should have their own computer for use both in and out of school. There will be many places where this just isn’t practical for all students, so in these cases there should be an appropriate progression towards increasingly available and increasingly powerful computing, so by the time a student leaves school, they are fully IT literate and ready to enter the university or the jobs market with a computer that they know how to use, and with a portfolio of high quality materials, applications and resources – online and on their hard-drive.
Clearly, BYOD or even BYOC as a blanket approach in any schooling system is going to be problematic.
Bruce Dixon again – “We are most likely going to see a gradual shift of the responsibility for the provision of a personal portable computer for our students from schools to families, as costs come down further, and computers are commoditized even more. But it will take time for the most effective funding, implementation and management models to be developed, and I expect they will, for the most part, be blended models”.
According to the e-learning Foundation, “In some areas all the pupils might have a suitable device they can bring in, so there’s no stigma attached to those who don’t have their own”.
There’s a crucial point here – BYOC may work in some areas – particularly where consumer technology usage amongst students is high and consistent. In other areas BYOC may not work at all because of a lack of appropriate devices in the hands of students.
There is no need to think of BYOC as a “blanket” approach at single school level either. E.g. at West Hatch School, London, just those students between 16 and 18 years old who have elected to stay at school for an extra two years can bring their own computers to school and access school resources.
Whether BYOC is the right approach or not, there is an increasing number of schooling systems under extreme budget pressures so there’s a practical reality that has to be addressed right now.
For those schools wishing to consider BYOC, an understanding of complex issues such as trust and liability is essential.
Which users do I trust with which data and applications and under what circumstances? Every organization should have its data classified in terms of who has access to it. However, BYOC adds another layer of complexity to the trust models because BYOC computers are not locked down as tightly as school owned computers, so can easily fall in and out of compliance.
Acceptable Use Policies will vary, and user expectations will differ. On school owned devices, users may accept not being able to use social networking apps, but that type of policy is unacceptable for personal devices.
West Hatch gets around this problem for student-owned devices, to an extent at least, by using a role based portal. Alan Richards – “the only reason this [BYOC] works is the fact that all resource are available through SharePoint, so as well as shared documents they can access their email, home drives, media etc”.
Whilst schools should have risk assessments covering actions such as unsecured use of organizational data to accessing inappropriate applications or websites, BYOC introduces new complexities:
- Different protections may be required on different devices, depending on type of device and the OS that they run on.
- A teacher or student who brings in their own device may have the expectation that they can use it however they wish. Is inappropriate use still a liability for the school, even if it doesn’t affect its data?
- How is liability affected when computers are partly funded by the school?
- There is a risk – albeit a small risk perhaps – of the school accessing and damaging personal data (for example, if IT inadvertently wipes a user’s personal data or applications)
On teacher-owned computers, at least, both the trust and liability issues can be addressed in part by if end-point data encryption implemented.
Regardless of how robust and secure the IT system, every school wanting to implement BYOC should seek their own legal advice on how to frame and assess liability between BYOC and more traditional access programs.
Equity And Finance
A key risk of BYOC is increasing the digital divide, so a BYOC program would need to be combined with effective initiatives to acquire or upgrade ICT, for those students that need this, including subsidized models.
Bruce Dixon, Founder of AALF, has given advice on 1:1 access programmes for nearly 15 years – “one of the benefits from an effective 1:1 program would be to provide 24/7 access, and there is a reasonable expectation that parents should make some contribution for the 80% of the time their son or daughter could now use a laptop for personal use outside school. However, I’m not sure why we can now suddenly expect parents to pick up 100% of the cost.”
According to the “e-learning Foundation” – a trust supporting the 1:1 access initiatives in the UK -“schools will need to provide all students who cannot bring their own device into school with something suitable, otherwise the school will create a digital divide, favouring wealthier pupils”.
Beware Of Potential Unintended Consequences
Transferring the burden of purchase to the students’ parents can be a “double-edged sword”. For example, organisations in consortia have purchasing power that can potentially drive costs down when ordering large volumes of IT goods and services. Passing on the cost of PC ownership to the student reduces the volume of IT purchased by the institution and therefore reduces negotiating power. When purchasing occurs on a large enough scale, a widespread BYOC policy could potentially drive up the net cost of providing computers to those who the schooling system will still need to provide a computer to.
There could be other unintended consequences too. As Microsoft’s Edgar Ferrer Gil points out, if a school depends heavily on Flash based learning content, then a whole subset of devices will not be able to utilize those resources, so a BYOC policy in isolation could reduce the value of investments in devices, IT resources and content.
There’s a cost too in supporting different technologies. For example, in the world of business the widespread adoption of RIM Blackberry’s required an expensive Blackberry server.
If several students have different types of software, then it will mean that teachers need to adjust to that. For instance, a teacher won’t simply be able to set up a lesson where the students collaborate using a single application or service. Imagine the scenario when an LMS won’t accept certain file formats leaving students to figure out how to turn in their assignments if its not in the correct file format.
If a BYOD or BYOC implementation allows any device to be brought in, then the organization can expect to see old, second-hand and possibly even stolen devices – which pose legal, and security risks from viruses or malware.
