Learning Beyond the Classroom

18 Aug 2015
Usama Nouri examines the six factors that could hold back BYOD in education.

Encouraging my six-year-old daughter to choose traditional entertainment over my smartphone is an ongoing battle. She was born into a world in which technology is a ubiquitous component of our lives. Schools are succumbing to the push to include technology in the classroom, and in particular Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) schemes are becoming more common. This is happening, but it doesn't mean that it doesn't create a whole new set of challenges for educational administrators to overcome if they are to take full advantage of the technology revolution.

According to a survey conducted in April 2015 by the University Of Phoenix College Of Education, 93 percent of teachers believe that personal devices connect students to real-world learning. There is no doubt that connected devices enable students to explore a much wider world, and much more instantly, than we ever could in our school days; there is considerably more interaction and richer content to be had through the Internet than through a traditional text book.

In fact, having a device such as a tablet eliminates the need for text books entirely. Students of the not-so-distant future will likely not know what it's like to carry a backpack laden down with heavy books. There'll be no more excuses of forgotten textbooks, no more marginalia, and no more need to highlight real books, as everything will be carried around in one convenient, portable digital form.

This is just scratching the surface of the benefits of technology in classrooms. Despite the unquestionable boons, though, it is expensive for educators to provide every teacher and student with a tablet of their own. Therefore, BYOD schemes are the way to go, with the costs of technology investments and maintenance placed on the students, or their parents rather!

However, despite the financial advantages that BYOD offers, school administrators face another set of challenges that could far outweigh the savings that come from the scheme. Here's a look at the top six challenges that will make educators think twice before incorporating BYOD into their education system:

  1. Network Burden
    Students will bring their laptops, smartphones, tablets, game consoles, smart wearables, e-readers, video and smart cameras, MP3 players and more wirelessly connected devices to school. Now, imagine the unprecedented burden this will place on the wireless network. A study conducted by Sophos revealed that on average a person carries 2.9 devices, and research by GfK predicts this number will reach 5.2 by 2017! Designing wireless infrastructure has never been more challenging and school CIOs must take this activity seriously.
    The natural reaction of a CIO could be that by allowing network access to uncontrolled devices operated by teenagers is not BYOD – it's Bring Your School Network Down by inviting security breaches. Protecting the school network, IT applications, and the privacy of both staff and students is the highest concern. Security issues, whether deliberate through hacking attempts or unintentional through malwares and viruses, can cause damage to the learning process and can be financially compromising, too. A proper identity management system and AAA (Authentication, Authorization and Accounting) alongside associated processes must be in place and built into the BYOD strategy to mitigate this security challenge. Additionally, security measures must be built into the infrastructure equipment itself, not just the firewalls. A bonus outcome from applying such controls is the ability to monitor and restrict access to certain online resources, in keeping with the education context.
  3. IT service desk's nightmare
    With thousands of students come tens of thousands of devices, and all of their problems come along with them, including a disparate blend of hardware, operating systems, and applications. Imagine a day in the life of a helpdesk engineer, running between classes struggling to resolve incompatibilities with school networks and applications. This not only wastes precious class time, but also causes inconveniences for the teachers and students, disconnecting them from the learning activities. The education CIO must ensure that all infrastructure and school applications are built based on open standards, and also consistently keep an eye on the current and future trends in technology adoptions in order to adapt the school's technologies accordingly.
  4. The Starvation Theory
    When things are not controlled in a school environment, the law of the jungle prevails. BYOD entitles sharing of school resources between legitimate usage patterns and non-education related activities. Imagine a teacher trying to play a YouTube video during a class, only to be faced with the endless spinning pinwheel, while students' devices hog the entire bandwidth downloading hefty OS updates. Quality of Service controls must be applied to allow differentiated access and eliminate the perpetual denial of necessary resources. School CIOs should insure these features are available in the infrastructure that they are well-suited to the multi-tenancy school environment, and that configurations are current and up-to-date at all times.
  5. Non-monetized investments
    For the education sector, it is unethical to monetize services accessed by students, and most school fees are regulated even in the private education sector. Technology investments did not exist a few years back at this scale, and their introduction now affects the CFO's P&L dramatically. Capital expenditure can be transferred into assets, but the bigger issue lies in the running cost for licenses, support, and talented IT operations staff. The school administration must analyse the return on investment differently, with the focus on the school reputation and academic values, rather than pure corporate financial analysis. Efficiencies in the IT systems of choice and their operations must be the key evaluation factor for the CIO when making decisions on certain technologies. Sponsored and managed outsourced IT services could be an option that might appeal to some schools, but care must be taken as the privacy of the school and its students must be managed well in this case.
  6. Imbalanced equality
    An unavoidable, and rather less technical challenge of adopting a BYOD strategy in the school system is the potential issue of learning equality. A fundamental principle in the education system is making learning opportunities available equitably to all learners. If BYOD strategies are not monitored closely, the less fortunate students will not have access to the same learning resources as the fortunate ones. The school administration must always have the facility of providing school-owned devices for students to use in class and at home. This should either be considered as part of the school's social responsibility, or via a subsidy system that can be paid throughout the academic year.

    It all starts with a solid and well-conceived School Digital Strategy, which includes BYOD policies and tactics and so much more. A partnership with a technology provider, who can be considered a trusted advisor, is the strongest first step that school administration can take. This will nurture the learning experience, and guarantee efficient current and future school readiness.

    When children are so accustomed to the gratifications of using technology, it's no surprise that my daughter considers coloured pencils and paper to be 'boring' in comparison to the practically limitless possibilities a smartphone can offer. Schools and parents alike should prepare for the inevitable growth in devices that will shape every aspect of our lives from the classroom to the home to the office, by ensuring they optimize networks and apply the necessary security precautions that are needed for our constantly connected life.

    Usama Nouri is Senior Strategic Consultant, Avaya Global Growth Markets.

This article appeared in Education Journalme.com on 18 August 2015