BYOD - Bring Your Own Device

Challenges and risks

The desk research and interviews carried out for this guide have highlighted a range of challenges and risks associated with, or believed to be associated with, BYOD and many sources have emphasised these rather more than the actual or potential benefits.

This is not unusual when exploring the potential of a new pedagogical approach, especially one involving ICT, and the situation may change as the number of successful cases of BYOD implementation increases.

National differences and language issues

Some concerns and challenges are specific to particular countries, for example:

  • In several European countries school education is required by law to be free of charge. Therefore, asking parents to fund equipment for use in schools is very unusual and potentially problematic.
  • In some countries or regions (e.g. France and Spain's Castile-La Mancha region) there are laws banning students from using their mobile devices in school and in other countries local or school level bans are common. This is currently a major obstacle to BYOD. However, even where there is legislation, some teachers have been able to obtain permission for students to use their mobiles for educational projects. In Portugal the law bans mobile devices unless they are used in an educational activity. Also, in many areas schools bans are frequently disregarded by students and also by some teachers who wish to utilise students' devices for learning activities.
  • Some European governments are funding BYOD pilots or have a BYOD strategy but schools in other European countries say there is not a clear national direction on how to proceed and there are few BYOD good practice examples for teachers to learn from.
  • There are very large numbers of apps available which can be used with BYOD devices. However, the largest number of these are in the English language and schools in many European countries complain of a shortage of apps and resources in their native tongue and aligned to their curricula.
  • There is a general issue of availability of learning materials in some national languages. This applies especially to commercially published materials but also to open educational resources (OER). A 2014 report by the LangOER project found "The existence of OER in less used languages ranges from languages with considerable OER to languages with few or no OER at all. The impression is more one of occasional initiatives without incentives for fully sustained development" (Bradley & Vigmo, 2014).

Challenges of diverse devices

Many of the concerns expressed by educators relate to BYOD models in which there is not a standard specification for the mobile devices brought into school, for example:

  • Teachers may be concerned that if all students do not have the same or very similar devices there could be a risk of increasing the digital divide and problems of inequality and bullying.
  • Where a variety of device types and models are used, lessons may have to be designed for the device with least functionality and opportunities offered by more sophisticated devices may be missed.
  • Teachers need more training, support and preparation time to cope with their students using many different devices.
  • If apps are used these may not work on all devices (i.e. including iOS and Android mobile devices, laptops and Windows tablets). Some schools and researchers have suggested that this problem can be avoided, or substantially reduced, by the use of browser-based apps (Stavert 2013). These apps are embedded within web pages and are therefore accessible via any device with a web browser with only minor rendering differences.
  • Learning materials that use Adobe Flash may not work on some mobile devices and, combined with the national languages issue, this can limit the number of available good quality learning resources which can be used on students' BYOD devices.

Classroom management

Many educators have concerns about the use of any mobile device in classrooms as they suggest these could distract students from their normal learning activities. BYOD increases these concerns as students using their own mobile devices might access their own non-educational apps and games or use messaging services in class. Some schools or local education authorities have sought to prevent problems with students using online services not deemed appropriate, or seen as potentially time wasting, e.g. Facebook and YouTube, by blocking access to these on school networks. 

However, such controls will not address the issue of off-line games and many teachers regard YouTube, in particular, to be a useful educational tool providing access to a very large amount of valuable resources. The alternative to banning and blocking is educating students in responsible use of the Internet and mobile devices plus acceptable use policies and classroom management strategies which avoid, and as necessary address, misuse by individual students.

A particular concern of some interviewees was the potential of BYOD devices to facilitate cheating in tests. In most countries, even where mobile phones are not routinely banned from school or classrooms, very strict rules and harsh penalties are in place to prevent cheating in externally marked examinations. In the context of formative assessment, teacher observation, knowledge of their students and classroom management experience are normally employed to combat cheating.

Network capacity and traffic

The introduction of BYOD, even when this is on a voluntary basis and/or involves only a few classes, increases the number of

  • users sharing internet bandwidth
  • locations from which students and teachers use Wi-Fi to access the internet and school systems
  • concurrent users accessing the Wi-Fi network
  • potential concurrent users of mobile network cells
  • items stored in and retrieved from cloud storage

Where schools have not anticipated these increases, and then continued to monitor use and demand, problems with response times have quickly arisen and teachers and students have become frustrated and discouraged. Some local education authorities and schools have decided, at least as an interim measure, to block or limit access to particularly popular and/or bandwidth greedy online services to reduce network traffic.

