Despite the challenges, of which there are many, schools across the country are beginning to see the advantages of BYOD programs.BYOD or Bring Your Own Device (also sometimes called BYOT with T standing for Technology) is gaining in popularity in schools districts across the country. For many strapped with cash but wanting to utilize the technologies and apps available to assist and enhance education, allowing kids to bring the devices they already own is an attractive solution. But like so many things facing kids and education, opinions on both sides are strong and divergent. While the National Education Association informally supports thoughtful implementation of BYOD programs, others see pitfalls and challenges.
Indeed, there are challenges. Schools need to establish proper policies to limit inappropriate use and to protect students and faculty, as well as private information and data. Devices can be a distraction, so rules and security measures need to be firmly in place. Teachers need to be trained effectively. Network capabilities need to be improved or in many cases installed entirely. With so many devices attempting to connect to a network, spikes in traffic can cause a school’s network to crawl or sometimes collapse entirely.
But despite the potential hurdles, schools that once banned phones and laptops are now not only opening the door to personal devices but actively recruiting them. This major shift in thinking underscores how profoundly technology is changing the ways we educate students and facilitate teachers’ ability to do so. For parents who often fret over these hand-held machines, the shift is likely some reassuring news.
Lenny Schad, Chief Information Officer for the Katy, Texas school district has emerged as something of a guru in the BYOD movement. His district successfully implemented a program by tackling the challenge carefully and slowly at first, making sure that each decision was deliberate and strategically motivated. He suggests first and foremost that without a holistic educational plan, one that stresses a change in instruction across the board, the program is worthless. To that end, the schools assisted teachers by creating a package of mobile learning tools that faculty could easily adapt and use in the classroom. They also repeatedly surveyed students and teachers to assess progress and address issues or concerns. Since its launch, the district has reported improved test scores and overall academic growth and student participation.
A Massachusetts school is taking similar steps as they inch closer to a fully realized BYOD program. Thanks to a grant from a local, parent-funded education charity, the schools were able to implement the e-reading system, Overdrive. The site enables students to check out e-books and download them directly to their tablets, eReaders, smartphones or laptops – and they can do so from their desks in school. Since its launch in November of this year, 40 of the 44 titles have been checked out, an impressive outcome that surprised – and delighted! -- the school’s librarians. One reluctant reader exclaimed, “It was cool so I decided to try it – and I love it!”
This positive first step has encouraged the district to pursue the BYOD strategy with added gusto. As they develop a workable plan, they might want to consider what other schools have done. Schools in Middletown New Jersey, for example, asked students to create videos about what is acceptable and unacceptable usage of personal phones and devices while on campus, making kids as much a part of the final outcome as possible. A school in Florida created a “guest path” so that students can’t access sensitive information while using the building’s network. Georgia’s Hall County school district, serving 26,000 students and 4,800 staff and faculty, used Dell’s SonicWALL firewall system to bring performance and protection to its BYOD program. The schools’ network is used by between 6,000 to 9,000 devices daily; SonicWall improved security and productivity and saved the district 50% in overall costs.
Businesses have been implementing BYOD strategies for a while now. Despite the fact that they too struggle with security protocols, productivity and other related issues, recent reports suggest that more than 70% of medium and large sized businesses surveyed support BYOD. With billions of cell phones, lap tops and tablets sold, the opportunities to implement a program appear to outweigh the risks in the 21st century work world – and for schools preparing kids for that work world, a similar strategy seems equally rich.
As Peter Dewitt wrote in his article for Education Week, “We have come to a time when we need to accept the fact that the concept of 21st century skills is no longer a progressive phase to latch onto but a reality that we need to instill into our school systems. When students bring their own devices it literally transforms the conversations that take place in the classroom.”
As the movement grows, schools will have to ask many questions of themselves, their students and their parent communities. Is BYOD the correct program for their community? And if so, are they prepared to uphold rules and regulations? Is the building’s network capable of withstanding the massive demands that might soon be placed on it? Will certain devices be allowed while others won’t be? Are teachers equipped with the knowledge and training to best utilize these technology tools?
Thankfully, like many a teacher has said, there is no such thing as a silly or stupid question. Eventually, the answer will emerge and we’ll all be smarter for it.
One school districts policy and plan for BYOD/T implementation: http://www.forsyth.k12.ga.us/byot Should schools embrace BYOD? Thoughts from the NEA: http://neatoday.org/2012/07/19/should-schools-embrace-bring-your-own-device/
Building an Effective BYOD Program: Slideshare Presentation: http://www.slideshare.net/samgliksman/building-an-effective-school-byod-plan#btnNext