The many flavours of BYOD…

I’m going to FOTE 2011 on Friday http://fote-conference.com/wordpress/ and one of the topics for discussion is BYOD in education. Seems to be a hot topic at the moment generally, sometimes under the other catchphrase of “consumerisation of IT” so seemed as good a topic as any for my first post back on here in a while.

So the idea in theory is to encourage students (and by the same measure staff?) work on a device of their choosing rather than the current system of institution-owned devices. Theory suggests that it’s a more flexible way of working and puts the user in control of their IT resources. Many institutions are already doing this to some degree by providing Wi-Fi access on campus so the question is where to go next…

many flavours

It all sounds great, however there are challenges – not so much from a security point of view as I think many places have that sorted out but more in the way that the institution’s IT provision supports BYOD and what services it provides on top of those readily available to consumers.

For example VDI is often cited as the panacea for mixing BYOD hardware with institution-controlled PC environments… run your desktops from the data centre then it becomes portable to any device with the client software running. Great if you’re on a laptop… but what if that device happens to be a tablet and you provide a standard Windows desktop… is that helping or forcing a user experience that doesn’t match the device?

For me VDI still hasn’t quite got to the point where it’s “the solution” in the same way server virtualisation has and upfront costs are still pretty high (additional SAN disks, new server hardware, licensing etc) but it’s getting there, if perhaps a bit more slowly than many anticipated. Perhaps if you’re already replacing PCs for thin clients and are going down the VDI route anyway it’s a logical next step to extend the offering to student-controlled BYOD devices… the next step could be moving some of that provision into the cloud for students to access anywhere, anytime although cost could well be an issue.

For some software however this still isn’t practical and some software companies aren’t exactly being supportive of BYOD in their licensing either so certain elements of institution-provided IT will still be around in the short to medium term to cover this. Software licensing needs to become a lot more flexible to meet changing demands, will be interesting to see how it changes (or doesn’t!) in the next couple of years.

Another option is to go more towards cloud-based apps that only need a browser as Google have been hoping for with Chrome OS. Perhaps but I’m yet to see a cloud app that can match Office on the desktop though so still some way to go there, over to you HTML5! One area that continues to evolve is the amount of live data available to students via their VLE \ web portal so in some respects I guess we’re already moving along the path and it’s just a matter of adding to the provision and further integration with other platforms via a single logon.

On top of all of this we can’t assume everyone will have their own device to bring so it’s important to ensure we provide for those students as well. That may be via a pool of institution-owned mobile devices or via fixed workstations – choose the flavour that suits your organisation and students is the order of the day here again.

Will update this after Friday’s discussions which should prove to be very interesting indeed… in the meantime I’d be interested to hear your comments…

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