IT support challenges

The culture change of BYOD can be very difficult for technical support staff (in schools that employ IT support staff rather than outsourcing this service) and they may be reluctant to co-operate with BYOD plans. There are several reasons for this:

  • If students not only bring in their own devices but are also responsible for the administration and maintenance of these, this can be seen as a threat to jobs.
  • IT staff may worry about the increased demand on the network and bandwidth and potential negative impact on school systems.
  • IT staff are used to being in control and being responsible for everything to do with ICT and may be reluctant to give up this control as well as concerned that, if problems arise, they will be required to resolve these.
  • Preregistration of all devices and IP addresses which are to be allowed access to school networks is a large task that only IT staff can undertake.
  • In some countries (e.g. Switzerland) the law requires a school operating BYOD to implement an MDM (mobile device management) system able to track which devices are connected to which content and to store this information for six months. This requires IT investment as well as IT staff expertise and effort.

When school IT administrators were responding to a survey in late 2014 the most mentioned challenges were "security, BYOD management, IT management, staff support and development" (Blamire & Colin 2015).

Schools which have successfully introduced BYOD or other mobile learning initiatives recommend involving IT support staff (or external providers of IT support) early in the planning stages, asking for their advice, providing them with devices to research potential issues and solutions and encouraging them to communicate with and learn from other schools' experiences.

If a school's BYOD strategy includes providing responsibility for supporting the students' devices, the number and knowledge of IT staff currently employed may be insufficient, necessitating additional investment in staff and staff training or outsourcing of ICT support to a company or organisation that provides a "managed service".

Teachers' engagement with BYOD

Engaging teachers and developing a whole school approach to BYOD needs careful planning.

  • Involving a larger segment of teachers and students in BYOD beyond the initial enthusiasts can be a challenge in schools where BYOD is optional.
  • Embedding the use of the BYOD devices so that it becomes an integrated part of teaching and learning rather than an occasional add on is a challenge that requires planning and development activities to overcome.
  • Some interviewees have reported that upper secondary schools can find it difficult to engage teachers who teach older students, as some of these teachers may prefer to teach in a very traditional way when preparing students for important examinations.
  • Persuading teachers to integrate mobile devices, including BYOD devices, into their practice can be a particular challenge where they are judged to be "excellent" or "outstanding" teachers. The attitude of such teachers can be, "if my teaching and results are excellent, why should I change anything".
  • Teachers who are not confident with ICT, and/or have previously had negative experiences when trying to use new technologies with their students, may be difficult to persuade to engage with BYOD.
  • Some schools have found, counter to their expectations, that younger teachers are less likely to try BYOD than older teachers. It seems to be the case that more experienced teachers are more confident in their role and, therefore, more likely to feel comfortable experimenting with new technology. This finding is supported by research carried out in Switzerland and Quebec (Akkar & Heer 2006; Karsenti & Larose 2005) which found that young teachers, although better trained in the use of technology, tend to use this less to innovate in the classroom than more experienced teachers (young teachers are too busy with classroom management issues).
  • Teachers with less well developed ICT skills can find it difficult to support students with different device configurations or software versions and time available to participate in staff development activities may be limited.
  • Some teachers find it difficult to cope with the culture change of having a reduced level of control when students are using their own devices.

Parents' concerns about BYOD

Typical parental concerns which can arise relate to:

  • The cost of providing mobile devices for their children.
  • Fears that expensive devices might be lost or stolen at school or between home and school.
  • The possibility that some children may feel excluded if they do not have a smart device, or if it is not as good as those owned by their peers.
  • The possibility of an increased risk of bullying.
  • Concerns that increased student use of mobile devices when using them in school as well as at home might have adverse health implications, e.g. eyesight, posture, repetitive strain and sleep problems.
  • Concerns that there might be health risks associated with mobile phones or Wi-Fi networks.
  • A suspicion that mobile devices are not serious learning tools and a fear that their children are playing rather than learning.