How HE is tackling BOYD challenges head on

As leaders of the fourth industrial revolution, universities play a vital role in readying students to become the new architects of our digital futures. But with this responsibility comes a host of technical challenges. Angela Luffman looks at how universities are utilising BYOD to tackle these problems head-on

Findings from Jisc reveal that 90% of students arrive at university with their laptops to use for their personal study. Not to mention also, in all likelihood, a range of other internet-enabled devices – everything from a smartphone to the latest games consoles.

For a long time, the HE sector has pioneered BYOD – setting up student and guest intranet networks to help these ‘digital natives’ access a range of learning resources. Investment in access points and high-powered Wi-Fi networks has, so far, helped many UK universities meet the increased demand for connectivity.

But, in recent years, the democratisation of technological solutions has gone into warp speed. Thanks to the rise of cloud computing, AI and automation driving rapid development across all sectors, employers are now desperately on the hunt for graduates that are not only trained to use these cutting-edge technologies, but, also knowledgeable of how these tools can be utilised to drive further profit-making changes to their businesses and industries.

In fact, the Government’s industrial strategy estimates that within 20 years 90% of job roles will require a level of digital proficiency.

However, the paper also notes that 23% of adults lack even basic digital skills. Alongside findings that there is an estimated shortfall of 40,000 engineering graduates in the UK, the demand to plug the digital skills gap places a tremendous amount of pressure on universities to deliver the right solutions.

HE institutions across the UK are investing heavily in things like smart classrooms, VR simulations and big data analytics software, to help them improve learning outcomes across the board. However, at the very centre of this push to equip universities with a range of technological solutions is the need to facilitate BYOD seamlessly with all of these other tools.

This poses a range of challenges to university leaders, professors, and teaching staff.

However, with help from government initiatives, partnerships with businesses and new investment channels, many exemplary ‘digitised campuses’ in the UK are leading the way for others to embrace change.

Here are some examples of how UK universities are tackling the challenges of BYOD head-on.

Connectivity

Giving all students and faculty 24/7 access to high-speed internet, from the first day of the school year, is a massive undertaking for IT teams.

Institutions like Brunel University have facilitated BYOD since 2002. However, before 2013, Brunel University operated multiple networks to serve their internet needs – causing numerous issues including accessibility, data security, managing traffic, etc. By installing 1,070 more access points on campus, and migrating their systems to just one single network, Brunel’s IT teams were able to plan their digital architecture more effectively.

In collaboration with tech manufacturers Cisco, the University was able to create an all-encompassing digital environment, where students could access everything they need, without restriction, through a single log-on screen.

Infrastructure

Having a single IT vision, policy and management style makes it easier for BYOD institutions to get the most from their tech spend. The emergence of Fintech, and the flood of technological investment in recent years is propelling the digital revolution at an ever more rapid pace.

The number of digital investment deals in the UK stands at 2,645 – three times as many as there were three years ago.

At the heart of these tech companies are business-savvy millennials, who have adopted an entirely new way of working. For instance, this demographic favours ad-hoc business meetings, the seamless sharing of files, (facilitated by cloud computing), and full utilisation of automated systems across all areas of their supply chain.

With constant shifts in workflow processes, millennial business leaders have had to learn on-the-go which systems work and where they can be improved. This steep learning curve, on the whole, has created a new generation of workers that are more dynamic and less risk-averse than their older business counterparts.

From a university teaching standpoint, professors and research departments are ideally placed to foster these highly employable qualities in both their students and staff.

One way Abertay University is encouraging the next generation of tech leaders has been the creation of Smart Classrooms – combining multiple technologies into one fully-interactive learning space on campus. The Collaborative Learning Suite (CLS) allows for seamless communication between university-owned and BYOD student devices.

Giving all students and faculty 24/7 access to high-speed internet, from the first day of the school year, is a massive undertaking for IT teams

The technology school utilises this ‘sandbox’ space across multiple departments, allowing for students and staff to team-edit documents, present on the whiteboard from any device, and access the software tools they need to work on their projects. Teachers and researchers need to ground themselves in these new collaborative ways of working, adapt their teaching practices, and communicate their ideas seamlessly with others.

At Abertay University, the introduction of the CLS required staff to polish their digital skills, devise lesson plans, and report on their successes as they got to grips with the new learning setting. Senior management, with a vision of the CLS inspiring more forward-thinking graduates, embraced an experimental approach to best utilising the space – with great success.

Within the conventional lecture hall setting, companies like Matrox can also help universities optimise their in-house cloud technologies, to further boost the level of flexibility attainable with BYOD. In joint partnership with Panopto, Matrox developed the Maevex 6020 video platform that can capture and live stream lecture content and then upload it directly to the cloud. From here, students – from any device – can stream the content instantly, at the resolution that suits their technical BYOD needs.

