At a recent press event in London, launching the Juniper Networks Trusted Mobility Index, I was fascinated to listen to John Smith, ICT Manager of Settle College speak about his organization’s experiences of embracing Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) for the students. What really struck me was John’s huge enthusiasm for the project, and also the college’s “can-do” attitude to technology in the school. I wonder how many other secondary schools are sufficiently confident and forward-thinking to 1) see the value in students being connected and empowered, and 2) shape a robust usage policy that protects users and leaves no doubt what they can and can’t do while on school premises and in school time?
Chatting to John afterwards, I asked him about the security concerns he and his colleagues had before they introduced the BYOD scheme. He explained to me that they have taken it one step at a time, with an initial pilot scheme for sixth form students (16-18 year olds) – but with plans to roll it out to younger students over time (and they are all very keen to be included, unsurprisingly). Settle College was totally realistic about the potential risk – a network compromised by a virus or malware could mean problems with highly confidential student data, so the security policy and network protection measures had to be solid. John explained that the network structure also had to be re-thought, moving away from a single flat network to a series of virtual local area network domains (VLAN). In essence these VLANs are segregated, ensuring that a problem in one area cannot spill into another.
The college felt that the potential risks – if properly and responsibly addressed with smart network design, innovative technology and thoughtful, well-enforced policy – were far outweighed by the advantages of BYOD. Every day John and his colleagues see sixth form students using their own smartphones and tablets to connect to learning resources, research sites in the classroom – broadening the opportunity for “anytime anywhere” learning, and removing a bottleneck on limited school-owned ICT equipment. He also makes the point that these young people will soon be out in a world that is connected and always on – so this sensible, collaborative BYOD approach is a much more realistic preparation for the next stage in their lives, and is likely to create responsible cyber citizens.
During the Juniper media event, John was asked what he would do differently with this project if he had his time over again – “I would have brought BYOD into the school sooner!” was his immediate and heartfelt reply! “Hearing the positive feedback from students on the scheme is great and has provided much-needed positivity around ICT in the school.” John also said that staff and parents have been equally enthusiastic, with teaching and learning being greatly enhanced through the easier, ubiquitous access to resources, information and examples. In particular, students and staff are no longer wandering around the school looking for a free PC when some ad-hoc research is called for.
I was truly fascinated by John’s story of Settle College, and I plan to keep an eye on how the school continues to develop its forward-thinking attitude to BYOD and ICT for its students. I have a feeling that John and his colleagues will keep pushing the boundaries!