Bring Your Own Device

Last week I talked with a teacher who said his students could only access the web through the school’s managed internet gateway. That’s likely to be far from reality. The students are almost certainly going online in school through their mobile phones, to access web pages, chat with friends, and post to Facebook and Twitter.

In 2009 we carried out a survey of over 2600 school students in years 8 and 10 from 27 schools. One question we asked was “Have you accessed the internet from a mobile phone in school?”. Over a third of the children said that they had browsed the internet on their phone in school – despite mobile phones being banned in all the schools we surveyed. The survey also showed that about a third has sent a text message in school to help their work, and a quarter had taken and shared a photo.

That was six years ago. Since then, the phones have evolved in smartphones and tablets and become so much a part of life that most children and adults would, literally, be lost without them. Schools now have three basic choices to deal with children bringing their own devices.

The first is to ban them, which has been the policy of most schools in the UK until now. There have been good reasons for this. Mobile phones can be disruptive in class, they can be used to capture inappropriate pictures and video, and bullying online is a growing problem (in our survey, 15% of children reported that they had had unwelcome pictures of them posted online).

The second is to welcome mobile devices into the classroom and see them as part of a child’s personal equipment, like pens and pocket calculators. This is the approach taken in many schools in Scandinavia, where they want to empower children to learn in their own ways with the latest technology.

The third is to take a managed policy to allowing personal mobile devices in schools. This is the view of most of the experts that we also surveyed for our project. Rather than seeing bullying as a problem of technology, it should be tackled as a problem of inappropriate behaviour, whatever the form. For online bullying, having the evidence available can help address the issue when it happens. The positive side is that children can be encouraged to use tablets and phones as tools to support their learning – timing and photographing experiments, creating presentations, carrying out group projects online. Apps for mobile devices offer valuable resources for learning and a managed policy of school-provided devices alongside BYOD can put them in the hands of students.

Reference: Sharples, M., Graber, R., Harrison, C. & Logan, K. (2009) E-Safety and Web2.0 for children aged 11-16. Journal of Computer-Assisted Learning, 25, 70-84.

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