Schools put students in charge of own technical support

The Illawarra Grammar School is among an increasing number of schools allowing students to bring - and support - their own laptops and tablets.

Some schools are not only allowing students to bring laptops and tablets to class in keeping with the trend known as BYO device or BYOD, they are also outsourcing technical support to the students themselves.

TIGS introduced BYOD this year, says Leanne Windsor, information services director.

"The school is not recommending specific brands or models. Instead, it is specifying the minimum requirements to which each device should conform. For example, supporting word processing and spread sheets."

Most students choose Apple devices, she said, and the school is using Apple to provide support.

There will also be a dedicated phone in the school library for students and teachers to ring Apple support directly. Apple will also soon train the school's student technology team to support its devices.

"Students will be responsible for the support of their own devices, and we hope that they will help others."

The Illawarra school's IT department was initially worried about supporting different devices, but can now focus on the infrastructure instead.

The school is developing an acceptable use policy, and is considering whether to block social media access.

"But if students are engaged in their work, then they're not distracted on the computers," says Windsor.

Students at Nightcliff Middle School in the Northern Territory use online discussion forums to solve issues with their devices when teachers can't help.

"It's a shift from being the expert," says Year 7 maths teacher Kim Hoe.

A technology consultant to schools, Brett Clarke says some schools are leapfrogging the Federal Government's 'laptop for every student' program, going directly to mobile devices, such as tablets.

"The challenge for schools is that mobile devices aren't designed to be shared devices. You create logistics problems from a technology point of view," Clarke says.

"It's difficult to get the software on them. The licensing is confusing. Licensing typically allows schools to copy software on all computers, but (with BYOD) there are no site-wide licences. The concept of deploying software site-wide doesn't exist within the App Store model. A user loads apps onto their own devices."

Schools have to come to grips with the idea of students being responsible for what goes on their device.

"If devices are managed by IT, the school can control them; but a personal device is managed by the person who uses it. Students can instantly install apps themselves. They don't need an IT department to take a week to do it."

Another BYOD debate within education circles is the digital divide, where some students may enjoy better educational opportunities because they can afford better devices.

"I don't agree with the argument that students on low incomes are disenfranchised," says Clarke. "There is the education tax rebate (ETR), which is aimed at low income families. Devices and internet access can be subsidised with a 50 per cent rebate."

And teaching to the lowest device in the room isn't an issue, says Sean Cunneen, director of IT consultancy XciteLogic.

"The rise of cloud-based apps means the device is not as important as it was five years ago when everything was done on the device. The trend is moving towards the cloud to collaborate and share."

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