Since the bring your own device (BYOD) policy started to be widely implemented in educational institutions in the United States, lovers and haters of this solution have been raising their voices to determine if this means a big improvement for education and campus safety.
As with any significant change, the impact of BYOD in schools is not a black-and-white matter. So before we list the pros and cons for alumni, schools, and educators, let's contextualize.
Click here for a guide regarding BYOD in the workplace, BYOD policies, and solutions.
BYOD in schools
BYOD, short for Bring Your Own Device, is an acronym that has gained significant attention in education and workplace policies.
It refers to policies that allow people to bring their own devices, such as smartphones, laptops, or tablets, to school or work and take them home.
The culture of "bring your own device" is not entirely new and is a growing trend. Many productive areas in the US, especially after the pandemic, have been very open to BYOD for years because it lowers operational costs (at the expense of limited cybersecurity). This curve sharpened in 2020 as many employers moved their workforce home. And employees already had a computer at home, so... win/win.
The world of educational technology is extremely similar. Online classes, digital homework, research, reading, virtual classrooms... all depend on digital devices. However, with students returning to classrooms and the world regaining some sort of normality, we will keep seeing more personal and mobile devices entering our physical classrooms.
Why is BYOD important in schools?
The same logic that we use in the context of remote work can be applied to BYOD in schools: kids and teens have computers available to learn. According to the Understanding America Study (crafted by the Dornsife Center for Economic and Social Research at the University of Southern California), about 85% of families with at least one child between Kindergarten and senior year at college have internet access and a computer for distance learning. And Common Sense Media stated in 2019 that 84% of teenagers had smartphones.
The use of technology in our society is undeniably tied to the need for technology in the classroom, making BYOD a viable alternative in certain contexts where the conditions can be met. For example, as faculties can't provide computers for students and teachers move to web applications to impart knowledge in different and fun ways, a huge amount of personal devices become instant and compatible platforms for learning.
But BYOD programs come with a caveat. Having students bring their own devices instead of providing them comes with many security issues that need to be addressed. On the other hand, providing secure laptops to our students is quite hard -it needs research and strict organization not to be wasteful- and is not necessarily cost-effective.
Tips to make BYOD work in Educational Institutions
- Risk management
By implementing content access controls and prioritizing the security of network access points, schools can establish a safer online environment and efficient device management. It is also important to define the permitted devices and determine a preferred platform that aligns with the school's network capabilities, ensuring a smooth and secure experience for students.
- Policy Review
Regularly reviewing and updating the school's BYOD policy is essential to establish clear network usage boundaries, including explicit restrictions on downloading potentially harmful applications. This way, schools can ensure a secure and productive environment for students' device usage while promoting responsible digital behavior.
- Stakeholder engagement
Open and transparent communication is essential in engaging all stakeholders, including students, parents, and teachers, in understanding the significance of BYOD security and promoting responsible device use. By involving everyone in the conversation, we can create a shared awareness of the significance of protecting personal devices and building a good digital environment for effective learning.
- Digital citizenship
Prioritizing collaboration and imparting the principles of digital citizenship to students to ensure a positive online experience is a need. It is essential to teach our children the importance of email and SMS etiquette, treating online communication with the same respect as face-to-face conversations. This way, through education on responsible online behavior, we can instill the value of being good technology users, helping them understand that their actions have consequences and fostering an environment that discourages behaviors like cheating or cyberbullying.
- Supporting teachers
By providing teachers with the necessary training and resources, they can acquire the knowledge and skills to leverage technology tools and platforms, empowering them to adapt their instructional strategies to meet the needs of their students. This enables the teachers to create engaging and interactive learning experiences.
- Device equity measures
Ensuring every student has a fair chance to access and use devices is important in a BYOD setup. One way to address this is by introducing helpful initiatives such as a laptop lending program or setting up student labs. These initiatives help to close the gap and ensure that even if a student's own BYOD device is being repaired or unavailable, they still have access to technology for their learning needs. Doing this creates an inclusive environment where everyone has equal opportunities to learn and thrive.
- Device monitoring & compliance
BYOD policies in schools offer cost savings, improved productivity, and enhanced educational environments. However, these policies also present risks, as BYOD devices contribute to a great percentage of data breaches. To mitigate these risks, monitoring and managing device usage becomes crucial. The implementation of monitoring tools and strategies allows schools to track device activity, enforce policy compliance, and maintain a safe and productive learning environment. Regular monitoring ensures that students adhere to the established rules and guidelines of the BYOD program, preventing misuse and unauthorized access.
