Managing a Bring Your Own Device policy

Advice for schools on how best to approach BYOD - and how to make your policy stick

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Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) is like the infamous head lice problem. Without fail, it comes back around every year, usually at the start of term, and causes a lot of head-scratching.

There are strong arguments on both sides – empowering students vs. ring-fencing their learning, reducing costs vs. increasing risks, enhancing lessons vs. enforcing inequality. It’s a bit of a minefield and – without wanting to give away any spoilers – it ultimately comes down to the needs and preferences of your school and students.

If you aren’t entirely sure as to how you should approach BYOD in your school, we hope this article might help. We’ve laid out the pros, cons, and the reasons why you need to enshrine whichever approach you choose in a broader online safety policy.

Arguments for BYOD

Explore some of the reasons why a BYOD policy can be beneficial to your school by selecting the boxes below.

Equipping an entire school with digital devices is a major financial undertaking. Whilst there are good deals available for educational institutions, it is still going to cost a lot of money to purchase, protect, equip, and upgrade hundreds, if not thousands, of tablets or laptops. A BYOD policy allows you to mitigate some of those costs and also allows students to use the devices they are most familiar with.

Young people are near-enough guaranteed to bring their own devices into school, even if you do ban their use. Will having a proper BYOD policy mean a more open dialogue and a safer space in which your students can use technology? It’s difficult to answer, but it’s a question worth asking.

There is no human right to accessing technology, but it’s indisputably become an integral part of how we live. Digital technologies have enabled – and have come to dominate – our communication. Many parents find it important to have a shared line of communication with their child in case of emergencies and, in not allowing devices on your campus, you may be denying them that important access.

Gareth Cort, of Connected Minds, said it brilliantly on the BYOD episode of our podcast:

“If we’re wanting children to use technology effectively, positively, respectfully and safely throughout their entire lives, they’ve got to have a safe space to try things out and make mistakes.”

Having a BYOD policy will mean you give young people the opportunity to use and explore technology in a safe and controlled space – one in which they will be able to experience the immense educational and personal benefits the safe and responsible use of technology can bring.

Arguments against BYOD

There are plenty of reasons to not want outside devices in your school, as explained in the boxes below.

The researchers behind one study into mobile phone use in schools stated that the positive impact of banning smartphones “was equivalent to an additional hour a week in school, or to increasing the school year by five days.” That same study also found that lower-achieving students are disproportionately affected by the presence of mobile phones in the classroom.

A substantial “review of research exploring the links between mobile technology habits and cognitive functioning” came to several interesting, if caveated, conclusions:

  • “The evidence does point to a negative relationship between smartphone usage and attention.”
  • “The available evidence suggests that when we turn to these devices, we generally learn and remember less from our experiences.”

It is important, however, to note this statement from the review’s conclusion:

  • “Although the research concerning the potential cognitive impacts of smartphone technology is growing, the results remain contradictory and inconclusive”.

So, take it with a pinch of salt, but there are a number of studies that have shown that mobile phones can impair cognitive function. It’s up to you whether you believe this is a risk worth taking, on balance. The presence of devices in the classroom is complex and challenging – especially if they may be affecting a student’s ability to learn.

Allowing unknown devices to join your school’s network, or to connect to other devices on that network, is risky business. For it to happen en masse requires careful management and forward planning, backed by some serious IT nous and strategy. It’s manageable, and so many schools before yours have done it, but that doesn’t mean it’s a walk in the park.

Importance of a clear policy – whatever you decide

Whichever path you choose to walk when it comes to BYOD, it’s important that you set out a clear policy to protect everyone from tripping up along the way.

Setting out a coherent and rational policy means everyone will be on the same page in regards to both what is expected of them and what consequences exist if the policy is not adhered to.

One of the most important steps you can take in creating a BYOD policy, or any kind of online safety policy, is to make the process collaborative. Giving students, parents, teachers, and governors the option to contribute will make everyone feel represented and heard.

As Jess McBeath, of Lemon Tree Consulting, so aptly stated on our podcast:

It’s very much going to be dependent on the school and the local school community as to what they think is going to work for them. Maybe it has to be a trial and error experience.

That’s not the first time our podcast has come up, so now might be a good time to point you its way. If you’d like to have more of a deep dive into BYOD (and lots of other online safety discussions), you can listen now.

How you can create online safety policies

If you’re wondering how you might go about drafting a BYOD (or broader online safety) policy for your school, we have a set of online safety policy templates available to download directly from our website – they’re completely free!

You may want to look more closely at your online safety provision. If so, we offer online safety audits that might be the perfect way to fix any gaps in your current approach to online safety.

Whatever you decide

And however you reach your decision, if you have taken the time to consider the options and consult widely, you will hopefully be left with a coherent and credible online safety policy.

We think it's brilliant that you are taking BYOD and online safety seriously. We need more people like you!