Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies pose an interesting problem for schools. We want to encourage students to use their own devices in the classroom, but as an educational establishment we also have a duty of care to provide a safe, secure environment within which students can learn.
Most schools block the main social networking websites — Facebook, Twitter etc. The Local Authority I work under blocks Hotmail for students. But these are exactly the type of services that students are using their mobile devices to access. If we disable access to these sites we’re simply discouraging students from using Internet within the safety of the school network. The result is that students will simply use their own mobile Internet service to access the blocked content defeating the purpose of the block in the first place.
We, therefore, need to make use of the school system a more attractive offering than the use of mobile 3G mobile connections or Wi-Fi hotspots.
In other words, we need to find a balance between e-safety and allowing students to access the services they wish to discourage them turning to “unsafe” solutions.
Here’s a hypothetical situation:
Let’s say a teacher distributes a brand new set of text books to a class. Most students work as asked by the teacher, but one student decides that instead of learning about The Black Death a much more fulfilling pastime is drawing brilliantly detailed phalluses on the pages of the new book. Now, there are two courses of action a teacher can take, one, discipline the student and explain why what he is doing is wrong or, two, contact the manufacturer of the offending pencil and demand something be done about this problem of students scrawling anatomical images on text books.
Just because an issue is enabled by technology doesn’t mean that the solution is also technology based. Why restrict a resource for a majority as a result of the actions of a few? Classroom discipline issues will always exist.
In primary schools we teach students that the way to converse with another is with our “indoor voice”, and that running in the classroom is not appropriate. The same should be true of social media and technology in schools. In the same way a student is expected to be silent at the request of the teacher, so should a student understand that checking their Facebook news feed during class is inappropriate.
A website like Facebook or Twitter may arguably have few direct educational merits, but it is a part of student life and essential to communication between young social groups. We don’t prevent students speaking to one another in school, but we do ask for silence when appropriate. The same should be true of social media.
The problem with BYOD is that unless we offer a system that provides access to the things students value they have the option to vote with their feet and use another system. 3G and Wi-Fi hot spots are all easily accessible alternatives to a school provided BYOD system. Can’t access Facebook on the school system? Simply switch off Wi-Fi and use 3G.
Students will bring mobile devices into school regardless of the decisions that schools make. We need to decide, do we encourage this valuable resource or ban it? At a time when schools are struggling to provide enough ICT hardware, most schools accept that the incoming wave of mobile devices is inevitable.
The challenge for schools is to make these systems more attractive to students than any of the alternatives. Clearly there is certain content, such as pornography or graphic violence, which has no educational value at all, but if students are going to access Facebook anyway, why not allow them to do so in a safe and controlled environment?
The question we have to ask ourselves is, do we restrict these things because we believe they are of no value, or rather because we don’t understand them?