Bring your own device initiatives have been exploding in schools. But not every school is carefully considering how to make these initiatives successful.
Here are five ways that schools can prepare for student devices.
1.Take time to plan and test, don't rush in
A slew of school districts announced this fall that they would be an "all bring your own device district" by Jan. 1, 2013. But that's not the best strategy, said Keith Krueger, CEO of the Consortium of School Networking, which has developed 10 steps to consider before taking on a bring your own device initiative.
Parents have to be informed, instructional goals must be set, and schools need to figure out how to handle the initiative when not every student's family can afford devices or broadband access.
"All of that needs to be thought through, and you don't just announce it overnight."
2. Beta test at a school where a principal wants to try it
Instead of announcing it overnight, school districts should implement a test bed in a school that has a principal who's excited about it. Then they can see how the initiative goes with a leader who wants to make it work for the school.
3. Focus on the instructional difference
Some schools are slapping the term "bring your own device" on their walls, but it's not intended for instruction. Instead, it means students can use their devices before and after school or on breaks.
"The ones that are really focusing on how can this make a difference for instructional purposes are the ones that are going to see the biggest impact," Krueger said.
4. Create an equity strategy
And if devices are going to make a difference instructionally, school districts have to address the equity issue. Forty-one percent of families that make less than $30,000 a year have access to broadband at home compared to 89 percent of those who make at least $75,000 annually, according to the Digital Differences report from the Pew Internet & American Life Project.
That said, about half of high school students and 40 percent of middle school students have a smartphone or tablet, according to a mobile learning report released by Blackboard and Project Tomorrow. That's a 400 percent increase since 2007. But it also means many more students don't have access to these devices.
"If you're going to allow a BYOD strategy and assume that it's going to be used for instructional purposes, either at school or at home, you need to have a strategy to help kids that don't have it or can't afford it," Krueger said. "starting one without that sets you up for possible lawsuits or possible criticism in the media that you're just benefiting more affluent kids."
5. Over provision the wireless network
Without a solid infrastructure, though, none of this matters. Schools can have the latest technological devices and still not have reliable wireless, said Shane Buckley, CEO of Xirrus, a wireless network provider. And as video streaming continues to increase, it eats up bandwidth at a massive rate.
Students are bringing up to three devices each to school. But because wireless networks run at 2 to 3 percent of the capacity of wired networks, they don't have enough capacity for these devices. That means the access points get overloaded.
Buckley recommends that schools provide 300 to 600 megabits of throughput per second per classroom. That includes about 10 megabits per user to support online streaming.
"If you were building out a network today, and you want that network to last for say even three years, then build out 10 times more capacity today than you think you need," Buckley said. "By the time these devices get deployed, you're going to eat all that up straightaway."