This September, many parents will encounter Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies at school for the first time. But what do they mean, how do you know if they’re good enough and will they keep your child safe online? This guide will help you understand what a good BYOD should be like and how to work with your child’s school to ensure they’re able to stay safe while making the most of the internet and their own devices.
What is a BYOD policy at school?
Well, it does what it says on the tin. Your kids can bring their own phone, tablet or laptop – or even virtual reality headset – to school and use them to work on both in and out of class.
Just how popular are BYOD policies?
They are popular in the world of business, and their popularity is now growing inside the school gate. Recent research by education-technology business Research Machines says there has been an increase in the number of schools using, or thinking about using, BYOD schemes. It says that about a quarter of secondary schools in the UK have such a policy and another quarter are exploring their use. The number of primary schools using BYOD schemes is much lower because they tend to work better for kids who are older and more self-sufficient.
Why are they growing in popularity?
Students’ own smartphones, tablets and laptops give them more up-to-date computing power than most schools can afford. In class, students can download apps that allow teachers to monitor work in real-time and set new assignments. These apps – in theory at least – help teachers personalise pupils’ learning. BYOD makes it easier for your children to carry on learning or do their homework after the class is over because their work is stored in the cloud – no more leaving their work on the hard drive at school or losing that crucial USB stick.
Moreover, it may speed up the introduction of new technologies such as virtual reality into classrooms. Schools won’t have to run the risk of investing in technology that could quickly become obsolete. Schools hope BYOD will help take the pressure off their tightly squeezed budgets.
How do they work?
In some schools, the student’s own phone or tablet complements the computing power the school already has; in others, student devices replace the school’s out-of-date hardware. Some schools run a ‘Choose Your Own Device’ scheme, whereby parents can lease a device at the start of the year which they own by the end. In other schools there may be an ‘Acceptable Device Policy’, which selects the devices the students have to use. As with textbooks, parents don’t always have to buy these devices themselves. There is also a halfway house where the school will make a contribution to the cost of a device with the expectation it will be used for a good number of years.
What is the challenge of BYOD for schools?
BYOD can stretch the Wi-Fi and bandwidth of most schools. If your children and their friends listen to music and watch films in the playground they can help slow the whole school’s download speed to a crawl. Some problems are easy to solve. Pupils can be easily blocked from watching films and listening to music across the school’s network, for example. But if technical problems arise, teachers can’t be experts in every make and model of phone, tablet and laptop. BYOD can also make your children more likely to be the target of theft both in and outside school. And the jury is out on whether BYOD actually saves schools any money. Recent research suggests that schemes can cost a school as much as £100,000 a year to run.
What about online safety?
How can schools keep students safe online when they are using their own devices? This is a good question – and there isn’t an easy answer. School-owned laptops and tablets can be fitted with filtering and monitoring tools to limit what the students can get up to in lessons. But it is much harder for the school to restrict the sites the students are accessing on their own phones, even in lesson time – and what they are posting and downloading.
The school can use standard internet controls to restrict children’s access to the internet when they are using the school Wi-Fi. However, resources like Wikipedia and YouTube can easily become blocked by an overzealous firewall, which can make completing online tasks a frustrating experience.
More troublingly, there is nothing stopping pupils from using the 4G signal instead of Wi-Fi to get around any firewall. The emphasis then is on schools to get their online safety education right and make sure your kids can protect themselves online – which can be quite a hard thing to do well.
Are students’ devices out of control?
Not quite. Like a business with a BYOD policy, schools can insist that their students download what’s called device management software on to their phones, which can then restrict what they can – and can’t – do with their device when they walk through the school gates. Some of these apps even allow parents to look at what their child has been using their phone for.
However, they could cause another headache for schools. Students quickly become suspicious of their apps. Once installed, they can be used to look at everything else that is downloaded on to the phone. These apps could even be used to work out where your kids are after the school day is over.
The best bet may be for parents to step in here. A new generation of apps such as Kaspersky’s Security Cloud can protect the whole of your family from Trojans, worms and phishing on whatever device they are using. If children are already used to using security apps like this, they are likely to be more educated about online security and so more receptive to similar protection required by schools.
By recording search history and alerting parents if children open sites that might be inappropriate, apps like Security Cloud give parents significant control over their child’s access to the internet without standing over them. In addition, password encryption and secure connections make sure that children have the right security for their surroundings without feeling like they are being spied on.
Watch out for the backlash
A growing number of parents, teachers and schools are worried about how kids are distracted by their phones, tablets and social media in lesson time. As a result, in some schools students are expected to hand in their phones at the start of the school day, and pick them up at the end.
IS BYOD good news for parents?
If you want your kids’ school to teach your children using the latest technology, then BYOD is probably the best way to achieve this. If you think your children spend too much time on their mobiles already then you might find it more problematic.
Furthermore, the cost of BYOD schemes can come as a shock to parents – and a cause of complaints by parents to head teachers and even the media. Parents can also be left with the bill if schools change their minds over an aspect of IT.