Budgeting for your school’s technology needs isn’t easy. It requires savvy planning and a willingness to consider creative solutions.
Networks and hardware account for some of the most significant expenses that administrators face when building and maintaining the robust technology systems that students need in today’s classrooms. Infrastructure installation alone costs an average of $356 per pupil: Schools spend another $73 per pupil in annual maintenance costs. Notably, supporting a technology network can consume up to a third of a school’s budget.
It’s no wonder, then, that school administrators are turning to BYOD as a way to help students use technology in the classroom more affordably.
A bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policy can save a school $350 per pupil annually. Many schools have already established BYOD programs and procedures, and they’re reaping the benefits of getting students to bring their personal devices to school. This trend is already established in the workplace; employees are accustomed to using their personal devices to get their jobs done. It’s only natural that schools would also adopt the practice.
BYOD brings tremendous benefits. Learners in BOYD environments are often more engaged in the instructional process than peers who experience limited or no access to technology. That said, BYOD isn’t a panacea for all of your classroom management problems. As Eric Sheninger notes, “[t]he overall goal of any BYOD initiative should be to support and enhance student learning. It should not be implemented as a way to just pacify students by allowing them to use their devices only during noninstructional time or to eliminate discipline issues.”
As enticing as a BYOD policy sounds, it can’t be implemented overnight. You certainly shouldn’t send out an announcement that students can bring their smartphones to class tomorrow — the process is going to be a bit more complicated than that. If you’re seriously considering implementing a bring-your-own-device policy, you must strategically (and realistically) plan for it.
5 critical areas to consider before implementing BYOD in schools
Allowing anyone with a personal computing device to access your wireless network can wreak havoc. Doing so can overload the network, choke the bandwidth, and even compromise security. Instead, consider these tips for controlling network access:
- Provide role-based access control (RBAC) — this is the network version of instruction differentiation. Give your network access to only the applications they need. Unlimited access for everyone slows the system.
- Use application filtering — obviously, students don’t need server access, and there are certain sites that they should never visit. But teachers do. A strategy like restricting student YouTube access during class time facilitates the teacher’s use of instructional tools like Classcraft. Filtering ensures that educational apps have priority access on the network.
- Make use of directories, databases, and devices — register every device on your network and assign them to user groups. For example, student app access may depend on grade level or instructional program. A directory like Active Directory or Mobile Device Management would allow you to create a database of users and devices, as well as to monitor network activity. For example, you may be interested in knowing how much time students spent using the network for instructional versus off-task purposes.
2. Instructional plan
Personal computing devices can motivate students to come to class. Smartphones keep learners occupied for hours, but that doesn’t mean that students are actually engaged in learning — they could be surfing the internet, posting on social media, or playing video games. A well-written instructional plan identifies which apps are appropriate for instructional use. IT support personnel can block any apps that are not relevant.
Additionally, you should define a list of personal devices that your students may bring to class. Laptops and smartphones are arguably important to have, but a student’s Nintendo Switch is better left at home. Identify your e-resources carefully. Databases, e-books, and even learning management systems can be finicky depending on a user’s operating system. Make sure that your selected apps and activities are compatible will all systems.
3. Community involvement
Parents and community members are critical for BYOD success. Get buy-in from the community so they can support your efforts rather than impede them.
Before BYOD implementation, it’s important that you initiate two-way conversations with parents. Assure them that your BYOD program won’t exclude their children and that your program will be carefully regulated. That way, parents can rest easy knowing that their children won’t be at a disadvantage, especially if they have any disabilities. Additionally, parents should know that students won’t be using personal devices to play noneducational video games during class.
You should also clarify that you’ll provide backup devices such as tablets or laptops for checkout if students don’t have access to personal devices. This is an especially important consideration for financially disadvantaged students.
4. BYOD policies and procedures
For years, schools have adopted acceptable use policies for technology. Now it’s time to create a BYOD policy as well. Get your faculty, parents, and even students involved in developing the policies you need for equitable technology access in your school. Assign a committee to:
- Research best practices
- Consult with others
- Develop policies for use
These committee members will become your subject matter experts and advocates when rolling out your BYOD program.
5. Professional development
Although the teaching profession itself has barely changed, the tools we use are vastly different than those of decades past. Professional development for your teachers will maximize the effectiveness of your BYOD program. Most importantly, your teachers need time to explore, practice and share what they learn in PD sessions, including:
- Best practices for using personal technology
- How to differentiate instruction using technology
- Classroom management tips
- Digital citizenship standards and best practices
Any BYOD professional development should focus on enhancing instruction.
Funding your BYOD program
Your new bring-your-own-device plan won’t allow you to completely eliminate technology spending. Instead, it will help you look for new ways to support technology access initiatives on your campus. The sources of your campus funds can be instrumental in helping you achieve your school’s BYOD goals.
Use these funds to maintain your school network. Budget for hardware, software, and IT personnel who can keep your system running and help manage your databases and directories. Alternatively, to minimize your reliance on in-house hardware and IT services, you can look into partnering with a cloud computing provider.
State and federal money
You’ll still need a few devices for students to borrow in the event that they forget their own devices or simply can’t afford any. Purchase these through funds earmarked to eliminate gaps in learning. Use your federal funds to help students identified for special programs such as IDEA for special education. Rely on Title III funds for bilingual/ESL students and Title I reading funds to help students close learning gaps. Use state and federal money to purchase software and provide professional development.
One-time grants can help you launch a BYOD program by supporting infrastructure or implementation. Most grant awards require that you demonstrate how you will maintain the initiative by the time the grant period closes. An effective BYOD program may be one of the best ways to do that. When students bring their own devices, all you have to do is maintain the network they use as well as a few back-up devices.
Put BYOD to the test!
A well-thought-out BYOD program allows school leaders to customize instructional technology to support the needs of its students. With a little planning, you can develop and deploy an effective BYOD program that helps students learn essential skills in the digital age.
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