For many classroom situations, students producing a phone in a lesson is obviously not required and shows that they are not engaging in the lesson itself. However, there are a number of benefits to asking them to ‘Bring Your Own Device’ (BYOD) as a way of accessing learning information and to be used as tools for engagement and increased technology awareness.

More and more schools and colleges are now setting up dedicated IT provisions so student devices will connect to the in-house network.

What is the aim of BYOD?

The thinking behind BYOD is that students can gain access to tools and resources through interactive technology. The shift is away from passive participation in the classroom to engaging with lessons using complementary information they can source online. Providing all students with their own – and constant – virtual learning environment would be incredibly costly on a number of levels, so to give them the use of their own personal devices such as tablets keeps the budgets on target but still enhances learning.

As any classroom activity requires a number of levels of understanding for students to fully engage, allowing them to use familiar technology eliminates much of the cognitive thinking required – they only have to focus on what the task is and what they need to do to achieve success.

Thoughts against BYOD

Even if given the privilege of using a device to surf online for the purposes of learning, there’s the downside of distraction being more than likely in those who are least focused. All personal devices hold other applications used outside the classroom and it’s impossible to control this element, whereas if they are using school provided hardware, certain sites or applications can be blocked.

A further issue with a BYOD policy is the reliance on students owning a device to bring to the class – it could divide them to the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ and even if they all own something to use, there could be a major network upgrade required to facilitate the use of so many devices being used to go online at the same time.

Compatibility is an area many IT managers raise when BYOD is discussed; there are now so many different laptops, smartphones and tablets all on different systems, some are Android and some are Apple’s iOS. This could result in the class being subjected to technical problems if their technology is not compatible with the network they are required to access. There’s a loss of classroom time and the probability that the teacher doesn’t have the IT expertise to solve the problems.

Security is also a worry with regards to viruses and malicious code exposing sensitive data held on the school network. Whilst the students may not be the ones wanting to cause harm, they may not be aware of existing worms for example on their devices.

The solution is to perhaps buy older model tablets for the pupils as school-owned items, but there are issues with keeping them safe in the school as well as the budgetary issue. However if they are permanently linked to the school network with a firewalled system in place, this can remove all concerns with security and groups can share notes made or mind-maps completed which can all then be deposited in a school folder which is protected from others deleting data in it.

Is a BYOD any different to historic distractions?

Lack of focus and distraction in the classroom has always taken place – way before technology became common. Doodling instead of listening or reading different parts of a text book rather than the chapter being studied has always happened and so perhaps using social networking whilst being part of a teaching activity is no different. However, some studies show that constant use of technology reduces concentration spans – to as little as six minutes in some research carried out.

Technology is changing how pupils learn but it’s just the beginning really and there’s a long way to go before BYOD becomes a seamless part of everyday classroom activity. However, with the most innovative of teachers planning learning activities to incorporate technology in as many ways as possible and the awareness of future proofing this way of learning through building extra bandwidth into networks, progress is being made and over the next few academic years, there are likely to be as many lessons incorporating student devices as those which don’t.