As well as instant connectivity to the material, and mobile-led scheduling tools, students can also use the platform to zero-in and replay clips containing keywords, as well as view the lecture slides within the video playback screen.

Rob Moodey from Matrox commented that the platform optimises BYOD by giving students on-demand access to video content. “We all know that we can edit video within the cloud. The Maevex 6020 product, however, skips the primary editing step and gives BYOD students automatically captured access to the material.” He added: “Every student comes to university with different devices and different content needs. With this platform, they can stream a lecture at 10Mb or 20Mb, whatever their devices demand, providing much more flexibility.”

Data Security

If universities aim to train the next-generation leaders of the Industrial Revolution 2.0, they need to be equipped to handle a vast amount of data. Information handling (ie GDPR) measures play a vital role in protecting a university’s cyber security – an ongoing technological challenge that requires long-term strategic development, as well as regular rounds of investment to mitigate the threats as they evolve. James Breakell, Managing Direct of D-Tech emphasises the need for HE to commit to spending in this area: “Don’t restrict training and testing to desk-top exercises; hold impromptu testing of procedures. Cyber security is not an area to scrimp on, however tight your budgets are, but one of the cheapest and often most effective ways of protecting yourself is to educate; and nobody is better placed to do that than you.”

Mitigating a university’s cybersecurity risks on an ongoing basis involves full-scale monitoring of the entire network, and restricting data as and when required.

Tools like Microsoft’s Enterprise Mobility Suite, for instance, identifies all permitted users and devices on a network. It also restricts information sharing, using secured containers for data. Additionally, these tools enable GDPR compliance, as it automatically eliminates data when students graduate and leave the network. In the event of a data breach, all student data can also be retrieved from the cloud, lessening the impact of an attack.

Where Can The BYOD Trends Develop In The Future?

Wearable tech is the next area where universities can use BYOD thinking to engage with their students’ unique ways of learning. For example, it can be used to improve lines of communication between teachers and students.

Alerts to classroom changes and assignment deadline reminders can be sent as a direct notification to a student’s wearable device. Analytic feedback tools can also be used to monitor activity over a shared network, as well as harnessed to improve the quality of teaching methods.

Many schools and businesses are using predictive AI to test and coach learners using gamification methods. This means that wearable tech can also be embraced as part of the HE process.

Taking one example, Microsoft, in partnership with London College of Fashion is using wearable tech in the design capacity, utilising augmented reality and virtual reality studios. Using VR headsets, designers can create and test their ideas without generating waste. Interacting with hyper-realistic simulations of real-life working scenarios can immensely improve students’ vocational skills before they graduate.

The development of the Internet of Things (IoT) is another area where embracing BYOD can increase student body cohesion – uniting HE institutions in their aim to become more environmentally sustainable (as well as forward-thinking in their adoption of tech). Technology manufacturers Siemens, for instance, are currently developing IoT tools to turn the idea of Smart Cities into a reality. With all devices connected, Siemens uses IoT to monitor energy usage in buildings, as well as sensor technology to perform energy-saving actions, like turning office lights off when they are not in use. The goal of smart cities is to use big data analytics to plan the distribution of resources with optimum efficiency.

IoT technology is still a relatively new platform which has yet to realise its full potential.

Its list of applications for use – when combined with BYOD and a spark of creativity fostered within the right learning environment – is potentially endless.

Are Universities Doing Enough To Facilitate BYOD?

While investment in the technology sector will remain a priority in the UK in the years ahead, universities must also allow their students to lead the charge. In a globalised HE market, universities are finding themselves in fierce competition with each other to attract the brightest, tech-savviest students.

Facilitating BYOD should be considered somewhat of a minimum requirement in all universities. Things like secure Wi-Fi access should be ubiquitous in all university buildings; students no longer want to be restricted by ethernet cables on- or off-campus. Luckily, the number of solutions at a university’s disposal, as well as a significant lowering in the price of these products, make it easier for universities to adapt and manage their revamped digital campus set-up.

Caroline Pritchard from Inspirational furniture brand Zioxi, for instance, notes that simple technologies like rechargeable power hubs, “offer BYOD users access to charging points without the need for ‘fixed’ floor boxes”. Floor and wall-based electrical outlets limit the use of space in collaborative environments, such as libraries. “With mobile battery-powered units on wheels you can power six to eight devices and set up casual working areas wherever you need,” she said.

Cloud computing, encryption, app development and collaborative online and offline spaces all work to improve the quality of learning in BYOD-enabled lecture halls. But, perhaps one of the trickiest areas where some institutions may fall behind could be the underutilisation of more advanced kit like AI, IoT and AR. These technologies can create highly immersive and collaborative learning experiences. However, embracing such radical improvements to technological capabilities takes time. Therefore, BYOD will need to play an essential role in this development process – bridging the gap between students, teachers and employers, from wherever they are in the world.