I chaired a panel session at the FOTE conference on the challenges of a bring your own device (BYOD) approach. The panel were set the challenge of identifying five top tips for a BYOD strategy but also cover a number of points that were raised in a number of postings on the FOTE blog.
Nizam Udin opened by giving a student perspective. He observed that an institution needs to focus on its core infrastructure when considering the needs of students bringing their own devices. This means that connection to the network and facilities on it should be easy with pervasive wireless (with adequate capacity) and single sign on. There need to be flexible spaces which can be used by students to work either singly or in groups throughout the day and there needs to be advice available to students to assist them in selecting an appropriate device and connecting it. There needs to be good communications between the IT department and the students, to ensure that the facilities available are known to the students and to ensure that the IT department understands how the devices will be used and what their customers want to do with them.
IT departments have a reputation for saying ‘no’ all too often in response to users’ requests so it was reassuring that all three of the panelists from institutions had mechanisms in place to engage with the student body. Examples included surveying the students to understand their requirements and usage of mobile devices through to involving the student body in IT governance. This was particularly highlighted at Imperial where students have been involved in discussions on issues like security. The College sought to adopt a ‘can do’ attitude and implement measures that provided the necessary security for the institution whilst meeting the needs of the students.
The discussion covered a wide range of topics but the overriding conclusion was that there was no need for a BYOD strategy. The likelihood of students and staff bringing their own devices should be embedded into other strategies such as the Teaching and Learning strategy, the Estates strategy, etc. Estates was seen as particularly important, as even with the best technical infrastructure in the world, if students aren’t able to make use of rooms when they are not in use or if the space they are allowed to use is not flexible, then the benefits to the student of BYO are lost. There is a need for engagement with students and staff to identify how they use their own devices to inform design and policy. Part of this engagement is involvement in governance and that will lead to better informed discussion and decisions on policy and procedure. Overall, collaboration with users, be they staff or students, leads to a better understanding of how they use the technology they bring and so allow IT services to provide the services those users need. This may require something of a cultural change within the IT department to encourage all staff to give better consideration of user needs and enable them to use their devices productively. In short, become the IT department that likes to say ‘yes’!