Overcoming the technical challenges of BYOD in education

BYOD offers institutions new opportunities, but also plenty of challenges

There was time when bring your own device (BYOD) would have been a two-person job, involving a considerable physical effort and a trolley to wheel the old desktop down to your university.

In recent years we have all watched the democratisation of technology shrink hardware, sharpen screen resolution and expand storage capacity Whether it’s laptops, tablets or phones this trend has seen personal devices flood campuses and aid learning. An observation backed up when examining the recent findings of Jisc’s Student Digital Tracker. They showed 90% of HE students use personal laptops for their study. These results may not come as a surprise as higher education has long been a leader in implementing BYOD but, it is important to consider with the widespread use of mobile tech, what are the technical challenges facing universities today?


Digital technology has installed itself fully in to our day to day lives, changing the way we absorb information, communicate and navigate life. Therefore, someone’s personal device is now used for a host of activities whether it’s accessing social media sites, downloading content or online banking. Such activities can leave a device without the required protections open to malware or virus attacks. When an unmanaged device connects to a managed network it poses security risks for institutions and could expose sensitive data. It’s also important to consider that the multitude of devices available today each bring their own data and information security concerns for institutions to deal with.

Network Overload

The growth of the digital world we live in today has made smart technology more accessible to everyone. These days eight out of ten students have smart phones and/or laptops, when you include the devices owned by academics and staff on campus as well, you begin to understand how many Wi-Fi connective devices are demanding bandwidth at any given time. The implications of an overloaded network could see slow connections, poor quality service and many frustrated students.

Equal access

Although the large majority of people have access to technological devices there are still many that don’t. All students deserve equal access to educational resources. The potential of BOYD technology to support meaningful learning to all students should not be overlooked.

A technology access gap is only likely to widen the digital literacy gap of students from lower income families. When you consider the thirst from businesses around the country and globally, for graduates with the appropriate digital skills, this could be affect the future employability of certain students.

Overwhelmed IT Support

Forgotten passwords, data loss, synching of email and difficulty accessing wireless networks are just some of the issues IT support can be flooded with through the progress of BYOD. The IT support department face a tough job, not only solving these issues and the ones above but getting the growing variety of devices online – especially when you consider how massively outnumbered they are by students.

However, despite all these challenges there are many potential benefits to mobile learning when the correct processes and systems are in place. At Jisc we work in partnership with UK universities to deliver a seamless, interoperable digital infrastructure which enables institutions to maximise their impact and maintain world-class standards. Our top tips to overcome the technical challenges and make BYOD a success are:

1.  Investigate the needs of BYO users

It’s no secret that to make technology successful you need to spend time understanding the needs of key stakeholders. In BYOD’s case this is students, therefore, it’s integral all universities look to create focus groups or surveys like the Jisc Student Digital Experience tracker, which seek to understand how students want to use their mobile devices to support learning. This will put a university in position to design a user-friendly system that works for students and delivers a seamless BOYD experience.

2.  Internet safety 

Internet safety is about safe and responsible practice with technology and the sensible management of risks presented by the digital world. The PIES model is a good starting point for many institutions for approaching safeguarding and security within education. The PIES model is a combination of policies, secure technology infrastructure, education and training, all underpinned by standards and inspection.

Strategies, policies and vision can guide the direction, but when adopting and implementing the internet, change happens when students and staff get involved themselves to drive it forward.

3.  Offer training and support

Use of BYOD policies should feature in induction training, be embedded in academic and professional practices and, be further developed by a range of support options designed to extend digital literacy skills.  Support may include on-demand guidance, drop-in workshops, designated student champions or peer mentors.

4.  Encourage and inform users
Users may still expect institutions to provide all the equipment, services and systems that they feel they need to succeed alongside their own technologies. Therefore, they need to make it clear to users what is provided by the institution, how they can access institutional systems and use their own technologies. BYOD needs to be encouraged by ensuring access to networks and that power is universally available, so users can easily connect their devices while on campus.  

5.  Parity of access

Those without their own technologies or the skills to use them will be at a disadvantage if they do not have parity of access.  Institutions may wish to consider loan or support schemes to address this concern and provide a level playing field for students and for those involved in designing and delivering digital activities.

As the access to technology continues to increase the influx of devices into institutions across the UK will only continue. Therefore, universities need to ensure they have the correct processes and systems in place to manage the trend. Through a thorough analysis of requirements and possible issues, BYOD can only enhance the learning experience of students.

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