Edgar Ferrer Gil again – “Schools need to think carefully what BYOC means to them. There are things that are going to run fantastically well on the right kind of device – eg standards-based cloud services, internet connectivity, file sharing and in some cases virtualized desktops. But today, I think that the ROI of a fully-open BYOC policy will be extremely poor”.
IT System Architecture
BYOC can quickly lead to 1:1 access ratios, and this has significant implications for infrastructure and IT services –
Cleary, having appropriate furniture, benching, electrical sockets for charging and extensive wireless access points, is a key first step. It’s also important to provide secure lockers for storage of computers when not in use.
As device choice becomes fluid, confirming identity of user and device, usually through the use of certificates, becomes more important.
Proxy servers are required to present login requests to users when using their own computers in the same way as you would filter usage for students using a school-owned computer.
At West Hatch, all routes for external traffic from the school’s data switches point to a Smoothwall box which deals with proxying. Computers that are on the school domain point to the same box but to a specific port. Computers that students bring into the school don’t point to a port and are captured by Smoothwall, which presents the user with an SSL login page asking for their domain credentials. This gives the same kind of user experience as you would get when using an Internet connection in a hotel or public space. At West Hatch, this approach works across any device or OS.
Optimised Core Infrastructure
Managing the extra workloads that a BYOC program would place on a school’s IT infrastructure requires that the infrastructure is optimized – ie made more robust and secure. Infrastructure Optimisation is a program that should be applied to the school IT infrastructure if BYOC is being implemented.
Key elements covered in Core Infrastructure optimization include:
- Client Services
- Identity & Security Management
- IT Process & Compliance
Another key technical consideration is support. Whilst, as already discussed, some schools are passing-off technical support to parents, the danger with this approach is inequity – some students will have to wait longer than others for their computers to be up and running. On the other hand, it’s completely unreasonable to expect schools to be able to support just about any device on the market.
The only realistic way around this is to have a BYOC policy that narrows the range of computers accepted in the school environment to reflect capacity of local support services – both inside and beyond the school. In other words, if neither the school nor local computer repair shop can support a particular Operating System or computer, it’s best not to include these in the BYOC policy.
Remote Desktop Services (RDS, formerly Terminal Services)
Working with mixed computers in a classroom can be made a lot easier if schools were able to “push” desktops to those computers. In other words, regardless of computer type or its Operating System, the student would get a desktop provided by the school. Such a desktop could contain a full range of applications and resources needed to cover the curriculum. As the desktops would be delivered from a Server, the only requirement on the device would be a browser and possibly a small client application.
The first and easiest way to do this is through Presentation Virtualization, which was covered in detail in the “From Virtualization to Private Cloud” article. A relatively straightforward way to deliver Presentation Virtualization is Windows Remote Desktop Services (RDS).
RDS applications run in Virtual Sessions, each projecting a Windows user interface to a remote client computer. For non-Windows computers, a Citrix client application can be installed and this will allow the same user experience as with a Windows device. (There are also 3rd party RDP clients available for slates and phones). In a Remote Desktop Session, the device processes only screen refreshes sent from the server, and mouse clicks and keyboard strokes are being sent back to server. Whilst users will get a Windows interface, it won’t be a Windows 7 interface. Administrators should be careful not to assign administration rights to RDS users.
Virtual Desktop Interface
VDI offers a more sophisticated approach to remote desktops. From the client device perspective much is the same as with RDS, but there is added sophistication on the server which gives additional scope for flexibility.
With VDI, sessions are delivered through Virtual Machines run within a Hypervisor such as Hyper-V. Each virtual machine can contain a different Operating System and a different set of applications. This allows school to offer each student has their own specific desktop, subject/topic specific desktops. As each virtual machine (VM) runs in its own environment trust relationships are easier to manage. Each VM is a file enabling easy backup and portability. The entire desktop “estate” can be run through a management product such as System Center.
West Hatch School is evaluating VDI, looking at it eventually as a web-based resource for access beyond the school gates.
Ideally, a teacher would not only be able to push out a common virtualized desktop, but orchestrate a class too. This means having control over the computers whilst they are in the classroom. For BYOC schemes that stipulate bringing in Windows devices, Multipoint server can be used to combine old and new school-owned computers with student owned computers in a single, orchestrated network.
The net is that BYOC is really not the silver bullet to widespread access that it appears on the surface. The argument that IT can’t be funded is a not a budget question – it’s a prioritization question! BYOC won’t come free – it will require investment, and as always, the most important question to ask with any IT investment is “what outcome do you want?”
Bruce Dixon, writing in the AALF blog, observes – “Seems the last thing anyone wants to ask is, ‘What will they want to do with it?’”
Full BYOC, partial or no BYOC at all, it makes no sense to decide on an approach without first being crystal clear about what results or impacts are wanted.
Once the intended learning and operational outcomes are clear, Schooling Enterprise Architecture offers a formal process for developing impactful learning solutions. Whether BYOC is an appropriate approach or not depends entirely whether it fits with higher level organizational goals, circumstances and capacity. BYOC, ultimately, should be part of the process of simplifying ICT, and if adopted at all, it should be very carefully thought through.
Sven Reinhardt, Edgar Ferrer Gil, Dan MacFetridge, Erik Goldenberg, Bruce Dixon, Jim Wynn, and Alan Richards for contributions to this article; and to Brad Tipp/Howard Gold for graphics.