The new dimension - Bring Your Own App

Julia Sharman

Julia has over 30 years’ experience working in the education sector as a specialist and advisory teacher for SEND and mental health. Previously a Local Authority Coordinator leading on educational projects and community learning in the public, private and voluntary sectors and freelance writer. She is a specialist teacher for children with dyslexia and an Advisory Teacher for children with mental health issues and medical and health needs.

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Just as we’re getting our heads around ‘Bring Your Own Device’ (BYOD) and their usage in schools and in the workplace, there’s a new trend on the block - now it’s about Bring Your Own Application (BYOA).

With the availability of thousands of ‘applications’ (apps) for free, or at exceptionally low cost, BYOA is gaining momentum and users are choosing apps which are easily accessible and best suited to their needs.

The likelihood is that individually preferred apps will drive the way forward as using your own device for education and work purposes has. Fundamentally, an increasingly mobile student cohort or workforce are able to connect to the school or business network from their own laptops, smartphones or tablets enabling them to study and work from remote locations.

What is an app?

An ‘application’ or ‘app’, simply put, is a software programme, such as Microsoft Word, Google or Internet Explorer, that does something typically for communication, research, data storage, entertainment or business. Apps run on a web browser or via the cloud on wireless mobile devices such as mobile phones or tablet computers:

  • Web apps can be a more efficient and cost effective way of using software without having to buy a software license or having to install it on a network server. Simply go on-line and sign up. There may be a monthly fee so that license fees don’t have to be paid in advance.
  • Mobile apps extend the reach and enable users to perform all sorts of educational, business or entertainment functions while out of the main network reach and in remote locations.

What's causing the app revolution?

Mobile app stores, cloud-based consumer apps and social media are the main factors that are driving the demand and usage forwards. J. Pedro (2013) describes these factors;

  • ‘Mobile app stores enable consumers to select applications from the thousands available. The focus of IT developers for the mobile environment has moved to building consumer applications that best suit their needs.
  • Cloud-based consumer apps are defined simply by the benefits they offer: cost-saving, scalability and anytime-anywhere availability.
  • Social media is, for most, an integral part of everyday life. Apps such as YouTube are used widely in educational settings and in the workplace.’

For some, the range of apps is still ambiguous. Usually easy to find and install, apps range in size and complexity allowing individuals, groups, educational establishments and businesses to use those specific to their needs and wants. The Internet, Intranet and e-mail access will be a top priority for most users and for many music and games.

For schools and businesses there are now huge amounts of digital availability and content, that has consequently resulted in the need to find ways to store and access data in the most cost-effective and secure way. Many are turning to the cloud for on-demand services or apps that allow users to process, store, distribute, and retrieve large amounts of data. This of course also helps free-up network bandwidth and increase network performance.

What security risks are involved?

On-demand services or apps are not without risk. Database protection is something every establishment needs to look at, particularly against a SQL (Structure Query Language) injection attack where attackers deceive the database with a hoax identity. Other than security risks and the downloading of apps with inappropriate content, bear in mind there is also the risk that by copying sensitive or business data to a public cloud provider’s server, staff may be breaching data protection laws presiding over areas where certain information can be stored. Be sure to check this out thoroughly beforehand.

To deal with these and other issues, ‘Acceptable use policies’ (AUP) are being introduced to establish governance and acceptable use standards that stipulate requirements that must be followed for BYOA. These policies are also sometimes referred to as ‘Consumerisation policies’ and ‘Responsible use policies’. Standardised and acceptable apps should be part of any policy put into place.

In essence, BYOA is still at an embryonic stage, and so the associated risks are perhaps more prevalent; its benefits, however, will be indicative of a more efficient and productive learning environment, for keeping up to date with technological advancement, collaborative study and data storage.

Photo credit: ashkyd

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