Caroline Marshall, Secondary School Teacher of Computing and Maths at Bradon Forest School, Wiltshire, has been part of a feasibility study to ascertain whether a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) strategy could help the school balance available budgets with realising ambitions to keep ahead of the latest technological advances in education.

Having now given the green light, from September 2014 Bradon Forest will introduce a formal BYOD strategy, underpinned by the necessary student WiFi infrastructure and digital agreements. Whilst looking ahead to the opportunities that Caroline believes this will bring, she takes the time to share with us the learnings that have taken place along the way…

Like any department working with limited budgets, there is always the conundrum as to where funds should be directed to make the most effective and positive impact on student motivation and attainment. We were increasingly finding that the biggest investment lay in the hardware, but at the same time fully appreciated that the true value of the hardware could only be realised if it was used with the right software. Bit of a tricky one!

This led us to review the potential of a BYOD strategy – because by its very nature this removes the bulk of the hardware cost from the school.  

In terms of widespread hardware investment, it wasn’t an option for us to standstill until budget became available. In spite of the myth that all students are digital natives these days, we have already started to see a digital divide within year groups – this became more apparent when we trialled the potential for a BYOD strategy. For example, Year 7 students were accustomed to using handheld devices such as iPads in the classroom, yet Year 10 did not associate iPads and smartphones with learning at all.

The main driver behind evaluating BYOD initially was to make best use of available budget. For us this didn’t mean simply opening up the opportunity for students to use their own devices under certain circumstances – it was a true school-wide initiative – and from September will be school policy. To make this happen in a controlled and manageable fashion, we have had to invest in dedicated student WiFi and all students and parents have signed a digital agreement which governs the terms of device use during school hours, i.e. Facebook and Twitter to name but a few…

We’ve also had to carefully consider those students who don’t have their own devices as BYOD must not exclude them. As such, we’ve reviewed from a budget perspective whether it was better to supply individual devices using Pupil Premium budgets or through the use of ‘pool’ devices in classrooms. For us, pool devices emerged as the more practical classroom solution and also stacked up from a budget perspective. This will be fully put to the test when we launch BYOD in September.

Going back to the software point; when we started the pilot we never viewed BYOD as a completely free strategy. As we will save budget on the hardware we have been investigating the educational software options that would best support BYOD and also deliver true classroom value. One solution we trialled was ActivEngage, a virtual learner response system from Promethean. As a network system, we found it to be easy to implement with IT support while from a classroom perspective it was extremely flexible (because it could be used on multiple device types within the same session).

We are also planning to trial ClassFlow. As this is a cloud-based classroom tool, we will be able to trial this securely once the student WiFi is operational in September.

Following the pilot, we have positive buy-in from students, parents and teachers. While I am excited about the forthcoming implementation of our BYOD strategy, if I was to give advice to anyone looking to adopt it in their own school, this would be: “Don’t mistake BYOD for free. BYOD is not an alternative to spending money, but it can be a good solution for schools who invest in the right processes, infrastructure and educational software to support student development and learning – afterall, that’s what the technology is here to do!”

Caroline Marshall is a Promethean Advocate. Promethean Advocates are a nationwide network of teachers who work with Promethean to develop best practice and new technologies. Each term, we’ll invite a Promethean Advocate to share their advice and tips with you based on their own experience.

The Promethean Advocate network is currently open for applications for new group members. If you are an enthusiastic user of interactive technologies and would like to share your experiences with like minded teachers, help develop pedagogical best practice, pilot new solutions and participate in educational events – contact Janice Prandstatter at Promethean for further details on Janice.Prandstatter@PrometheanWorld.com.