What Schools Can Teach Us About BYOD

Bring your own device (BYOD) poses support and finance challenges for any organisation, but those challenges are magnified when your "workers" are school students who sometimes treat laptops as if they were footballs. How does the education sector deal with the BYOD trend?

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Last week, I attended a media roundtable hosted by Dell to release the results of an IBRS study into how BYOD is impacting the education sector. Also in attendance were representatives of several schools, both private and public, who freely discussed how they had implemented BYOD systems within their environment. School policies on BYOD run the gamut from "you must purchase a specific model" to "the school will supply laptops but they can't leave the premises" to "you can bring whatever you like". Regardless of the approach, those experiences offer lessons which any business considering BYOD should take into consideration.

Define requirements clearly: In interviewing schools for the white paper, IBRS researcher Joseph Sweeney found that definitions of what BYOD was varied widely, even though most schools actually had broadly similar requirements. "Those differences weren't because there were massively different requirements," he said. "There was just a lot of confusion. There was a lack of decision making in educational organisations because different philosophies come into play."

Needs will differ: While all schools have the same broad aims — educating pupils in line with a defined curriculum — that doesn't mean that a single approach to choosing devices and management software will work for every institution. "The idea that one size fits all simply isn't the case," Sweeney said.

It's not an easy way to save money. Many schools have examined BYOD policies as a means of ensuring ongoing funding for computer systems. In practice, however, that hasn't proved to be a useful strategy. "BYOD brings you more flexibility, but it doesn't save you money," Sweeney said.

Platform management is a major issue. In private schools where particular laptop models are specified, there was a trend some years ago to mandate the use of Macs, which were seen as a "sexy" option that would appeal to parents and help differentiate schools. However, that trend has dropped off for two reasons: firstly, management systems for Macs remain less well-developed. Secondly, once multiple schools had adopted that approach, it was less of a differentiator. Macs remain widely used in the education sector, but in many schools the focus has shifted to iPads.

Examine licensing issues. A major challenge for schools is how to pay for licensing, especially when education-specific deals sometimes hinge on the school (rather than the pupil) owning the device. While some companies have improved their approach — Apple now offers volume licensing for iTunes App Store purchases — others still cause problems. Adobe was repeatedly mentioned as a problematic company to deal with, which isn't surprising.

Focus on battery life. Schools which do allow pupils to bring their own devices will generally set minimum specifications in terms of performance. Of these, by far the most important is battery life. Charging cables all over the classroom are an OH&S nightmare, so virtually all schools ban them when laptops are used. That means batteries need to run for the length of the school day. Schools also favour devices with removable batteries, since that makes it easier to replace batteries when performance inevitably degrades.

Use pen and paper as a punishment. Despite those policies, pupils inevitably end up with uncharged laptops or forget to bring them. The most effective strategy to deal with that? Telling students they have to work with pen and paper. Given the drop in productivity, the mistake isn't often repeated.

Recognise people need training. Just because people choose their own devices doesn't mean they know how to use them. It's often assumed that because kids are confident with computers, they're also competent. "There's a lot of crazy rhetoric around 'digital natives'," one teacher at the roundtable noted. "Those of us who work with the kids know that's not true." While pupils will know how to launch a browser and install apps, their basic skills in productivity applications are often lacking. Time still needs to be spent on those basics — a lesson any business would do well to heed.


    This should be called "What issues are schools facing with BYOD" You haven't actually told us HOW they are dealing with BYOD...

    fyi i had a notebook in school almost every day for six years.

    senior school (10-12) notebook use drops, to when it is needed. students find while typing is way faster, they need to write fast for exams, and tests. i was different i got to type my exams.

    battery life is great but if notebooks are been used the way some say every class, chargers are just there my school, was a private school had designed the classrooms around the fact, so they had power points where they didn't pose a OH&S issue in most classrooms.

    i am still surprised by how much of word, excel and power point people i went to school don't know about.

    Haha I feel so old, in high school we had a computer room. You had to go to a specific room to use the computers which were old Macs with the itty bitty screen and in black and white. At university, no one bothered to take a laptop because it was easier to just write notes on the handouts, especially when dealing with equations.

      Same here mate, I remember my first experience with a computer was in 80s, it was an Apple IIe, it was lugged between classes and it was chained to a metal tray that we used to carry it on. It used to be put away in a room with three locks on the door. There were 5 systems for a school of 1200.

      I used to try my hardest to get the highest marks so we could play it for 30mins of the week. From then I have been hooked with anything technology.

      As for BYOD, I think it would be a good idea (I'm not sure if it is already being done, so don't flame me) if students had a Tablet or e-reader, and every year they got their new reference material pushed to them at the beginning of the year for a small fee (like book hire). This will give the publishers their income with out the expense of printing, and keep student literature up to date.

      I always used to laugh when we were learning out of text books and the people were wearing flares and had the wickedest sideburns.

    Hi Angus, I can't find any information about iTunes volume licensing for the Australian App store, could you please post some information about it?

    One of the challenges of BYOD is managing so many different devices, especially with the limited support staff resources found in many schools. One way to alleviate the pressure on IT staff is to limit the number of applications that they need to install on student and staff devices. This can be done by adopting a browser-based access approach.

    One solution that facilitates this approach is Ericom's AccessNow HTML5 RDP client. AccessNow enables students and staff to connect from almost any device to Windows applications running on Terminal Server (Microsoft RDS) or full VDI virtual desktops and run the applications and desktops in a browser tab.

    AccessNow works with iPads, Android devices, Chromebooks, Macs and Windows laptops, or any device with an HTML5-compatible browser. Support staff do not need to install any AccessNow components on the end user devices. Students and staff open their browser, click on a URL and launch their applications or desktops inside the browser. So everyone can work with the same applications regardless of device, and IT staff don't need to spend time installing and supporting applications.

    Click here for a case study about how Futures Community College is implementing BYOD using Ericom's solutions:

    Please note that I work for Ericom

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