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Thoughts of how to implement BYOD in UK schools

What are the biggest challenges facing BYOD and BYOT in education? Using lessons learnt from past and current work, ICT advocate and education veteran Bill How looks at the importance of cultural shifts in bringing about a new understanding of technology in the classroom. He explains how this shift, coupled with teacher training and support, has the potential to evolve school policies, pedagogical practices and resources.

Can individual access to technology transform our schools?

How many times have you heard someone say “we are piloting the use of x or y device with our learners” over the last ten years?

In 2004 whilst working at the Learning Discovery Centre in Northamptonshire, Guy Shearer and I carried out such a pilot with primary school children using a fleet of PDAs (remember the humble PDA?). It was reasonably unusual stuff then.

When we carried out our small scale pilot, Guy and I were far less interested in the device or what it could do. What interested us was the cultural shift in the learners, the teaching staff, the parents and the leadership of the school that resulted from sudden 24-7/365 access to a device on an individual basis. The pilot created demand for a shift in the way that the school viewed, planned for and compartmentalised learning activity and resources.

Having witnessed a year six child using a mobile phone to video the robot his classmates had created during a pilot-linked summer school activity, we were reminded that pretty soon most of our learners would be owners of very powerful learning devices.

In 2012 access to information and learning through web connected devices has never been easier. We are all well aware of the statistics showing child ownership levels of smart phones, tablets, small form factor netbooks, gaming devices etc. And so alongside the shift toward a connected world, the challenge of how to harness this as a school or college has grown.

School supply of devices has (until recently) become the norm, fed by a top down culture that supplied funds for IT spend through expert IT support and procurement with a lean toward control of device use, connectivity and software. Of course, the result has been school technology policies that have banned systems not under the control of the school. How many of our schools ban learner-owned devices or block the use of many freely available web 2.0 resources?

In more recent times, many have begun to consider alternative avenues, such as BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) or BYOT (Bring Your Own Technology).

BYOD in UK schools falls loosely into two camps:

1.     School supplies a device to the learner that can be used in school and at home (sometimes on a home-access style purchase scheme basis).

2.     School specifies devices that learners can use in school (type, operating system etc).

This is then often paired with access to school software and web browsing through a secure platform, a virtual desktop or similar.

BYOT on the other hand requires a further leap of faith in providing an infrastructure, connectivity and resources that can be accessed through any learner owned and maintained device - regardless of operating system, platform etc.

A number of schools have been encouraged to look more closely at a move toward learner-owned and -managed devices by fear of sustaining purchase investment in times of restricted budgets, whilst others have seen such a shift as part of their wider vision to fundamentally change learning. Of course it’s the vision driven schools who are beginning to make significant inroads - regardless of where they are on the development curve.

The technical and operational difficulties for BYOD or BYOT (including safeguarding) are not to be dismissed, but I would suggest these are not the biggest challenge. For that we need to go back to the fundamental issue of enabling a cultural shift. The degree of shift is really dependent on the motivation behind the change, but without such cultural change, school policy, pedagogic practice, resources and ultimately the learning will not evolve.

Amongst areas often identified by senior school leaders as being key to supporting cultural shift is support for staff through professional development and Intel has worked with partners and schools to develop a series of training resources under the banner of “Transforming Learning with 1:1”. Some of which were piloted during the 2011/12 academic year.

The Intel resources look closely at a range of issues including:

•     A shift from school owned and based software to greater use of Web 2.0 technologies.

•     Developing digital resources as teacher and learner.

•     Personalisation of teaching and learning.

•     Classroom practice that harnesses 1:1 learner access to devices.

•     Cultural shifts in learning relationships and partnerships with learners that strengthen trust and teacher professionalism (eg Student Digital Leaders).

•     Harnessing market forces to drive educational technology development.

•     Learner responsibility and behavior management.

•     Home-school partnership.

These resources will be available soon - watch this space!

Bill How has worked in the education section for over 25 years, primarily in teaching and leadership roles. He has been a keen advocate for ICT’s potential and involved in shared practice on a wider scale since 2001. He is currently course leader for Initial Teacher Training at Colchester Institute and Learning Technologies Consultant at Intel.

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