Not Just for the Office: How the BYOD Movement Could Improve Education in Classrooms, Too

In much the same way bring-your-own-device is changing how work gets done in the business world, BYOD is having a significant impact in the classroom.

The idea is simple: allow students to bring their own personal devices into school to aid in the learning process. This step can be seen as providing students better educational tools as well as one of necessity considering a recent survey of college students revealed that 40 percent of them say they can’t go 10 minutes without using digital technology.

BYOD in the classroom can be a real boost for students, but that doesn’t mean all educators are on board with the idea. The biggest concern? Constant distractions among students while teachers are trying to do their jobs. It’s a genuine worry that all schools and universities will need to address if they’re thinking about instituting a BYOD classroom policy.

Teaching has never been easy, and the influx of mobile devices in the classroom has only made that job much more difficult. That’s not to say such devices can’t be put to good use.

Smartphones, tablets, laptops, and other devices can be incredibly effective tools when it comes to helping students be more producti ve by helping them collaborate and research. Many schools are realizing how useful BYOD is by creating their own policies allowing students to use their favorite devices. While mobile devices may help in this regard, they still represent another possible distraction, one that many teachers didn’t have to deal with a decade or two before.

The distractions stemming from personal devices can come in many forms. Some students may use their smartphones to play games like Angry Birds and Candy Crush, in turn not directing their attention to instructions from their teacher. Students may also spend a lot of their time on social media, posting updates to Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram instead of learning.

In fact, in one Australian study conducted by Dell, around 70 percent of students admitted to using social media sites during class. Texting can also become a huge distraction, with students having conversations with each other during classroom time. Trying to control this type of misbehavior is far from easy and only adds one more thing on a long to-do list for teachers.

Another possible distraction doesn’t come from what’s on the device but rather what the device is. It’s sometimes referred to as “device envy,” where students may become preoccupied by the fact that some students have a better device than they do. In the intense competition of one upmanship often seen in school, students may get distracted or feel excluded if their device isn’t the latest or fanciest when compared to others around them. Older devices may also affect the learning process if the devices aren’t capable of running the educational apps most BYOD schools prefer to use.

There’s little doubt that mobile devices can create a distraction in the classroom, but does that mean BYOD should be avoided altogether? Not necessarily. While distractions from mobile devices will never vanish completely, the effect they have on students’ education can be minimized. Some schools have experimented with new IT security systems that place new firewalls that effectively block unwanted applications—like social media—from being accessed while students are at school. Schools can also actively promote acceptable apps that can be universally accessed on any device, thus cutting down on the impact of device envy.

Another solution uses cloud computing to give every student the same opportunity to use their devices for their education. Some schools are able to deliver a software image onto student devices, basically using the advantages of cloud computing for software-as-a-service (SaaS), allowing access to all necessary apps without worrying over whether each device can handle it. In essence, the problems introduced by bringing more technology into the classroom can be solved by even more technology.

BYOD has a lot to offer when students use their devices effectively. As with any major change in the classroom, there are pitfalls and downsides to be aware of. Distractions will pop up from time to time, but classroom BYOD can still be managed with the right tools and technological know-how.

Schools and educators shouldn’t be intimidated by students’ apparent unwillingness to part with their devices. Instead, they should turn it into an advantage, one that can help students of all ages learn what they need to at an increased pace.