BYOD is certainly the trending conversation point at the current time.
The benefits are clear – convenience, increased flexibility, accessibility, home-school links, the removal of hardware management issues, one device for every child, and of course the cost-savings are all attracting schools to establish bring your own device (BYOD) schemes.
The annual Future of Tablets and Apps in Schools research – carried out by the British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA) – adds to the argument for BYOD schemes by suggesting that they are fundamental to the adoption of tablets in schools.
However, for schools, there are related dangers and it is important that school leaders take the necessary steps to avoid the potential pitfalls of BYOD.
The BESA research into tablet adoption over recent years has shown schools to be late adopters compared with the corporate sector. However, in the past year we are starting to see them gain confidence in making their own procurement decisions to suit their specific needs and adoption of this type of technology is increasing.
Surveyed schools now believe that by the end of 2013, more than 10 per cent of teaching computers (PC/Mac/tablet) in schools will be tablets. This is a significant increase from the six per cent forecast in 2012. If these figures are measured against data collated from schools’ IT managers, it can be estimated that by the end of 2013, 258,000 tablets will be used in schools.
This trend is set to continue, with schools predicting that the percentage of tablets will increase to 24 per cent by the end of 2015.
While tablets are priced a lot lower than laptops or even desktop computers, schools are showing a preference for using BYOD schemes with the responsibility being placed on parents to pay for the technology.
In fact, 81 per cent of schools showed a willingness to consider this route of tablet adoption and overall, the adoption of tablet technology in schools appears to be increasingly linked to the implementation of BYOD schemes.
A total of 67 per cent of the schools who responded to the BESA survey stated that BYOD schemes were either important or very important to the adoption of tablets and apps in schools.
However, BYOD schemes bring their own dangers if not set up correctly. While these risks are manageable, it is unwise for schools to embark on a BYOD scheme without an advanced appreciation of the pitfalls and associated legalities.
The biggest danger lies with the fact that some families will not be able to afford the cost of the hardware.
Making BYOD a requirement (as opposed to merely an option) could potentially disadvantage students from low-income backgrounds and, a worst-case scenario could be a claim for indirect discrimination (potentially on grounds of race, disability or sex).
To avoid this, schools must be in a position to supply devices to students in low-income areas (with the various legal issues this gives rise to) and to objectively justify their BYOD practice.
Another consideration is compliance with data protection legislation and the protection of the school’s data. BYOD usage means that inevitably learning content and data will move outside of your school’s IT system.
Having ultimate control of the type of information students can access, how and where they access it, and how secure the information remains is vital to minimise the risk of any breach of a school’s data protection obligations. The last thing a school wants is a student accessing the personal data of another student or of a teacher.
Although this question was not asked in the BESA survey, it is fairly safe to assume that the main reason for considering a BYOD scheme is the cost saving.
However, there are many costs associated with BYOD and schools must be clear about who bears these hidden additional usage costs. These include day-to-day voice and data charges, technical support and repairs, roaming and app installation costs, as well as recovery of any personal content which may be lost.
If you allow students to take their tablet on an overseas school trip so they can carry out research and complete their homework while they are abroad, you must agree in advance whether you permit roaming and if so, who will pay for roaming charges.
For schools, the terms and conditions of the software licences of e-learning resources is probably one of the biggest issues.
Schools tend to buy e-learning resources on a school licence basis, according to the number of student users. The nature of BYOD access brings into consideration remote access to data and this learning content. If the school has paid for a licence for a learning application, what are the implications for students accessing it or downloading to their own device?
Another major issue is the operating system of the tablets. Are you going to specify that parents must all buy Android tablets or iPads with iOS mobile operating system?
If you want the students to access e-learning resources already purchased by the school, that are possibly more likely to work on an Android device, what will happen if students decide to buy an iPad?
Are you willing to invest in new e-learning resources that work on the iOS system? Not all devices will connect to your IT system and different devices offer different levels of security and anti-virus measures. How will passwords be managed?
And finally, what is your policy when a student leaves the school? You will need to ensure that they can no longer access the school’s network and e-learning resources and, if you purchased the tablet, you will need to be able to get it back.
What sanctions can you put in place to ensure compliance? Similar considerations apply in case a student sells his or her device.
If schools are to consider adopting a BYOD policy, they should look at the issues in advance, together with their legal advisor and human resources and IT teams, and ideally adopt a formal policy.
A well-drafted BYOD policy will help to protect your IT system, reduce the risk of deliberate breach of software licences, and minimise any associated reputational damage.
The benefits of BYOD are certainly there, but the many potential pitfalls make it vital for schools to have a well-drafted BYOD policy to protect them.
A well-drafted BYOD policy should include:
A pathway to ensure protection of the school’s data
Security – password access to ensure students can only access information from designated areas on the school’s network
Agreement of who is responsible for additional costs such as data roaming and repairs
Which e-learning resources are approved for use at home under the terms of the supplier’s contract
Are you going to stipulate the operating system that the tablets should have?
Caroline Wright is director of the British Educational Suppliers Association and Michal Stein is an employment knowledge lawyer with Nabarro LLP.