Welcome to the Curriculum & Leadership Journal website.
To receive our fortnightly Email Alert,
please click on the blue menu item below.
Curriculum & Leadership Journal
An electronic journal for leaders in education
ISSN: 1448-0743
Follow us on twitter

Bring your own devices

Open University Innovation Report 3

This article is an edited extract from Sharples, M., Adams, A., Ferguson, R., Gaved, M., McAndrew, P., Rienties, B., Weller, M., & Whitelock, D. (2014). Innovating Pedagogy 2014: Open University Innovation Report 3. Milton Keynes: The Open University.

Many students now own smartphones, laptops, and tablet computers. They expect to bring these into the classroom, both to support their learning and for personal and social use. This creates challenges for educators, alongside opportunities for new forms of teaching and learning. Students come equipped not only with individual technologies that they maintain and improve, but also their personal learning environments and social networks. Teachers shift from being providers of knowledge and resources, to acting as directors of technology-enabled networked learners. This opens opportunities to connect learning inside and beyond the classroom.

Personal ownership

Over the last decade, there has been an increasing level of personal ownership of computing technologies that can be used in the workplace, school or college, and a desire by owners to use these, sometimes in preference to equipment provided by educational institutions. It has been recognised that the use of personal technologies will affect how organisations operate, and embracing this change with a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policy can be more productive than banning users from bringing in their own devices. Early discussions in this area were focused on the impact of personal laptops, but attention is shifting to tablet computers and mobile phones which are more likely to be always with the owner and used for social and entertainment purposes as well as for work and study.

Research around BYOD initially focused on technical and usability challenges. There are security issues caused by letting unknown devices inside a secured network, with a risk of either malicious activity such as theft of data, or accidental damage such as passing viruses from a personal machine to others on the network. Then there is the need to provide access, making sure the personal devices can physically connect to the organisation’s network and are allowed to do so, and that there are enough WiFi points and charging sockets for all the additional devices. Finally, there is the challenge of ensuring the organisation’s resources can be accessed on the wide range of devices, so that web pages display correctly on different-sized screens, and interactive forms work on different platforms.

There is a debate about what BYOD actually means. It can be broken down into a range of models, from the educational institution distributing its own centrally purchased and configured devices for students to use, through providing guidance and minimum specifications for learners’ own devices, to supporting whatever devices students bring in.

Teacher control

More recent discussion about BYOD has focussed on its effects on education. Traditionally, the teacher has allocated and controlled technologies in the classroom, from computer labs to electronic whiteboards. BYOD could be considered as enriching and extending existing teaching methods. Teachers can create online polls where students respond immediately in a lesson via their web-enabled devices. Students can ask questions as they arise via text message, without disrupting the flow of a lecture or feeling embarrassed about drawing attention to themselves. The increasing number of sensors present on phones and tablets (such as accelerometers, thermometers and audio meters) can be used to support science experiments, providing accuracy as good as school or college equipment but without the expense of maintenance or training. Students can become more independent in their information seeking. Ubiquitous access to networked learning technologies changes the role of school or college libraries: rather than places to be visited for learning resources, they can extend their reach to students across the campus and in their homes, making scholarly content available for networked devices and offering new types of services to suitable mobile, autonomous learners.

As with flipped learning, BYOD can shift the teacher’s role towards guiding and managing. Students can access their own devices to achieve goals set by their teachers and become more independent learners. A teacher may set activities in the classroom to be continued at home or elsewhere and then shared back at school or college, confident that students have the technology to move between contexts, utilising travelling time and their home environment to access resources, communicate with other students and teachers and undertake work.

The functionality of personal devices allows these other environments to become places for data collection: cameras and microphones can be used to collect images, video and audio; location sensing can be used to tag places of interest. Mobile devices with built-in accelerometers, noise, light, humidity and temperature sensors, can be used as science toolkits to collect data and perform experiments.

Students’ personal collections and social networks can become resources for learning. The use of the same device for storing both social and educational resources means a blurring of boundaries. Records of achievements in personal interests might provide evidence of learning for formal purposes, such as the creation and recording of a piece of music with friends; social networks might inform and offer practice for learning, such as conversing in a foreign language with a Facebook group of friends and receiving feedback from native speakers.


BYOD can bring many challenges. Learners may be disadvantaged if they cannot afford the multimedia devices needed to participate fully, or if they have to monitor and restrict their data usage. Giving students uncontrolled access to the internet at all times may result in students browsing the web or messaging their friends when they should be concentrating on a classroom activity. Students may misuse the power of their devices, for example by filming teachers or students without their permission. In some countries, these issues of access and appropriate use have been highlighted in the press and taken up by teachers’ organisations.


As a technology, mobile devices may threaten the carefully managed environment of the classroom. From the perspective of innovating pedagogy, BYOD is a means to introduce everyday social learning to the classroom. This requires careful management, since the teacher has to keep control of a room where learners can connect with each other and the outside world, continuing conversations and sending messages. The teacher and school together need to set clear guidelines for appropriate use, and also to accommodate those students who have their own devices and can afford to run them, but may not wish to do so, preferring to separate their personal and learner identities and use school equipment for carrying out educational activities.


Alberta Education (2012). Bring Your Own Device: A Guide for Schools. Edmonton, Canada: Alberta Education. http://education.alberta.ca/media/6749210/byod%20guide%20revised%202012-09-05.pdf

Gidda, M. (2014). Students: bring your own technology to uni. The Guardian, 11 April 2014. http://www.theguardian.com/education/2014/apr/11/students-bring-tech-device-uni

Stavert, B. (2013). Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) in Schools: 2013 Literature Review. Eversleigh, New South Wales: NSW Department of Education and Communities. https://www.det.nsw.edu.au/policies/technology/computers/mobile-device/BYOD_2013_Literature_Review.pdf

Sweeney, J. (2012). BYOD in Education: A Report for Australia and New Zealand – Nine Conversations for Successful BYOD Decision Making. Intelligent Business Research Services Ltd. http://1to1sustainmentdeecd.global2.vic.edu.au/files/2013/07/BYOD_DELL-2dtch9k.pdf


Subject Headings

Teaching and learning
Mobile devices
Educational planning