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Executive Summary: BYOD and Consumerization of IT in Higher Education Research, 2013


"What excites IT leaders in higher education most about BYOE are opportunities to diversify and expand the teaching and learning environment, while the greatest challenges are issues that pertain to faculty and staff use of their own devices for work-related purposes."

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According to Gartner estimates, 515 million smartphones and 131 million tablets were sold by the end of 2012.1 Smartphone ownership among undergraduate students increased from 55 percent in 2011 to 62 percent in 2012, and nearly twice as many undergraduate smartphone owners in 2012 as in 2011 said they use these devices for academic purposes.2 These data confirm what is seen by IT professionals as they tour their institutions. We are living in the era where affordable, easy-to-use, and readily accessible technologies facilitate a bring-your-own everything (BYOE) standard. This "consumerization of technology" is setting a precedent in which students, faculty, and staff use their own devices, software, apps, and cloud-based technology to create a personal computing environment.

The furor over the consumerization of IT is part of the contemporary discourse of IT professionals in higher education and raises understandable concerns about IT infrastructure, planning and governance, security practices, support strategies, teaching and learning, and fiscal implications. In order to better understand BYOE-related issues that IT professionals are facing, ECAR conducted interviews, focus groups, and a survey to gather information about current BYOE practices in higher education. The results of these investigations provide insight about the scope of BYOE and institutional culture surrounding BYO practices, as well as benchmarking metrics for the current state of policies, practices, and experiences of BYOE in higher education.

What excites IT leaders in higher education most about BYOE are opportunities to diversify and expand the teaching and learning environment, while the greatest challenges are issues that pertain to faculty and staff use of their own devices for work-related purposes. With IT leaders estimating increases from 20 percent of their institution's employees in 2010 to 60 percent of employees in 2014 BYOEing for work-related purposes, the changes are imminent. Considering the challenges and opportunities BYOE brings to higher education institutions, this ECAR study presents the following key research findings:

  • Device proliferation is manic, and unmanaged growth could result in a "tragedy of the commons" situation, where too many devices find their ways to campus networks too fast, and institutions find more opportunities lost than taken.
  • IT leaders express support for BYOE in order to facilitate students' engagement with learning, extend teaching and learning environments, and promote happy and productive faculty and staff.
  • Planning doesn't have to precede action when it comes to BYOE — doing before planning is actually the norm — yet policies are in place where they matter most, like for security or end-user behaviors.
  • A solid security presence and plan can adjust to most BYOE security challenges, and focusing on managing risk and raising user awareness are two areas in which to wisely invest in security practices.
  • Cost savings from BYOE can be elusive, with the cost to update/upgrade IT infrastructure outweighing cost savings for providing fewer institutionally provisioned devices and other technologies.
  • Think of IT infrastructure as BYOE "middleware" — the commodities that bridge users, their devices, and their consumer-level applications to the institution's data, services, systems, and enterprise-level applications. IT middleware should be robust, yet nimble.
  • Support strategies will need to adapt to BYOE environments, as there is an apparent lag between BYOE ubiquity and DIY support.
  • Utilizing mobile technologies for teaching and learning is a priority, but providing guidance or institutional support to students and faculty for how best to do so is still uncommon.

These findings can be capped with the statement that there was a general sense that institutions are accommodating BYOE practices to the best of their abilities, but not necessarily in a systematic way that is proactive or with the end in mind. "Even the most strategic and flexible IT organization may, at times, need to be reactive. Institutions need to learn to adapt to and leverage personal computing environments, not proscribe them."3 The key findings, as well as exemplary BYOE practices and strategic BYOE innovations, are addressed in greater detail in the full report available on the ECAR BYOE research hub.

  1. Lawrence Pingree, "Bring your Own Device (BYOD): Mobile Trends and Securing the Transaction," webinar hosted by Gartner, January 15, 2013; available from http://www.gartner.com.
  2. Eden Dahlstrom, with foreword by Charles Dziuban and J. D. Walker, ECAR Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology, 2012, Research Report (Louisville, CO: EDUCAUSE Center for Analysis and Research, September 2012); available from http://www.educause.edu/ecar.
  3. Susan Grajek, the 2011–2012 EDUCAUSE IT Issues Panel, and Judith A. Pirani, "Top-Ten IT Issues 2012," EDUCAUSE Review, vol. 47, no. 3 (May/June 2012): 40.


Eden Dahlstrom

Eden Dahlstrom is a Senior Research Analyst for EDUCAUSE. Before joining the Data, Research, and Analytics team at EDUCAUSE in 2011, she served in a variety of roles in academic and not-for-profit organizations. Most recently, she directed the Analytics division of an organization that promoted the use of data for making informed decisions to improve education policy and practice. She has experience as a higher education institutional researcher; a research analyst for an inter-segmental, longitudinal data system; and a leader in a professional organization that serves institutional researchers.

She has led initiatives that involved standardizing data for systematic warehousing; creating systems for reporting common metrics for higher education attainment outcomes; developing and managing inter-segmental, longitudinal databases; and applying business intelligence tools to provide data on demand opportunities for education stakeholders. In addition to data, analytics, and research-related experiences, Eden has also taught sociology courses, led a statewide initiative to vertically align math and English curriculum with secondary and post-secondary educators, and been a community college administrator.

She has an Ed.D. from the University of Southern California and is trained and practiced in the action research model. Her research is guided by two complementary principles: 1) data are most useful when transformed into information, and 2) information is only useful if it is accessible and understandable by the intended audience.


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