Although BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) has been a significant issue in Australia’s universities for some years, the trend is now filtering down to schools.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 29 per cent of 818,500 children aged 5 to 14 own a smart phone. Most teenagers seem to believe they could not exist without such a phone, while statistics suggest that up to 90 per cent of 15-17 year-olds own one. Figures from Roy Morgan Research show that 45.3 per cent of Australian households with three or more children also own at least one tablet.

This weight of evidence suggests that pupils are taking their own smart phones, tablets, laptops and other devices to school, and anecdotal evidence shows that many are trying to connect them to the school network. While the pupils might wish to use their device for playing games and checking their social media, there can be substantial educational benefits in a BYOD school.

Pupils feel more comfortable using their own device rather than a potentially out-of-date school computer. Allowing them to use their own phone or tablet to access educational material online and on the school network, gives them more independence and control over their own learning.

While many schools are unable to provide one desktop/laptop per pupil, a BYOD policy would allow pupils to complete schoolwork at lunchtime or before lessons, when all school equipment is being used. There is also huge potential for new interactive lessons and ‘flipped-classroom’ scenarios, which would allow pupils to do more learning at home, so that assignments can be completed in class with the teacher’s support.

While many schools are committing to behavioural policies on smartphone and tablet use – when, where, responsibility for the device and so on – a sound policy for BYOD use of the school’s network is often being overlooked. Since it is easy to get carried away with the benefits, it is important to remember that BYOD needs to be managed correctly. There are a few challenges to be acknowledged:

Policy

IT staff and policy makers need to come together to produce a clear BYOD policy that staff and pupils can understand, that outlines who can access the network with which devices. There must be clear consequences for rule breaking and abuse. A single person should be in charge of implementing BYOD, and oversee the whole procedure.

Safety

The safety of pupils in a school setting is of paramount importance. Pupils must be as well protected from inappropriate content as they would be on a school desktop or laptop. Pupils also need to be prevented from accessing games and other non-educational material that would disrupt lessons. Effective web filters and controls would need to be implemented. The devices themselves also need to be kept safe, to prevent loss or theft while in school. One solution would be to provide a secure ‘device park’ for students.

Security

The schools’ network must not only be safe FOR the students, but also safe FROM them and the potential harm that can transferred to the network from their devices. The school’s network must be up to date in terms of firewalls and virus protection, to prevent infected student devices from bringing down the entire school network. Students and visitors must also be prevented from accessing confidential information on the school network.

Network

When a school announces that pupils are allowed to access its network, there will be a substantial flood of new connected devices, as well as a wide range of device types and brands used by the pupils. So the network needs to be able to cope with, and support, all these devices as well as the existing school-owned equipment. The network may well need to be upgraded or expanded, and adequate budget must be available to allow for this. Suitable network management software will be vital to ensure smooth running.

There is no doubting, that in this highly mobile and connected world, BYOD is an issue that all schools will have to address soon. BYOD in an education environment can be managed easily, and if the right precautions are taken there is huge potential for technological development in schools.

* Ipswitch is represented in Australia and New Zealand by Digital Networks Australia. Contact CEO Martin Higham on +61 (0) 418 973 819. Email: martin.higham@dna.com.au