Mobile Computing | Feature

Pros and Cons of BYOD and School Supplied Mobile Devices

Educational technology experts discuss the pros and cons of BYOD vs. school-supplied mobile devices on college campuses.

With educational budgets ever tighter, and with a large percentage of students already toting their own smart phones, tablets, and laptops, more institutions are considering the bring-your-own-device, or "BYOD," approach to mobile classroom technology.

But there are pros and cons to both BYOD and school-supplied strategies. Handing out specific devices allows IT departments to standardize the mobile rollouts and provide a predictable level of support across all devices. But the rollouts can get expensive--an issue that the BYOD approach solves by allowing students to purchase and use their own equipment.

Two educational technology experts and one CIO have outlined the key pros and cons of each strategy to help IT administrators select the best plan for their own schools.

Bring Your Own Device

Pros:

Many Students Already Own Devices
"More and more students are coming to class fully enabled with their own devices," said Shaya Fidel, a researcher focused on IT trends in the classroom at Stanford University. "That's leading many institutions to look at the affordability and accessibility of BYOD."

Upfront Cost Savings
Researching mobile options, soliciting equipment bids, purchasing the mobile devices, and then training students on their use is cost intensive. Schools looking for a more affordable route should investigate BYOD's viability for their specific applications and usage.

"Any institution that doesn't have a budget for mobile devices this year is going to be forced to consider the BYOD model," said Stephen Landry, CIO at South Orange, NJ-based Seton Hall University, which for 14 years used a university technology fee to purchase laptops for students.

Shorter Implementations
Where a school-supplied mobile initiative can take months to plan, finance, purchase, and implement, the BYOD model can be rolled out within days, if necessary. "The biggest advantage to BYOD is the fact that professors can start using mobile in their classrooms tomorrow," said Fidel. "There's no equipment to buy and no software to install. Everything is ready to go right from the student's existing technology bank."

Cons:

Disparate Equipment and Operating Systems
A professor managing a classroom of 30 students equipped with school-supplied iPads will have fewer technology issues than one who is dealing with myriad devices and operating systems. To circumvent this issue for laptop users Landry suggested a standardized operating system across all laptops to accommodate classroom-specific software packages.

"The other option is to relegate activities to a computer lab," said Landry, "which is far less convenient for students and instructors."

Not all Students Have Their own Devices
"Putting the burden of technology on the individual student is a tough call," said Reynol Junco, professor of the department of academic development and counseling at Lock Haven University in Lock Haven, PA.

Not all students have their own cell phones, he said, let alone smart phones. "Acquiring the technology can be an insurmountable cost for some students," said Junco.

Folding the cost into the student's financial aid package is one option, he added, although that approach effectively places a regressive tax on the student. "The BYOD approach hurts the student from a lower-income background whether it's paid for out-of-pocket or through financial aid."

IT Service Levels Will Vary Across Devices
Offering exceptional service levels across disparate devices is a challenge for resource-strapped college IT departments, said Landry. Pushing out security updates and providing technical support are just some of the areas that can overtax the IT team that's managing a BYOD model.

"The more institutionalized your program is," said Landry, "the better your service levels are going to be.

School-Supplied Devices

Pros:

Standardized Technology Across Campus
Colleges that hand out specific brands, makes, and models of laptops and tablets can rest easy knowing that a single set of standards can be rolled out along with the initiative.

"You don't have to worry about one student bringing in an iPad and the next one using a Blackberry Playbook," said Junco. "Through standardization of product you can eliminate digital inequality and better manage the mobile initiative."

Support Tickets Are Easier To Clear
Landry said Seton Hall's school-supplied laptop program allows his team to quickly address user support issues.

"If a student's computer breaks we can easily swap out a hard drive, deal with the software glitch that's causing the problem, or issue a replacement," said Landry. "The IT team that's managing a BYOD program wouldn't be able to tackle these problems as quickly due to the wide range of devices and operating systems it was dealing with."

Cons:

Universities Must Find the Funding
With school budgets severely constrained nationwide the school-supplied approach could take a backseat to the BYOD model. Even the most basic iPad costs more than $300 and would likely require hundreds of thousands of dollars from a university's budget to implement--not to mention the initial planning, teacher and student training, and long-term maintenance costs associated with the devices.

The School's Infrastructure Will Be Taxed
Students using their own smart phones often just rely on their own providers' networks for Internet access. That eases the strain on a university's Wi-Fi network. The school-supplied model, on the other hand, requires a more robust network to ensure good, reliable reception across campus.

"BYOD doesn't usually require a technological overhaul," said Junco, "but when you hand out devices you'd better make sure that the infrastructure is in place to support it."

Handing out the Latest Devices Won't Change Learning
Junco advises universities to look beyond the "cool factor" of devices like the iPad when developing school-supplied models for education.

"It's not enough to just hand out hundreds of these devices and expect them to transform higher education," said Junco. Faculty development, student training, and curriculum assessment must be in place before the equipment is purchased.

"Show people how to use the university-managed devices for learning," said Junco, "and your initiative's success odds will improve exponentially."

The Bottom Line
There's no one-size-fits-all approach to mobile computing on campus. If an implementation is on your university's agenda be sure to weigh out the pros and cons of each option before making a move in either direction.

"There's no right or wrong solution to the BYOD versus school-supplied debate," said Landry. "You can create a program around either option as long as you plan accordingly and factor in as many of the technology, logistical, and user issues as possible."

About the Author

Bridget McCrea is a business and technology writer in Clearwater, FL. She can be reached at bridgetmc@earthlink.net.

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