The BYOD buzz

Keri Beckingham takes a look at what the expansion in BYOD means for universities, and the potential challenges as a result

When it comes to the advances of digital technology in the HE sector, there’s no bigger buzzword at the moment than Bring Your Own Devices, or BYOD as it is more commonly known. The phrase was first used by Intel in 2009, and here students and staff are encouraged to bring their personal smartphones, tablets and laptops to campus and lectures, rather than relying on the use of the university’s own computers in libraries and study centres. Allowing greater flexibility for learning, UK universities have led the way in implementing BYOD as students have long since used their own laptops on campus – but what impact does this technological development have on teaching and studying, and what challenges do universities face as a result?

Infrastructure challenges

Speaking of the widespread use of mobile technology amongst students and the technical challenges facing universities today, Chris Goff, Business Manager, Visual Instruments at Epson UK, says: “The BYOD age is here and seminar room collaboration is becoming increasingly important for universities. However, not all institutions have the infrastructure and technology in place. Tutors must have the right software at their disposal to implement a truly collaborative learning experience. Students expect to be able to interact with learning material and share work seamlessly with fellow pupils. 

An example of a collaborative learning solution is Epson’s iProjection app, which allows up to 50 devices to connect to an Epson EasyMP Network Projection enabled projector and show content wirelessly from Android, iOS and now Chromebook devices at the same time, allowing tutors to tackle the connectivity and collaboration challenges head on.”

Another potential issue that can arise as a result of BYOD is data security. Speaking of the potential problems that universities can face, Jen King, Microsoft Teacher Ambassador, says: “In a BYOD environment you need to be in control of your identity management and ensure that sensitive data is dealt with appropriately. The Enterprise Mobility Suite from Microsoft gives universities what they need in one package. It will ensure you know who is on the network, the devices are secure and patched, and when an individual leaves they can reclaim the data. InTune allows for easy imaging and app management, RMS restricts the ability for someone to store a document where they shouldn’t and Azure Active Directory Premium protects identities so your data stays safe no matter what device is used.” 

Connectivity is key

Although BYOD brings many benefits to universities and students alike, when it comes to the connectivity issues that can occur as a result, universities still have work to do. As Will Liu, UK Country Manager at TP-Link UK, comments: “The average UK student has just over three devices per person for their communications needs at university, mainly due to the relative affordability of smartphones and tablets. A lot of them also bring their games consoles, and iPads are not an uncommon sight now on campuses too. 

When that is combined with the devices owned by teaching and university staff, it’s very easy to see how campus networks can come under incredible strain as a result of BYOD. Total costs of ownership (TCO) for BYOD could creep up, especially with IT staff helping students and teachers integrate their devices into the network at the start of the academic year.”

Will goes on to say: “Combining poorly secured devices on already stretched networks is a perfect storm for university IT departments, who are already under pressure to cut costs. BYOD is a great concept when managed properly, and it can help reduce capital costs, but it can also lead to device overload amid the exponential demand for voice, video and data. We would always recommend IT heads commission a network site survey to pinpoint where the stresses and strains are, well in advance of the start of the autumn term.”

Getting the Wi-Fi right

Rob Purcell, Group Leader IT Support at University of Surrey, believes that being able to easily connect to the internet and the university’s network is of vital importance to students when starting their degrees. “The first question that students ask is ‘How do I get Wi-Fi?’” he says.

Although UK universities are beginning to understand the importance of offering a high-quality Wi-Fi service in order to maximise the student experience, and flexibility when it comes to connectivity and studying, are they currently doing enough to encourage BYOD learning? Though wired connections are provided for every fresher’s room, the rise of wireless devices, some without Ethernet ports, and apps such as FaceTime, Skype, Instagram, and Whatsapp, mean that Surrey First Years expect immediate Wi-Fi on arrival as an example – and for the university itself, the solution had to be affordable for students’ budgets, intuitive, and not be a burden for campus technicians. In the end, a £10 router from TP-LINK was the chosen outcome, with over 5,000 distributed, and over 70% of campus students buying one. In addition, a similar, free deployment at the University of Bolton led to a 98% satisfaction rate among 350 students in halls where solid walls compromised wall-to-wall wireless connectivity. 

Students at both universities received a secure Wi-Fi network and, crucially, uninterrupted Wi-Fi for work and play – with so many devices on campus, it is critical to create non-competing networks as bandwidth hoggers, lags and delays are a major cause of hall fall-outs and conflicts between students and their chosen institution. Rather than blanket wireless coverage, both universities chose room-by-room solutions in order to improve the service offered to students, and to enable a positive student experience across the board.

BYOD and beyond

So with all things considered, where can the BYOD trend evolve from here? According to Chris Goff, we have only just begun to see the potential that BYOD has in terms of the studying capabilities for students. “We can see BYOD driving a learning revolution,” he says. “Students carrying their own devices means that teachers need to adapt their lesson plans, making use of new interactive projection technology, which can transform any surface into a digital interface. BYOD can also get students more active in shaping their learning experiences – the ability to edit documents on the big screen, annotate and showcase work can reward those who show initiative and innovation.”

Chris goes on to add: “It won’t be too long before the BYOD trend evolves from mobile devices and tablets, shifting towards wearables such as smart glasses (like Epson’s Moverio range). These technologies present even more opportunities to enhance the educational experience. Universities should start thinking now about how wearables and other devices can maximise the educational opportunities they create.”  

In addition, Jen King looks further ahead to what other edtech trends will emerge for universities over the coming months: “Machine learning to guide differentiating learning experiences for students, tailored to their own behaviours and needs, seems to be the current direction,” she comments. “Microsoft just released new features in Word, PowerPoint and Sway to help streamline content and save lecturers and students time when creating resources. The Quickstarter function creates presentations, providing you with the images, some text and suggested layout so you can focus on designing lessons that engage your students – not finding images or sources.” 

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