Let's analyze the benefits and challenges of BYOD. What are the pros and cons of BYOD in schools?
Pros of BYOD in schools
- Full digital coverage for classes and activities: “More and more students are coming to class fully enabled with their own devices. That’s leading many institutions to look at the affordability and accessibility of BYOD,” says Stanford University’s researcher Shaya Fidel, quoted by Campus Technology. Even in those institutions where BYOD adoption is still a new trend, the results make IT experts very happy about it. For example, EdTech Magazine explains that in Minnesota’s Edina public schools, “more than 900 high school students bring their own devices to class daily. Although that amounts to just 20 percent of students served, administrators say it equates to having some 30 different mobile computing labs across its campuses.”
- It's cost-effective, budget, and time-wise: The institution saves a lot of money if everyone brings their mobile device to class. That's way cheaper than buying 100, 500, or even 1.000 laptops and paying for maintenance and upgrading services.
On that same note, with BYOD, an educational institution doesn’t need to spend time and money researching mobile options, asking for equipment bids, and purchasing them. According to Campus Technology, Seton Hall University’s CIO Stephen Landry says, “Any institution that doesn’t have a budget for mobile devices this year is going to be forced to consider the BYOD model.” This source adds that schools seek affordable ways to adapt BYOD for specific applications and usage.
- Students come to class fully enabled with their own devices and know how to use them: Your students are already familiar with the device, so they no longer need to spend time on training. Everyone knows their laptop even better than their classmates. Device owners also know how to solve many problems, for example, when a document hasn’t been correctly downloaded, where is that PDF that you just need for the class, or how to use different software at the same time.
- Shorter implementation: “Where a school-supplied mobile initiative can take months to plan, finance, purchase, and implement, the BYOD model can be rolled out within days, if necessary,” Campus Technology explains.
Cons of BYOD in schools
- The pain and cost of overhauling your network and implementing BYOD policies: If everyone is encouraged to bring their own device, IT experts have to upgrade digital infrastructure to support the extra traffic and put strict measures in place to maintain a safe level of cybersecurity for students and faculty. As Jared Lynn, the technology coordinator of Illinois PORTA Community Unit School, explains in a dramatic way: “Every single switch had to be replaced."
- Different devices mean increased breaches: The risks you’ll have to face, in terms of data breaches or hacker attacks, rise as the number of different devices you have on-campus increases. It’s not impossible to build new safety protocols, but it isn't easy because it must be adapted to every device. EdTech Magazine stands that “fortunately, administrators say the use of virtualization, well-placed firewalls, and other fail-safe measures can help mitigate that risk.”
- Different levels of connectivity that are difficult to manage: “If everyone is bringing their own equipment, even if there is a standard approach to the type of equipment (all laptops or tablets, for example), it is still pretty much inevitable that the brand and/or configuration of each device will vary and with this comes varying functionality and different speeds of throughput and performance, Emerging EdTech says.
- Different operating systems: Device security systems need to work on every operating system. As Seton Hall University’s CIO Stephen Landry recommends, most classrooms would be fine with “a standardized operating system across all laptops to accommodate classroom-specific software packages. The other option is to relegate activities to a computer lab, which is far less convenient for students and instructors.”
- Tech Support becomes a chore: With varying types of electronic devices, configurations, and software levels, come a wide variety of technological headaches. “Pushing out security updates and providing technical support are just some of the areas that can overtax the IT team that’s managing a BYOD model,” Campus Technology stands.
Related to this, Emerging EdTech explains that “we all know that trying to use apps on the Internet or doing just about anything else with a computer, tablet, or smartphone, can yield plenty of little issues (this is why techies have jobs!), and every variation in configuration brings another potential point of failure of complication.”
Basic checklist for implementing BYOD in Schools
We understand this process can be on the challenging side, which is why we created this general checklist to make it easier.
So, we don't have a particular verdict on BYOD being good or bad. It's a matter of need, internal culture, and resources. For example, if your university, college, or high school has a strong IT department and students mainly use the same type of devices, then you should be fine with BYOD.
To ensure success, organizations need to balance convenience and security by establishing clear policies, communicating guidelines effectively, and providing ongoing IT support. In any case, the BYOD model is here to stay.