Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) Initiatives—Increasing the Odds for Success

Posted by Susan Brooks-Young on December 1, 2013

Cartoon hands with many tech devices
See “Security Amidst The Mobile Chaos” for a business perspective on the BYOD issue.

Unimaginable not all that long ago, growing numbers of schools and districts are launching programs where students are permitted to bring their own mobile devices to school for classroom use. The work I do makes it possible for me to spend time in schools and districts across the country. In the last two years I’ve had numerous opportunities to see several different manifestations of BYOD in action. It’s probably no surprise that some approaches to BYOD are more effective than others. However, I’m learning that irrespective of overall program design there are five specific issues that must be addressed to lay the groundwork for successful BYOD programs.  They are described here.

1. Infrastructure: The state of your network matters—a lot. I’m not a technician, but from what I’ve seen and been told at multiple schools struggling with network problems, a common problem is that folks who design the infrastructure typically underestimate the amount of traffic that will be generated by a BYOD program. As a result, teachers and students can’t get online, become discouraged, and abandon BYOD altogether.

Schools and districts must have a realistic understanding of what their infrastructure needs to support BYOD. Until the network is at the point where it can handle the amount of traffic that will be generated by students using their own devices (and then some), limit the scope of the rollout to what the network actually can support. This may mean initially planning a small pilot that can be expanded as the network becomes more robust. While a staged approach may not please everyone, it is preferable to a situation where the network isn’t functioning reliably for anyone.

2. Hardware specs: BYOD does not mean that students must be allowed to bring to school any mobile device they happen to have on hand. It’s important to take time to identify the kinds of learning activities the technology needs to be able to support and then establish minimum specifications for the devices students may bring based on identified uses. When students’ devices meet a pre-determined baseline, it’s easier to for teachers to plan lessons and for students to fully engage in classroom activities.

3. Policies and procedures: I’m surprised at the number of schools I visit that launch BYOD programs having given little or no thought to how they will handle a range of issues from devices that are lost or broken to students who circumvent the school network using their device’s 3g or 4g connection (not to mention procedures for downloading apps, troubleshooting student-owned hardware, charging batteries, and much more). Of course it’s not possible, or even desirable, to craft policies and procedures that attempt to cover every possible circumstance, but a few clearly stated, reasonable expectations shared with students ahead of time and then enforced will set the stage for success.

4. Professional development: Incorporating effective use of student-owned technology into classroom activities requires far more than a mandate. Few teachers have expertise in use of multiple mobile platforms or are comfortable designing learning activities that require use of mobile devices to support collaboration or critical thinking. Yet it’s common for teachers to be asked to participate in BYOD initiatives with little or no professional development. Even teachers who embrace more traditional technology use benefit from training focused on strategies and tools for addressing academic content in mobile environments. Ongoing professional development that includes a coaching component is an effective model, but requires a significant commitment of time and financial resources.

5. Parent involvement: The importance of parent support for BYOD programs cannot be over-emphasized. Educators must include parent representatives in BYOD planning as early in the process as possible. In addition to garnering support for the initiative within the community, parent representatives can provide very useful information when determining minimum specifications for mobile devices that may be brought to school and as school officials design BYOD policies and procedures. Recent Speak-Up Survey reports indicate strong parental support for BYOD initiatives nationally. Capitalize on this to shore up local support for local programs.

Take the time to work through these five issues. Your teachers, IT staff, students, and parents will thank you.


Published by

Susan Brooks-Young

A former school administrator, Susan Brooks-Young is a prolific author, educational technology consultant, and member of the TICAL leadership cadre.

14 thoughts on “Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) Initiatives—Increasing the Odds for Success”

  1. Thanks so much, Michael! I’ve learned so much about the benefits and potential pitfalls of BYOD over the last couple of years. It’s great to have a venue where I can share this information.

  2. Great advice Susan. OUHSD has a high density wi-fi system with maximum coverage. We are always looking to fine tune the network at the switch/Server level. We also need to educate our students as much as our teachers. For BYOD to be successful it must be driven by effective teacher lessons and activities. We appreciate you sharing your experiences and you are right on the mark.

  3. Very concise and great timing. I will refer the ACSA Innovative Tech class to it at our workshop on Saturday. We are just to the module on Mobile Learning. Thanks, as always, great information we can all really use.

  4. Just saw your comment, Gabe. I remember talking with you at one of the TICAL meetings regarding BYOD. You are so wise to have tackled the network issues first and spot on about student education as well!

  5. Susan,
    Great suggestions for BYOD implementation! Your focus on policies is critical. I like that you mentioned the issue of IT staff (or teachers) working on student owned devices. I can see this developing into a larger issue in school districts as these programs are rolled out. We tell IT staff that they can not work on staff owned devices (gift of public funds) so adding the urgency and quantity of student owned devices to the mix will increase this issue dramatically. What if the student’s device can’t get into the network? Maybe it is a simple setting adjustment or perhaps it is a hardware issue. Where does the troubleshooting end? Wish I had the answer. Probably something we will have to see infold within best practices of districts leading the charge. Thanks again!

  6. Interesting thought about the gifting of public funds, Tim. I hadn’t heard that point raised before in relationship to trouble-shooting student devices. Yet another thing to ponder prior to implementation…

  7. Hi All,
    Have any of you seen any statistics on the percentage of districts that have a BYOD initiative? I have been looking for some sort of report.

  8. Yes, thanks. The 2013 survey states that over a third of principals (36 percent) say that a new Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) to school policy for students is likely this school year.

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