More and more educators seeing the value in learners from pre-schoolers up being allowed to use their own tablets, smartphones, iPods and other electronic devices in class.

Trying to pretend it isn’t happening isn’t an option. Organisations that fight against the trend are alienating parents. What’s more, a blanket, no bring your own device (BYOD) policy isn’t going to work forever and may be depriving schools’ learners from educational opportunities. Embracing the BYOD trend requires, however, a fundamental change in thinking.

Although the science of BYOD learning is still its infancy, studies are suggesting that children who learn in class with portable devices may perform better than their peers. The Inquiry into 21st century learning environments and digital literacy for parliament’s Education and Science Committee listed the need to equip learners with their own devices. “We believe that the future of learning will be blended; students will combine learning from on-line and video technology with group work and individual study,” the authors wrote.

That doesn’t necessarily mean families provide the devices. The Auckland Kindergarten Association, for example, already provides tablets and iPods for use in Kindergartens. In most cases, however, schools aren’t looking to provide the hardware when they know learners already own these devices or parents might be willing to buy them.

Whatever the approach BYOD is something all schools should be considering. Whilst some schools are at the thinking stage, early BYOD adopters such as Ponsonby Primary School are looking to move to stage two and work towards information fluency.

Benefits:

Education is becoming much less teacher directed, says Jen Porter, ICT specialist teacher at Ponsonby Primary School. BYOD is one technological development that is allowing that to happen. The audio visual tools on a tablet have many possibilities for creativity such as drawing, creating movies, making photo stories as well as publishing their work. Tablets can also be used as book readers with the additional ability to look up the meaning of words they don’t understand as well as highlight and annotate. The benefits of BYOD, says Derek Wenmoth of CORE Education, can really be summed up in the personalisation of the educational experience. “It is very very deeply bedded in the move towards catering for students’ individual needs, interests and abilities,” says Wenmoth.

“Educational success can almost invariably be linked with engagement of students at the point of their own particular need or interest.” What’s more, BYOD gives the learners the opportunity to learn in their own time, place and pace, says Wenmoth.

How to:

The question is no longer whether or not schools should allow students to bring their own devices. It’s about how to do it. The first step is to create a policy. Then it’s a matter of working through the technological implementation. Schools such as Diocesan School For Girls that have big budgets have ideal BYOD solutions, says Peter Mancer, CEO of Watchdog. Diocesan has set up a Captive Portal that allows all devices with a browser to log on and connect to the system with a single sign on. At the other end of the scale some schools have simply opened up their networks to learners’ devices. It has not always worked, says Mancer, with networks grinding to a halt thanks to excessive You Tube use.

Policies:

Schools need to create BYOD policies, which cover what access these devices will be given to the network and what is expected in return. A typical policy will cover: learner responsibilities, allowable activities and rights of inspection, who provides technical support for the devices.

Schools should consider taking advice before creating a policy, or piggy back on another school’s tried and tested policy. A number of schools have uploaded their policies to the VLN.school.nz website.

Parents:

All teachers will know that some families can’t afford lunches, let alone an iPad four for their children. There will also be those children who have older models and the others that have the status symbol devices. There are parents who will argue: “we didn’t do that in my day”, although Wenmoth counters that they didn’t necessarily have cars, take aeroplane trips and more in their day either.

He says schools either view BYOD in learning from a learner centric perspective, allowing any student to bring any device. The other is looking at it from a school centric perspective where BYOD is a substitute for the text books and the school is in control. The first step before even considering the technical requirements is to have a policy.

Risks:

Physically giving access to the network isn’t that difficult. Schools need to consider, however:

  • That additional devices on the school network may open up security holes
  • The school is not the administrator of the device
  • Devices owned by families or teachers may not have suitable security software installed
  • Teachers may struggle with the technology themselves.

Security:

At one end of the scale some schools use software to control exactly what the children do on the devices and can monitor in real time what they are looking at. At the other end, says Wenmoth they implement a policy that tells students what is acceptable and what is not on the school network and rely on personal responsibility. Wenmoth knows of one school that made it clear that “if there is any silly business we will be able to identify you”. No student stepped over the line and only one had to be spoken to for getting close to it. Many schools use the Watchdog network filtering to either whitelist or blacklist websites. Mancer adds that it’s ideal to segment the BYOD traffic from the school’s networked devices for security reasons. In an ideal world teachers would be able to whitelist a website on the fly as students used it, rather than having to go through a complicated process to have it approved. Schools must also provide adequate firewall, anti-virus and filtering systems, which don’t come cheap.

How to get started:

Schools need a leader to progress online learning. Whilst that may be the principal, individual teachers or even school trustees might fill this role.

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