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Jumpstart Digital Learning with BYOD

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We can all remember the devices of distraction from our own school days. For most, it was passing notes and chewing gum. Later, it was pagers. For younger adults, the early mobile phones and primitive texting devices of the early 2000s. Of course, these devices were confiscated on sight and our attention was always forced back to the textbook.

You are no doubt aware that times have changed. The devices that would have been the bane of a teacher's existence ten years ago are now welcomed with open arms in more and more schools and districts. Why?


What is BYOD?

Bring Your Own Device, or BYOD, is a general phrase for when a school or district makes a concerted effort to not only allow students to bring their own devices to school, but to actually utilize them for constructive means in the classroom.

Those constructive means can be anything from research and production of projects to following along with a teacher's presentation or working at their own pace through some sort of digital, differentiated curriculum. While the initiative is typically spearheaded at the district level, usage of these devices in the classroom is dictated by the individual teacher. Some teachers embrace the new focus on technology, while others change their existing curricula very little. 

According to the "Digital School Districts Survey," produced by the Center for Digital Education and the National School Boards Association, 56 percent of school districts had some form of Bring Your Own Device strategy in place in 2014. There's no reason to think that number has not continued to rise throughout this school year. 

Don't be fooled by BYOD's exploding popularity; the concept is still a complicated idea that requires teamwork on the part of the IT staff, administration, faculty, parents, and even the legal team. If your district accepts mobile payments for lunch (a growing trend), even the cafeteria staff are involved. This is truly a top-down endeavor, but one that nonetheless has the potential to affect student learning and a district's well-being in a positive manner for years to come. 



The first consideration of many districts that adopt a BYOD strategy is often simple: if you allow students to bring their own devices into school, you no longer have to purchase or lease expensive devices for them to use in the classroom. Overall, the world’s spending in educational technology amounted to $13 billion in 2013 and is expected to reach $19 billion by 2018. That is a considerable investment in technology – one that rewards savings wherever it can be found, even if that is in a student’s pocket.
On a related point, individual consumers (in this case, parents) can afford to update devices much more often than schools and districts can. Three or five-year leases simply cannot keep up with the rapid advancement of today’s mobile technology. Also, those same consumers are responsible for the maintenance and troubleshooting of the devices, not district IT staff. Their role is usually limited to implementing appropriate security measures, facilitating some sort of leasing program for students who do not have access to their own device, and maintaining a network infrastructure that will see its burden grow exponentially under a BYOD policy.
Teachers point to other reasons why a BYOD approach makes sense: 
  • Discipline actually decreases. No more detentions for device usage.
  • Students are more engaged with technology than with passive instruction, which leads to greater attention while in school and the willingness to extend learning outside of school.
  • The learning experience is more personalized for the student.
  • Collaboration and communication between students improves, especially among shy students who are unlikely to speak in class.


Budgets, Infrastructure, Student Achievement

As mentioned, the effects of BYOD on a school or district’s bottom line can be considerable, but the scheme is not without costs. There is usually an initial outlay that needs to be budgeted before opening the floodgates. The network backbone and access equipment will probably need to be upgraded to facilitate Wi-Fi access for potentially thousands of devices. Devices might need to be acquired and leased to students who do not have access to a device from home. Most districts considering BYOD can forecast these investments paying off over time.
Security is also a consideration. Moving from a model where district IT staff had access to every device and could install any security software that it saw fit to one in which students are bringing in “wild” devices requires an assessment of the school or district’s higher-level security capabilities, particularly in the filtering of Internet traffic.
Although it is generally thought to be too early in the BYOD movement to judge its effects on student achievement, some preliminary studies have already been offered. Dean Cristol and Belinda Gimbert presented one such study at the 12th World Conference on Mobile and Contextual Learning in 2013. Through analysis of a small district’s achievement data, BYOD was found to have a positive effect, resulting in an increase of up to 50 points on the state’s norm-referenced test.
The University of North Dakota also accumulated some data on BYOD and 1:1 learning which showed, among other things, a 9 percent increase in achievement among 4th graders in a California pilot. Their work also gathered engagement data through surveys of the students. In Eanes, Texas, 90 percent of students reported improved learning outcomes such as increased likelihood of turning in work on time, greater motivation, and enhancement of their learning. In Prince George’s County, Maryland, 75 percent of administrators said disciplinary issues have decreased since adopting a digital learning strategy. 


Things to Consider Before Flipping the Switch

BYOD is not a "set it and forget it" kind of policy. Numerous factors have to be considered before opening those doors, particularly on the IT side.

Technical Recommendations

Start with a smaller pilot project. Many districts choose to start with one school at each level (elementary, middle, and high), taking the opportunity to analyze both usage and infrastructure. 

Get the legal team involved early. Acceptable use policies will have to be updated, as will liability statements. Get their opinion on any additional insurance that might be necessary.

Take an impartial look at your network infrastructure. If you feel your department lacks the expertise or manpower to perform a thorough assessment, bring in an outside party. Nothing cripples a BYOD initiative more than a network that is ill-equipped to handle the additional bandwidth. 

Consider investing in a cloud hosting service. Not every device provides students with the ability to save work locally. 

Consider printing needs. Although schools might see a decrease in paper usage under a BYOD policy, students and teachers will still have the need to print. 

Classroom Considerations

Consider offering basic IT troubleshooting training for teachers. They will be your first line of defense when something goes wrong. 

Solicit teachers' opinions. Just how willing they are to adopt more digital learning strategies? If there isn't much desire to have students use devices in the classroom, there may be an opportunity for focused professional development or communication of benefits before diving in. 

Encourage parents. This is an opportunity to partner in their child's learning experience. The always-on nature of digital learning means parents can better assist their children at home.

Facilitate collaboration. Encourage teachers to share best practices, either in person through PLC meetings or online through discussion boards and Wiki pages. 

BYOD has the potential to allow your district to benefit from the latest technologies and instructional strategies at a lower cost than investing in large sets of devices. Although there are challenges to be considered, a concerted plan can ensure a successful transition and set your staff and your students up for success. 

For more information on how Skyward can help support your BYOD efforts, please contact us today. 



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