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Steve D'Arcy, Head of Daisy WiFi discusses how issues of bring-your-own-device can be overcome in the classroom.

The way in which children learn and teachers deliver their curriculum is evolving considerably as a result of technology. Many of the teaching tools once considered to be classroom staples are now considered old-hat, as interactive devices such as tablets and smartphones are gaining popularity as learning tools.

To deliver a more engaging learning experience whilst saving on resources, many schools are adopting bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policies but are subsequently experiencing difficulties in enforcing the stringent security measures required to govern the devices? usage in a school environment.

Changing the teaching landscape

BYOD allows both staff and students to access a network through their personal laptop, tablet or smartphone. As one in three children (according to Ofcom) now has their own tablet computer, an increase of 100% in just a year, it’s clear that there?s scope for widespread adoption in the future.

tablets in the classroom

For schools, embracing BYOD can be a significant means of saving money as it means the school doesn’t have to invest in expensive hardware. It also creates a sense of familiarity for the students who are used to the layout and controls of their own device, and outside of the classroom it leverages an opportunity for students to read up on the day’s notes, access core materials and consolidate their learning.

Connection is key

However, in order for BYOD to be successful, a reliable internet connection is required to support the devices of hundreds of students in the school. A WiFi solution is often the preferred method as it means students can connect to the network remotely and automatically, from any classroom within the school building.

Having a failsafe WiFi connection is pivotal to bringing education up to speed with the 21st century, yet a survey of 250 secondary schools revealed that only 22% had WiFi in most or all classrooms and 39% had it in only a few or no classrooms at all (C3 Education, on behalf of BESA).

So why are schools slow to adopt WiFi?

Security should be paramount

As with any internet connection, security will always be a major concern, especially when children are the core users. By allowing students to use their personal devices in class via your school’s internet connection, you are effectively opening up your system, school and students to a range of potential risks.

One of the benefits of favouring technology over pen and paper is the ability to add more engagement to the classroom, however, this can also have a negative effect as students are presented with a world of temptation at their fingertips. As students are bringing their own devices, you cannot control which apps they download, however it is possible to restrict their access to certain apps, such as Facebook, while at school through your WiFi system.

Secondary to this, but perhaps most important, is your obligation to keep your students safe while they are online. The threats range from contracting viruses by downloading content from unreliable sources to accessing inappropriate material such as pornography. Whilst all schools will have systems in place to block inappropriate content, it is important to recognise that these are not infallible. Recent research has revealed that one in six children has accessed adult material on school computers, ranging from content containing bad language to pornographic material. However, security concerns should not prevent schools from adopting technology, but rather encourage them to invest in the right solution to keep their student body safe.

Finding the perfect solution

Head teachers should be considering a WiFi solution which is relatively sophisticated and allows the filtering of content specifically with its audience in mind. This will ensure that site blocking does not result in a heavy-handed approach which blocks students from using useful and appropriate websites.

Filtering is possible in a number of ways including by category, domain name or by separating websites into lists, or a combination of all three. To create a robust, sophisticated system you must devise a strategy in advance which assesses exactly what needs to be blocked and to what extent. For example, for obvious reasons you may choose to block all social media sites but when it comes to games-related content, there may be some which are used for educational purposes, and therefore you would not want to restrict access by the category ‘games’. The word ‘sex’ might seem like an obvious keyword to block, but this would, in all likelihood, block any content relating to gender and inequality issues, an obvious topic for student projects and research.

Finally, it is vital that you use an accredited WiFi supplier. The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), for example, works with the online industry, government, international partners and law enforcement bodies to minimise and regulate online criminal content. By selecting a supplier accredited by the IWF or similar body, you can be assured that the security of your WiFi is to industry standard.

Technology is having an increasingly significant role to play in modern life, therefore, schools should be actively seeking to implement technology into lessons to enhance their students? development. The security risks of doing so, however, should not be overlooked and a bespoke WiFi solution tailored to your school’s requirements should mean that, whether students use their own or the school’s devices, they can make the most of the internet, safely.

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