Educators are always on the lookout for new ways to integrate technology in the face of shrinking budgets. Few ideas are gaining more momentum in today’s cost-conscious K–12 classrooms than “bring your own device.” Rather than invest money schools don’t have in purchasing computers for every student, BYOD encourages students to bring their own personal computing devices — everything from smartphones to notebook computers and tablets — to class.
Although the practice promises to save schools money and foster widespread technology adoption among students, it also presents a number of potential challenges, particularly for school IT staff, whose job it is to secure the network and get the technology up and running.
Before your school makes the leap to BYOD, here’s a list of pros and cons your leadership team might want to consider.
PRO: Students are more likely to be engaged when using their own devices. According to research from CDW•G’s 2012 “Bring Your Own Device” white paper, students are more likely to get involved in learning when using the technology with which they are most familiar — namely, their own devices.
CON: You might need to overhaul your network. The need to integrate a variety of mobile devices will increase the load on your existing infrastructure. To accommodate the extra traffic, Jared Lynn, technology coordinator for Illinois PORTA Community Unit School District #202, had to completely overhaul the district’s network. “Every single switch had to be replaced,” he said.
PRO: You can get more technology into more students’ hands. More than 900 high school students in Minnesota’s Edina Public Schools bring their own devices to class every day. 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.
CON: More devices means increased vulnerability to cyberattacks and other security threats. The number and various kinds of devices schools must accommodate as part of a large-scale BYOD rollout inherently makes IT networks more susceptible to threats. Fortunately, administrators say the use of virtualization, well-placed firewalls and other fail-safe measures can help mitigate that risk.
PRO: Different technologies allow teachers to get creative with teaching and learning. Chief Technology and Information Officer Bailey Mitchell has an open-door policy. Among the personal devices Forsyth County (Ga.) Schools allows onto its networks: Nintendo’s handheld DSi gaming device. Although it’s used outside of class primarily as a portable video game player, Mitchell says the device connects to the district’s learning management system and integrates seamlessly into the classroom.
CON: A lack of connectivity threatens to disrupt learning. Different devices have different levels of connectivity. While a powerful notebook computer might have wireless connectivity that works several hundred feet from the nearest access point, a handheld gaming device or smartphone might be more limited. An adequate number and appropriate placement of wireless access points are crucial to ensure that students can access web resources when needed.
PRO: With proper planning, making the jump to BYOD is easy. Kari Rhame Murphy, chief technology officer for the Deer Park Independent School District in Texas, says her district’s transition to BYOD was surprisingly easy, but only because she and her team spent nearly two years planning for it. To find success, Murphy suggests school leaders consider implementing these best practices.