Can Australian schools manage the influx of devices as BYOD becomes a mainstream trend?
For decades, school technology programs were based around the idea of buying large numbers of standard devices and administering them in a consistent way. In recent years, however, the rise of bring-your-own-device (BYOD) technologies has profoundly changed this model – and forced educational technologists to implement new tools for managing the way devices access school networks.
To complicate matters further, technologists are still responsible for delivering learning outcomes even though the configurations, capabilities and security protections of BYOD devices may be completely unknown.
Some schools have addressed this by shifting towards a fully web-based environment, in which the use of universally supported content standards overcomes compatibility issues between devices.
Others have focused on building app-based environments based around proprietary mobile apps that may or may not also have web-based analogues for use on laptop computers.
No matter how content is delivered in a BYOD environment, school technologists must ensure that only authorised users are able to access their networks. This necessitates the use of a mobile device management (MDM) environment in which connected devices can be registered to the network, passwords maintained by the administrators and devices remotely located if misplaced or erased if lost.
MDM is already being used successfully on a large scale. Additionally, it's become easier to implement now that many service providers, equipment vendors and software specialists offer fully hosted MDM tools that offload much of the technological burden of managing a BYOD environment.
While BYOD-enabling tools are now widely available, they are not the only issue at stake in a BYOD world. Preserving the integrity of the learning-technology environment with so many variables can be difficult, such as controlling educational data across a variety of devices, which is usually only accessible through password-protected internal portals.
Many schools limit their exposure to BYOD's unpredictability by developing a catalogue of recommended mobile devices that are offered to parents and students.
To respect the desire for more device options, many schools now offer a range of purchasing choices including laptops and tablets based on a number of operating systems. Some schools also opt for combination devices that convert from tablet to laptop and back again.
Models with 802.11ac Wi-Fi support deliver the fastest possible connection speeds, while long battery life is also important in a school environment. Many schools also offer high-end laptop options to support students in computing-intensive courses such as design or engineering.
However, technology is only part of the BYOD process. It's also crucial to have clear policies in place, outlining the responsibilities of parents and students as well as those of the school and its technology team. Clearly delineating responsibility from the start will ensure a more cooperative, collaborative environment in the long term.
By being proactive in guiding parents’ device selection, schools can blunt the strength of the early BYOD argument – that schools don't allow students to learn with the devices they prefer – while preserving control over the BYOD environment. This allows technologists to spend more time on delivering technology-enabled education, and less time fixing the problems that unmanaged BYOD can create.
Here are some key factors to consider:
- The goals of the BYOD program and what 'success' looks like.
- School network upgrades needed.
- Policies and documentation needed.
- Communicating with parents.
- Which devices best support the learning outcomes and students?
- Software needs.
- Available support.
Successfully implementing BYOD requires good planning built around the learning outcomes you want, the expectations of your parent community and the resources – technical and financial – of your school and community.