Tony Parkin welcomes YOTS, a free online survey tool to help schools audit students' home access to ICT

iPods in class: YOTSiPods in class: what do pupils have at home?Are you allowing your students to bring their own devices into school? Will this make a difference to their learning outcomes? Will you be disadvantaging a significant proportion of pupils who may not have their own devices? Are some already disadvantaged because they don’t have access at home to the devices that many of their peers already have?

These are just some of the questions school leaders are grappling with as "austerity" bites, school computers age, and many of their students have devices in their pockets and bags that are more powerful than some of the computers they are expected to use in the classroom.

Schools have struggled to discover in a meaningful and methodical way what access their students have to technology at home. Now the Vital project at the Open University, a professional development programme funded by the Department for Education and provided by the OU, aims to try and address this information gap though the ambitious Your Own Technology Survey (YOTS), part of the programme.

The Your Own Technology Survey (YOTS) is a FREE online tool to help schools and researchers better understand what digital technology is available to their students at home, and how that technology might be utilised to enhance educational outcomes.

What do we know about ICT access and impact?

In the heady days of the last government, significant research efforts were expended on trying to establish the impact that student access to ICT, whether at home or school, was making on their educational progress. Of particular interest was whether differential access to technology outside the classroom may be disadvantaging some groups educationally. The Government published Children and Young People's Home Use of ICT for Educational Purposes: The Impact on Attainment at Key Stages 1-4, which certainly indicated impact, though not always of a positive nature, building on Becta’s earlier, seminal ImpaCT2 studies.

Since the change of government and the abolition of Becta, it has been difficult to deliver large-scale surveys that could inform school leaders and researchers about the levels of access to digital technologies and its potential impact on learning. This despite a massive growth in interest in such concepts as BYOT (Bring Your Own Technology) or BYOD (Bring Your Own Devices) in both the business and education sectors. Some studies have continued. Both the BBC and the eLearning Foundation have argued that access to technology – such as Bite-Size GCSE Revision – has had a demonstrable impact on grades, but these statements have been based on relatively small-scale surveys (see also "Play it again SAM – and watch the grades go up").

Into the gap comes YOTS, an easy-to-use online survey site designed to help schools answer such questions as what proportion of their pupils have Internet access from home, how many of their pupils have an Internet-enabled mobile device, and what proportion of them would be allowed, able and willing to bring their mobile device into school on a regular basis. These are all essential questions for schools that are thinking about moving to a 1:1 computing strategy, or are considering implementing BYOT (Bring Your Own Technology) or BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) strategies. They certainly need to know the answers to these sorts of questions if they are to ensure the success and equity of any such strategies.And YOTS is a tool they can use to create an appropriate ICT audit.

How does YOTS work?

Schools can simply register on the YOTS website and be allocated a unique survey link, which they then send to students or their parents/guardians. Once the recipients have completed the survey the school administrator can rapidly review and analyse the results from the school's dedicated YOTS dashboard.

YOTS aims to satisfy both the needs of schools attempting to develop their own strategies, and those of the research community trying to establish the overall effectiveness of such strategies across all schools: it provides schools with a mechanism to survey the digital technology available to its students, and as a result inform strategic decision-making; it will also provide the Open University’s researchers with access to data that maps students' access to digital technology across England, to better inform research and recommendations regarding the use of digital technology.

What data does YOTS gather?

iPods in classYOTS is primarily concerned with gathering information about the digital technology students have access to at home. This includes finding out about their Internet access, the hardware they use or share (for example a mobile phone or laptop), and whether they would be allowed, able and willing to bring that technology into school on a regular basis.

YOTS stores the age, year group and gender of each student responding to the survey. Individual students are definitely not identifiable either by the school or the researchers. The student’s first name, initial and the first half of their post code is recorded at the start of the survey, to ensure that YOTS does not include duplicate responses in the report. However this data is encoded in an anonymous form before it is stored in the database, and the original data cannot be read or retrieved after encoding, to guarantee total anonymity for the participants.

As expected, great care is taken to ensure that permission and informed consent is obtained from all those taking part, from the senior leadership team at the school to the parents or guardians and the pupils themselves.

How do schools get involved?

Schools wishing to use this free tool need only to register at and use the dashboard provided to administer their own anonymised survey which can be sent by email to pupils and parents, or can even be embedded on the school’s own intranet or website providing that it is not available to the general public, but only to the intended recipients of pupils, parents or guardians. The survey only takes a few minutes for each person to complete. School administrators will find the dashboard easy to use, and the reports offer clear insights into the home access and mobile internet capabilities of the students.

Schools will be able to access automatically generated reports on the aggregated data for all respondents who used their unique link to the survey, and these can be organised by Whole School, Year Group, or Gender.

Researchers working on YOTS will be able to analyse all of the anonymised data and will then publish their findings in a range of formats to disseminate the information and help inform the community (eg on the web, as eBooks, in books or journals).

'Thrilled by the level of interest in YOTS'

The architect of this service is Peter Twining, senior lecturer within the Department of Education at the OU and director of Vital, and he is excited about the opportunity this affords both schools and researchers. He points out that it can be particularly important for schools considering moving to a 1:1 device strategy as part of their ICT vision. “I'm thrilled by the level of interest in YOTS which seems to meet a real need in schools," he says. "Within two weeks of the launch 47 schools had signed up, the eLearning Foundation had said that they would like to build YOTS into their advisory process, and a local authority had approached us to see if they can use it with all of their schools.

"Information on what technology is available to students outside school can be very powerful. We know of one school that discovered that 15 per cent of their students already owned an iPad, which meant that they needed to provide 150 fewer devices than anticipated when they then moved to a 1:1 iPad strategy.”

The OU team has ambitions to incorporate translations of the survey into other languages, and are already talking to other countries in a bid to grow it into an international survey tool that can be used across the world. In the meantime, UK schools now have an elegant and simple solution to a challenge that they are all facing on ensuring equity of access and strategic management of ICT for their students.

More information

Your Own Technology Survey (YOTS)  
"Children with internet access at home gain exam advantage, charity" (Guardian)   
"Children and Young People's Home Use of ICT for Educational Purposes: The Impact on Attainment at Key Stages 1-4". by Professor Gill Valentine (University of Leeds), Dr Jackie Marsh, Professor Charles Pattie (both University of Sheffield) and BMRB (PDF download)   
Peter Twining 

Tony ParkinTony Parkin, former head of ICT development at the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust (The Schools Network) and now an independent consultant, describes himself as a 'disruptive nostalgist'. He can be contacted at  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or on Twitter via @tonyparkin

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