The problem with devices in education.

Published by Matt Setchell on

The problem with devices in education.

The use of IT in education is only increasing, to improve student outcomes, prepare them for the work of the future, and reduce staff workload whilst increasing flexibility. But how does everyone access this, when we still have IT rooms and laptop trolleys?

We have, outside of education, seen the world moving away from the days of only being able to access IT by sitting at a desk and turning on the PC. IT is something we have in our hands daily, but often in schools, this is not the case. You still have a specific IT room, or perhaps provision of 5 PCs in a room for 30 students. Maybe you have to book an IT room, and find a use for an hour, of technology you only really need for 15 minutes.

Maybe you are lucky and have shared laptops around the school, but they may still be booked when you need them.

BYOD – or Bring Your Own Device was once touted as the future for students in education. Being able to bring their own devices into school settings, and use them in lessons. In particular in GCSE/A Levels in later education and sixth forms.

During the pandemic eyes were opened to how few students had devices at home that they could use, and from an IT Support point of view – the capability of such devices varied from extreme to extreme.

There is no doubt that both Microsoft and Google are pushing students and staff to have their own devices to use, rather than going into IT rooms, giving access to tools and resources in every lesson, when needed – rather than having to book out and use an IT room as a special event. 

Of course, in ‘real life’ you use a device when you need to, and then move on to your next task, not all parts of a task may need a device throughout. When it comes to devices, you choose the right tool for the job, a tablet, a phone a desktop PC, or a laptop – and it’s this access that 1-2-1 schemes are trying to replicate.

I am all for this, as I believe that in education we should allow our pupils to benefit from access to the right resources to complete tasks that need them. Having spent years in IT lessons writing about how people might use technology, it was never something I saw when I was in school, and even now – we have the same model of a dedicated IT room. 

The number of mobile devices is increasing however of course, laptops are common in class sets, but – this is not the same as 1-2-1 provision, laptops have to be booked and are often shared between classes. Pupils and staff see glimpses of the possibilities in this scenario, and from supporting this increase in devices we can see that they are well-used resources. 

So imagine the possibilities of 1-2-1 devices throughout your school. The opportunities that would present, and how many life chances this would create if extended into homes.

The benefits of 1-2-1

With your personal device, you can access your entire previous work catalog, to refer back to – you can also access resources to support you from a far wider bank than what may be available in the classroom.

You can also use tools to ensure you can access the content in a format that suits you – whether that is video vs writing, or needing accessibility tools that make the text easier to follow, be read aloud, or be translated. Of course, having a device to yourself allows you to follow lesson materials at your own pace and much closer to you.

The ability to be able to continue that learning at home is key. And no amount of lugging textbooks and photocopies in your bag comes close for students to get the same access at home as they can in school. 

You can also choose the best tool to showcase your work, from a video you create, a slideshow, spreadsheets, or word processing when creating, meeting students’ personalised learning needs. 

You can also quickly collaborate and share your work with other students or staff – allowing best practices to be shared, and work modeled effectively.

Lessons become interactive, with the ability to share your thoughts without needing to shout out, encouraging participation through technology can lead to higher levels of engagement for students.

For staff, workload can be reduced significantly by using tools to digitally collect and assess work, and provide feedback through video, voice notes, written via pens on touch screens or simply typing!

Why BYOD is not the answer for 1-2-1

Imagine a room of 30 students, all using different devices and different versions of software. Whilst they are potentially playing games, getting around filters, or showing the video or pictures they downloaded last night. When opening one of these files, it brings down the entire network – as it’s malware.

Or equally – what if a student’s device is so overpowered, that it puts other children to shame, as they can’t match its power to complete work, or it is unreliable? 

What if, that powerful laptop is knocked by another student – or if it needs fixing by your IT and they drop it or damage it?

Not being in control of the devices students use is a huge red flag. Not least, you would have very little in the way to exercise your responsibilities through safeguarding.

Safeguarding and cyber security are key points as well – whose responsibility is it to look after these elements when devices are not owned by the school? Even if the school supplied them?

DfE Standards lay out very clearly, alongside KCSIE – the need for filtering and monitoring, if it’s not the school’s device – how can you enforce this technically or in any other way – whilst I am on this point, even if it is the school’s device – who is going to manage those 2 am safeguarding captures? Should it be the school? If it was any other device owned by the family, the answer is no. But – if it is on the school’s device or a device the school is encouraging pupils to use, can you not respond to a capture? What will that do for our staff’s wellbeing? Our kid’s privacy?

So what’s the answer?

I don’t have the answer. But I know BYOD simply won’t work – and so schools and trusts need to look at how they can provide devices to students of the same specification, that are safe, secure, reliable, and accessible to all.

The good news is this is possible now, more than ever. With affordable devices coming at low costs – a device between £200-300 each will last the 3 years of a lease, and make a huge impact. Of course, there will be additional costs – repairs, insurance, infrastructure (wifi, wired, and internet will all need to handle higher traffic) as well as increased licensing costs to cover additional devices when software is costed per endpoint, not per user.

There is also the need to increase the capacity of safeguarding teams, to monitor additional usage and the cost of supporting additional devices from a technical POV – either team will not welcome the huge increase in workload!

There are, however, solutions to these issues. 

The good news is devices are affordable when leased using an operational lease, it’s a good way to ensure students have the devices, and you have the impact in a budgeted way. Leases can cover the cost of the devices and any insurance (but consider self-insurance) and warranty, which are essential to provide confidence in a usable device for the lease length.

You can also consider parental contributions, where parents pay a set amount each month, which allows students to benefit from the devices. I am torn, however, as it can turn into the haves and have-nots. A plan must be in place to support lower-income families, whilst not penalising those families who can afford it to pay for things others don’t have to. 

You also have the question of when devices end their lease of selling to the pupil or returning at the lease end to further reduce costs (my view is you shouldn’t sell on if you start early enough or are in a MAT where schools feed into each other, you can upgrade their devices every 3 years to meet their changing needs from KS1,2 and 3) – if you don’t sell or give the devices at the end to pupils- it turns into a lease arrangement for the family (with the benefit of home use, a licensed, safe and secure device that is supported and safeguarded) for a low monthly cost (under £ 15 pm). Akin to a musical instrument and the lessons – the big difference of course is musical lessons are optional, or you are provided an instrument (I have no idea about the cost of a violin, flute guitar, or drum – how does it compare to a £250 laptop??).

Putting in the right infrastructure will be an investment, but this can be offset by potentially removing IT rooms, and saving on their refresh costs every 3-5 years for 30+ devices per room, with the added benefit of returning some much-needed learning spaces.

It also helps with the issue of students who need to edit large files, say for media, being able to store locally on their device which will sync with the cloud over time, without impacting the usage in lessons and so makes Cloud Systems a viable solution for all, reducing the costs of running, managing and upgrading on-premise servers (10’s of thousands every 3-5 years  even in primary when bringing in duplicate licensing and backup of both cloud and on-premise (see my last blog to understand this more)

In summary

Devices must be 1-2-1 in the future. How we achieve that is still not clear-cut with the current education funding crisis. Does that make it unobtainable? The answer is of course not, with many schools working to introduce 1-2-1 in different ways. The rewards are too large to ignore for student outcomes and supporting staff workloads and work/life balance to enhance recruitment and retention.

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