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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Do BYOD Programs Encourage Bullying?

In theory, Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) programs in schools are a great idea; students can use their own tablets, laptops and smartphones in the classroom, and can take advantage of a wider range of apps and programs than they might be able to normally access in school. There is a case to be made that doing so can make schools more cutting edge and capable of engaging students through methods that they're comfortable with. However, there's also a risk that BYOD could lead to bullying and inequality within schools. How, then, can BYOD be successful without causing these kinds of problems?

The growing popularity of BYOD is a trend that has appeared in the workplace and schools over the past few years; partly, this has been in response to gaps between the technology found at work and school, and what people are using in their spare time. By allowing people to bring in their own devices, employers and schools create a greater consistency between how employees and students normally access information and learn, and the standards set within the workplace and the classroom.

For schools, particularly those whose budgets are struggling to keep up with the pace of technology, BYOD offers cost savings. Implementing BYOD means that a school's ICT system can be expanded to include more apps and more flexibility when it comes to using internal networks and developing class projects. Students familiar with using their own devices at home have the potential to relate much better to these rather than to the school's technologies, and that familiarity can extend their skills for comprehension and the creative use of apps to literacy, numeracy and other school subjects.

Risks and Problems

However, there are some risks attached to BYOD programs. Among the more general problems they might create, data breaches and confidentiality represent a real issue if not properly handled. Network security is also crucial to address when multiple devices are logging into a shared Local Area Network. BYOD schemes require a comprehensive security program to ensure that viruses are not being accidentally or maliciously released into a school's system.

Bullying can also be a potential problem for schools that are introducing BYOD programs. Inequality between students over devices can be created, mirroring the issues that prompt some schools to require uniforms instead of letting students wear their own clothes. Out of date or older devices could become a source for embarrassment, while students might also be subject to cyber-bullying through emails and social messages. Discussing the impact of BYOD on schools in the United States, one website notes how BYOD could intensify the "already significant divide between students from high and lower income families." BYOD could similarly lead to problems with device theft, inappropriate messaging and intentional damaging of expensive devices.

Plans and Rules

What, then, can schools do to make the most of BYOD, while reducing the impact of the above problems? One solution could be to arrange for a purchase scheme, where a school buys a selection of devices at discounted rates, which can then be issued to students that can't afford their own devices; this could help level the playing field for students, albeit with the problem of there still being a gap between BYOD and school equipment.

Other solutions come from the business world, and from schemes like COPE (corporate owned, personally enabled), which buy up devices, but then allow users to personalize them for use both at work and at home. For schools, this approach could make it easier to standardize the amount of devices available, but could also defeat the point of BYOD as a means of introducing more cutting edge devices into learning and teaching.

Schools could also attempt to tackle bullying by setting up strict rules over how devices are used. This could include blocking 3G and 4G signals, and encrypting networks so that students can't access some apps or browse the Internet as freely. Such measures represent a compromise by making the most of student devices for some features, while reducing their superiority to more inexpensive devices owned by other students.

Middle Ground

Probably the best option to approach bullying, then, is effective management of BYOD schemes to ensure that they're not simply an excuse for students having free rein to use their devices in school. A system that allows high-quality devices while also placing strict rules and limits on their usage means these devices can still improve the quality of classroom engagement without creating as much of a divide within a student body.

Schools that are considering BYOD consequently need to look carefully at how they manage their networks and Internet access, while also finding ways to invest in devices that can be loaned out to students who can't afford their own. Looking at school uniform policies, there's a middle ground where schools do allow normal clothing, but maintain restrictions over, say, certain brand labels or styles of dress; BYOD could achieve a similar balance between opening the door to more diverse devices and limiting certain features to prevent them from setting some students apart from their peers. But having a system in place, any system at all, is crucial if schools hope to avoid falling behind in Internet and communications technology.

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