Challenge 5: coherent policies on ‘bring your own’

In support of several aspects of the student digital experience we have identified that institutions need a coherent, whole-institution approach to ‘Bring your own’ (BYO): the use of personal devices, software, services, data and content in university settings. While it seems simple to advocate that staff and students use their own technologies wherever this works for them – and to make this as easy as possible – still there are several aspects to getting this right.

On this page:
Key Findings
Further resources

Key findings

Students who are using their own devices still feel that institutions should provide all the services and systems they need to complete their course work to a high standard. So they may have an ongoing expectation of – and attachment to – institutional computing facilities, particularly as sites for collaborative working, even while they use their own devices in the same places. They may want to find their own content but only if they have an ‘authorised’ bookmark stack as a place to start. They may share ideas online but prefer a ‘safe’ institutional space in which to practice expressing them in professionally or academically credible ways.

BYO introduces a tension for institutions between the benefits of gathering and managing learner data in closed digital systems and the desire to support students using systems that are under third party control. There are also tensions around ensuring the safety and ethical behaviour of students who are simultaneously in university space and in public/open digital space (via university networks). These tensions cannot be resolved in the long term by technical and legal constraints but by working with students to develop their awareness and repertoire of online behaviours.

(There are also of course legal and security issues which must be addressed in a BYO policy. They are not dealt with by this project which focuses on the student experience, but Jisc provides extensive guidance on these issues.)

BYO immediately creates a space for learning in which attention is divided between the face-to-face setting and the world online, as accessed through personal devices. This can be  distracting to students (and staff) unless the interface between the two is managed, for example by giving students specific tasks and cues. BYO does not mean that teaching staff must allow the use of digital devices at all times, though care must be given that students who rely on assistive technology are not disadvantaged by an instruction to ‘put devices away’.

BYO policies should, we feel, focus on academic practice. Consider what students need to be able to do with their devices and services in order to be successful in their studies. Then consider the preferences of different student groups, in particular some of the hidden needs that a BYO approach may exacerbate e.g. for students who lack experience of digital systems, or who have particular access needs or learning preferences. Finally construct a policy that puts personal technologies in the service of those requirements. Of course the needs and preferences of staff must also be taken into account, especially as students will take their cues from them.

BYO assumes that alongside personal devices students also bring their own services, data, apps/software, and their own skills in using them. Policies on BYO need to be considered from the standpoint of how students will develop their digital capabilities: their capacity to use a wide range of tools and applications, to adopt new ones and to recover from failures, rather than simply making sure they can use mandated systems.

‘Bring your own’ may be a threat to inclusivity and parity of experience. Consider how students without good digital access, experience or skills and be identified and supported.


  1. Gather requirements, benchmark, assess institutional and personal needs including the needs of different student groups before formalising a BYO policy and guidance.
  2. When implementing BYO, start from the academic practices learners need, then look at the data/services they need to support them, and finally ensure they can use the devices/apps etc they prefer.
  3. Provide for the long tail: consider how those without basic access and skills will be supported e.g. with loan schemes, continued fixed provision, drop-in surgeries. Similarly, ensure BYO evolves to meet the changing demands of digital pioneers.
  4. Ensure students have ubiquitous access to networks and power.
  5. Enable students to access personal services via institutional networks and to network their own devices easily in campus locations
  6. Assume networks and systems will become more hybrid (local/cloud-based) but continue to brand institutional services so students know what they are getting and feel supported.
  7. Ensure that students are aware of relevant policies and have opportunities to understand their responsibilities, as well as what they can expect to be provided for them.
  8. Layer IT support. At the ‘core’, ensure all have functional access and any necessary induction. For use of non-institutional software and services, provide on-demand guidance, well signposted (e.g. For more advanced users, support expert/interest groups. Drop-in workshops, buddies, IT champions to knit it all together.
  9. Make it safe for students to identify their needs at any point in their learning journey.
  10. Design/adapt learning and social spaces to support the use of personal devices and associated informal, collaborative, networked modes of learning.
  11. Invest in staff development and communicate the expectation that digital expertise will be embedded into academic practices and professional roles.



Further resources

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