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The advantages and disadvantages of BYOD in higher education

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A proliferation of mobile devices around the world means that almost every student now has access to a mobile phone, tablet, or laptop. Historically, these devices have been banned from the classroom as a result of the distractions they can cause but, more recently, they have begun to offer a real asset to the education sector.

Having a good BYOD policy in place is important for many organizations within the education sector but the advantages and disadvantages of introducing it should always be considered first.

In this guide:

  • Key advantages of BYOD
    Cost savings, flexible working, continuity of education, student familiarity with devices
  • Key disadvantages of BYOD
    IT security, student inequalities, distractions, stress on IT infrastructure

What is BYOD?

BYOD stands for Bring Your Own Device and means that students are able to bring their own devices such as phones, tablets and laptops into class to use them for their studies. BYOD can be used within education to complement existing IT systems, enabling students to access educational apps and resources, and complete coursework and studies through their own devices, away from the classroom.

To find out more about BYOD, read our guide.


What are the advantages of BYOD?

When implemented correctly, BYOD provides a huge number of benefits to both organizations and students:

Cost savings

More than 80% of schools are now facing funding cuts, which means organizations must be more resourceful to ensure that access to education doesn’t suffer. IT systems can be an expensive investment for schools and Higher Education organizations but a BYOD policy can bring this cost down significantly.

Enabling students to use their own devices both within the classroom and outside the classroom ensures that all students have the same access to the relevant systems, software, and applications, but without the cost of consistently updating technology within the organization.

Computer labs are often expensive to run and maintain which is why so many organizations are looking to move away from them and implement different solutions whilst providing students with the same high level of education.

Access to up-to-date technology

Many schools and universities deal with out-of-date equipment as it can be extremely costly to update entire computer labs regularly.

In contrast, many students are likely to keep up with the latest technology in their personal lives, resulting in the use of faster, more intuitive devices, and less time spent figuring out how to use them.

Allowing students to use their own devices for their studies also helps to eliminate the cost of updating entire IT suites to ensure the technology is kept up-to-date and usable.

Enables flexible working

Allowing students to work on their own devices both on and off-campus, enables them to be more flexible around where and when they decide to complete their studies. This allows students to complete their coursework and studies in any location and provides them with access to the materials and software they need without being tied to campus computer labs.

In the classroom, BYOD helps to simplify the flow of work between the classroom and homework. Students have everything they need on one device so there are fewer issues with saving work across a number of devices and networks.

Enables continuity of education

Particularly in Higher Education, providing students with continuity of education is essential. During the Coronavirus pandemic, many universities were forced to implement remote studying facilities almost overnight. For those universities and their students who were already used to using their own devices to access university resources, the switch was fairly straightforward.

As a result, many universities are now looking to implement BYOD policies to provide students with the same quality of education whether they’re on or off-campus and, during unprecedented circumstances.

Reduces the load for IT support

Investing in systems in campus labs and schools is not only costly initially to set up the equipment, it also requires costly maintenance and support. In many cases, a full-time IT department is required to maintain the equipment and answer student and staff queries.

With a BYOD policy in place, the need for this support is minimized as students are more familiar with the devices they’re using. Students also bring up-to-date devices with them which helps to reduce the load on IT departments who must spend huge amounts of time reimaging devices on campus outside of term time.  

Student familiarity with devices

Allowing students to bring their own devices with them provides them with more time to focus on their studies instead of trying to get to grips with unfamiliar devices. Students are likely to be more comfortable with using their own devices because they use them for many aspects of their lives.

Enables collaborative learning

While many organizations worry that the use of their own devices can provide a distraction for students, when used for educational purposes, they can actually enable and encourage collaboration between students and teachers.

For example, if a tutor or teacher is easily reachable through an app or educational network, this makes it simple for students to connect with them from anywhere to ask queries about coursework, homework or lectures.

By bringing student’s technology habits into the classroom, it enables them to communicate and collaborate in the way that is most natural to them.

Student productivity

Students are likely to be more productive when using their own devices. These are the devices they have chosen to use themselves and therefore enjoy using them and are familiar with the operating system.

As mentioned before, the time spent switching across devices is also reduced when allowing students to use their own device across all aspects of their lives, which means more time spent working.

Now let's look at the disadvantages. If addressed accordingly, the potential dangers of BYOD can be managed, so that you and your students can enjoy the positives.


What are the disadvantages of BYOD?

May highlight inequality

One of the biggest downsides to BYOD is that not all students can afford the latest technology. Having a BYOD policy in place may highlight the differences in wealth and access to devices between students. Some organizations may be able to supply spare devices so that those without their own can borrow suitable equipment equal to that of their peers. When implementing BYOD, organizations should assess the number of students who may struggle to access relevant devices and factor this into the policy and the way it works.

IT Security

Another consideration to make is that BYOD can leave organizations open to additional security and cyber threats. With students accessing university and school networks, software, and resources across the same devices they use in their everyday lives, organizations are left more vulnerable to students sharing sensitive data and open to hackers.

If devices are stolen from users, organizations may find their network open to further attack.

BYOD devices can be equipped with anti-virus software and security apps to prevent attacks or unauthorized access to school networks.

May cause distractions

While BYOD is beneficial to both students and their organizations, bringing personal devices into the classroom leaves students with the opportunity to take advantage and use their device for personal reasons.

However, the benefits to costs and pressure on IT systems for organizations, as well as the increase in student engagement and productivity rates, outweigh this.

Increased stress on IT infrastructure

With students, faculty staff and on-campus staff, all trying to connect to the same network through their personal devices, the strain on the network can be much greater and can lead to connectivity issues, slow connections and poor quality service which can be frustrating for students who are trying to access resources to complete studies or coursework.

Consumer app stores

Apple and Google’s app stores – to name just two – have made us all expect to be able to access software on-demand. When we need an app at home, after a few clicks we’re able to download and use it, without a complex installation procedure or a need to put in requests from corporate IT for software access. This is starting to extend to the workplace, where employees expect things here and now.

COVID-19

Understandably, COVID-19 has thrust the world into a situation where many have had to work from home, or away from the office in general. This is the same for Higher Education, where students and staff alike must teach and study from their homes. While many corporate institutions can provide employees with managed laptop devices for home-use in the interim, this isn’t the same for Higher Education. Universities and colleges need to make resources and IT available to access on student-owned devices, anywhere and anytime.

In some capacity, all these factors have contributed to BYOD becoming what it is today; an unstoppable force in the world of corporate IT, for nearly every industry that exists.


Summary

Overall, when used effectively, giving students control over their own education through BYOD can reap rewards for both students and organizations.

All policies should be carefully considered before being introduced, along with security measures to allow safe and effective remote learning for students in schools and in Higher Education