Drivers for BYOD in Europe
The decision to introduce BYOD in schools is driven by a combination of social, economic, educational and technological factors. The relative importance of these factors varies from country to country and according to the particular contexts in which individual schools operate.
The social landscape regarding technology ownership and use has changed significantly during the last 15 years and the pace of change has accelerated during this period. In all European countries most secondary school students now own mobile phones and many also own or have access to tablet and laptop computers. Most homes have broadband and free Wi-Fi is available in many locations in most towns and cities and is increasingly found in more rural areas. As a result, for most young people mobile technologies and the internet are simply a normal part of everyday life which they cannot imagine being without.
Modern smart devices now provide their users with a vast array of useful tools whilst being very compact and convenient to carry around and, in view of their functionality, relatively inexpensive. They can replace all or much of the functionality of multiple devices some of which were previously both large and expensive, e.g. desktop computers, cameras, video cameras, tape recorders, TV/computer screens, music mixing and video editing equipment and satnavs. Mobile devices can also connect to larger screens when required to share, discuss and/or collaboratively edit in class (as well as online) material collected on mobiles, thereby supporting collaborative as well as individual work. However, the pace of technological change is very fast. New devices which are able to process and store more information faster and offer more functions, or are simply more attractive to consumers, are frequently launched, making previous types and models of device appear out of date.
Most European countries have experienced financial difficulties in recent years and for some the effects have been severe. As a result, most publically funded schools' budgets have been reduced or frozen or at least the rate of annual budget increase has fallen. However, generally schools are expected to provide the same or an improved level of service to their students. Consequently, all aspects of school budgets are subjected to careful scrutiny.
Concerning the economic drivers of BYOD in their school or schools, typical views (which were very consistent across all countries) of policy makers, school principals and teachers interviewed for this guide can be summarised as follows:
- BYOD is about efficient management of resources at a time when school budgets are tight. Schools would like to use ICT more but existing stocks of equipment and computer classrooms are insufficient. Also schools cannot afford to buy a mobile device for each student and replace it every two or three years. However, most students already own at least one device, and in the case of smartphones always have these with them, so it is a waste not to use these devices in school.
- A huge number of free, or low cost, learning apps, eBooks, videos and other learning materials are available for use on students' devices. These are cheaper, lighter, more convenient and more easily updated than traditional textbooks.
Some interviewees perceived BYOD as a low risk way of experimenting with the use of mobile devices for teaching and learning without having to first purchase large numbers of expensive devices.
Concerning the cost of learning resources, several interviewees saw the increased use and functionality of mobile devices as an opportunity to move away from reliance on expensive and relatively static text books towards greater use of learning materials developed by teachers and students.
Regarding apps, some schools include in the specification of BYOD devices for students a list of apps which need to be installed. This approach has the effect of including the cost of apps, where these are not free of charge, in the cost of BYOD to students or their families.
To assist schools to legally provide multiple copies of apps for use on students' devices, some suppliers have introduced volume purchase schemes. It has been observed that the costs incurred via these schemes are less than the older software licensing costs associated with desktop computers. However, some schools may have underestimated the cost of apps if, during pilot 1:1 or BYOD projects for example, they have previously distributed apps by replicating a standard device configuration across all devices via a synchronisation process.
Schools in all European countries are under pressure to deliver improved outcomes for their students. The demise of many traditional industries that required large workforces, competition from other countries in an increasingly globalised world and the changing nature of employment (in many cases due to increased automation and digitisation), together with stalled or very low rates of economic growth have led governments to conclude their citizens need to be educated to a higher level in order to participate fully in a knowledge economy, contribute to business innovation and improve economic growth. National governments are acutely aware of their countries' rankings in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) surveys and a desire to improve these can drive education policy making in some countries. Individual governments have particular priorities for improving education but typically schools are being asked to:
- Improve: overall academic achievement; achievement in STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics); digital literacy and ICT skills; literacy and numeracy; language skills; and opportunities to develop critical thinking, problem solving, communication and collaboration skills.
- Provide: differentiated teaching to meet the needs of individual learners and groups of learners including learners with disabilities or special educational needs; learning activities tailored to students' preferred learning styles or preferences; personalised learning resources and tools that meet the unique needs of individual learners; better preparation for employment.
Many educators and policy makers interviewed for this guide identified as an educational benefit ownership of, and the ability to personalise, the device used for learning, suggesting that this is an important element in moving towards more student centred learning.
Some schools mentioned drivers that are specific to the particular circumstances in their country or their school. These included:
- Digitisation of the Finnish final matriculation examinations by 2016 making the need to achieve 1:1 computing more urgent, with perceived advantages if students can use devices they are familiar with.
- Previous Norwegian Government decisions to digitise learning materials and to require schools to teach digital literacy, as well as counties and some municipalities implementing 1:1 computing in their schools. In most cases the Norwegian counties have implemented 1:1 computing by buying devices for students but Rogaland County decided to try BYOD, having carried out research which identified BYOD as an emerging trend in some other countries that could deliver educational benefits.
- A desire to test hypotheses concerning benefits that might be gained by enabling the use of personal mobile devices. For example, a Finnish school with a higher than average percentage of male students hypothesised that learning with mobile devices might improve the engagement and therefore achievement of male students in particular and that BYOD would enable this mobile learning to begin. This was in reaction to national statistics showing that boys typically achieve one grade lower than girls in literacy, especially in written work.
- The examples provided by other schools' successes, and/or lack of serious problems when implementing BYOD. This was the case in the UK where there are several BYOD schools whose successes have been widely publicised.
- Ecological concerns, e.g. schools in Switzerland (Projekt schule) and Austria involved in questioning the waste of resources represented by purchasing of mobile devices by schools when students already own personal devices with similar affordances.