BYOD in Schools: What You Need to Know (Part 1 of 2)

BYOD, or “Bring Your Own Device,” is an increasingly common workplace practice in which employees use their personal phones, tablets and laptops for work-related tasks.

We’ve looked at the many cost savings and efficiency benefits BYOD brings to workplaces, but these trends are also affecting schools and education.

In an educational context, BYOD can offer similar cost saving and efficiency benefits, as well as a few others. But implementing BYOD in schools is not without its challenges.

In this first of a two-part report, we clear up some of the confusion regarding BYOD and outline important considerations for schools planning or improving a BYOD implementation.

Here in part one we cover:

(Click on a link below to jump to that section.)

Shadow IT vs. Laissez-Faire vs. Official BYOD
BYOD to Strengthen the Curriculum
Ensuring Equal Access With BYOD

Shadow IT vs. Laissez-Faire vs. Official BYOD

BYOD has been a subject of much confusion, in both public and private sectors. This confusion often comes from the lack of clarity about what is and what isn’t considered BYOD.

There is no singular definition of BYOD, and in practice, there’s a spectrum of degrees over which BYOD can be planned, implemented and encouraged.

The following diagram shows a range of BYOD implementations. On the far left of the range is an entirely closed digital environment. On the far right is a fully BYOD environment—one that allows, facilitates and encourages personal device usage by students and teachers.

A Spectrum of Possible BYOD Implementations

BYOD for schools


Let’s look at a few hypothetical questions. Questions such as these, as well as others, come up often as we assist help desk and ITSM software buyers narrow down their choices:

Q: Nearly all of our students and teachers bring a digital device to school, whether it’s a laptop, tablet or smartphone. Is this considered BYOD?

A: Not on its own. Bringing one’s own device is only part of the picture. A real BYOD program has official usage policies and guidelines in place and controls access to a school’s apps, online portals and/or databases.

Q: Our school provides an open Wi-Fi network that students and teachers can access with their own devices. Is this considered BYOD?

A: Not exactly. BYOD implies more than just providing access to the Internet. An actual BYOD program lets teachers and students access official (and typically non-public) applications and databases. School IT administrators monitor access and usage with software.

Q: Our school encourages students to bring and use their own devices on campus. Our curriculum incorporates learning activities that require students to use their own digital devices, and the school provides assistance to ensure all students can participate. We oversee device usage and trends from a centralized IT service desk platform. Is this considered BYOD?

A: Yes!

BYOD to Strengthen the Curriculum

Getting students to use their devices during class is hardly a challenge—many teachers can attest to that. Getting them to use their devices for actual classwork, well, that’s a different story.

Ensuring devices are used in a way that directly supports classwork is the first, and arguably most important, step to consider when planning a BYOD implementation.

Here, our advice for schools is the same as it is for businesses:

Never start a new IT initiative without first clearly detailing its goals.

Simply put, if goals are not clearly defined before rolling out a new IT program, such as a BYOD policy, then the program itself is certain to suffer from a lack of clarity and direction. Goals establish governance for the various elements of the program and provide a means to measure progress and success.

When it comes to BYOD in schools, the goals should be tied directly to the curriculum. For example, schools can improve the success of BYOD programs when they leverage the student devices to:

  • Provide teachers with real-time insight into student progress using digital quizzes and assessments.
    • Offered by software solutions such as Socrative
  • Give students a single access point to track their past and present performance.
    • Offered by platforms such as Firefly
  • Create more opportunities for collaborative and group learning.

In each of these examples, the usage of the students’ devices is tied directly to scholastic goals. Students are using technology for more than just the sake of using technology.

Instead, they leverage the benefits of technology to better meet the goals of their established curricula.

Ensuring Equal Access With BYOD

Budgetary concerns prevent many schools from providing each student with an individual classroom device.

BYOD can be a very attractive strategy for this reason: It uses the devices students already own, and in many cases, already bring to class, and adds little extra financial burden to the school.

As one observer wrote in 2013, “Many educators are coming round to the idea that since these devices are already in schools, we should use them as learning tools rather than treating them as a problem.”

But before committing to a BYOD program, schools must address the question of equal access. While many students have their own devices, many others do not, and some have parents who prefer the devices be left at home.

For these reasons schools need to ensure that enough loaner devices are on hand so that all students can participate in classroom activities.

In part two of this report, we look at the technological challenges of implementing BYOD in schools and give suggestions for creating the policy framework needed for a successful and compliant BYOD program in schools.

To learn more about software used to manage BYOD in schools, visit our Help Desk Buyer’s Guide to compare tools and read reviews.

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