Developing an effective mobile device management plan provides the foundation for a digital environment with less chaos and better security.
In 2008, voters in Lexington, South Carolina, passed a school bond referendum that would provide $15 million, in part for a new initiative, called Personal Mobile Computing (PMC), for Lexington County School District One.
The K-12 district had a grand plan: It would issue 16,000 laptops to nearly every student and teacher throughout its 28 schools. (The district serves 23,000 students with 3,200 teachers.) PMC would help students engage in project-based learning, collaborate with one another, and discuss ideas or solutions with other students around the world.
After much thought, the district chose laptops for students. But a funny thing happened on the way to implementation. Apple's iPad was born, and the district quickly saw that buying two tablets to one $1,000 device was not only a better use of money but also a better tool for students and teachers.
Behind the scenes, the district made two decisions to ensure the rollout would be a success. First, it installed Cisco's AnyConnect VPN, which filters content anytime, anywhere. This met the district's board of trustees mandate that the IT department filter the Internet used by students when they were on or off campus. Second, IT went a step further by installing Apple Configurator software that allows for mass configuration of devices operating with iOS.
"That's what we used to stage our devices in October," says Thomas Burgess, network engineer in the IT network services division at Lexington, adding that the software saved the IT department many hours of installation time. "We were able to put our district core apps on and put all devices in supervised mode, which in turn prevented students from accidentally restoring them." Burgess's team then tied the whole initiative together by using Cisco's wireless LAN controllers, which offer one point of configuration across 1,200 access points.
The district's plan unfurled at its largest school-Lexington High School-where about 3,100 students were to get iPads all at once. The idea was for homeroom teachers to train students on how to register and operate their iPad based on a presentation developed by Burgess.
An early hiccup occurred when the district's MDM program was overwhelmed with the high number of students logging on.
"We use MobileIron's virtual smartphone platform for our mobile device management solution," Burgess says. "Essentially, MobileIron never had a use case where hundreds of people would register within minutes of each other."
The next round of orientations was held a few weeks later. This time, large groups of students-600 to 700 at a time-gathered in the school's cafeteria or theater. Burgess and other IT staff conducted the presentations, trying to keep everyone working at the same pace. MobileIron worked closely with IT to ensure the high volume of simultaneous registrations could be managed going forward.
Everything worked as planned. The other three high schools followed suit. Over the next two weeks, 6,500 high school students had completed the registration.
"We learned a lot from students," says Burgess. "They can work collaboratively in small groups when they need to accomplish tasks like registering without an IT staff member walking them through it."
The district uses MobileIron as its device manager, partly because of the multiple benefits it offers. For example, Burgess says the district was able to gain device visibility through reporting, deploy policies that restrict features like Apple's iMessage or FaceTime, configure profiles for automating Wi-Fi, e-mail, or VPN setup, and recommend apps in a custom app store based on a user's security group membership.
The district will use the same plan to roll out iPads to its middle and elementary school students this fall. Students under the age of 13 will need to obtain parental consent to open an iTunes account so they can download apps, content, and access iCloud.
Each of the 5,300 students in the district's seven middle schools will receive an iPad this August. But the 16 elementary schools will receive one iPad for every 2.5 students, says Burgess. Each school will decide for itself the best way to use or distribute them.
Each high school has a help desk staffed by a district employee who handles all technical problems; the K-8 schools will rely on their assigned technician.
"This initiative took a lot of planning from everybody in the district," Burgess says. "Our superintendent's vision was to level the playing field. Our mantra is never making it about the device. Keep it about why you're doing this."
Another District's Lessons
After rolling out laptops to its high school students seven years ago, Kershaw County School District in Camden, South Carolina, learned a few lessons from the experience, says Bill Oden, senior systems administrator at the K-12 district.
The district uses AT&T and MobileIron to manage devices because when a teacher finds an application that he or she wants their students to have, "we can deploy that app immediately, without needing tech help," says Oden. "Also, we will have the ability to locate a lost or stolen device as long as it connects to a Wi-Fi connection."
Students and a parent must sign the district's acceptable-use policy before receiving the tablet. "They
will know exactly what they can and cannot do, spelled out in detail," says the administrator.
"Mobile device management helps districts to assign access rights to class-related material based on the student's registered device, enabling a one-to-one environment," says Jonathan Fischer, senior director of AT&T's MDM Mobile Security Solutions.
The rollout also creates opportunities for staff development. Although operating mobile technology is second nature for most students, the same can't be said for educators. Teachers at Kershaw attended a mandatory, two-day workshop that not only covered the iPad's applications and operating system,
but, more important, presented ideas on incorporating the tool into their curriculum.
"We don't want to concentrate on the device-it's just a tool," says Oden. "It's too important for them to understand how they're going to implement that within their classroom."
The Importance of MDM on Learning
Even districts that aren't installing 1:1 programs with tablets or laptops are facing a tech revolution in their hallways. Many districts have signed on to BYOD or are considering doing so. This experimentation has flooded schools with a wide variety of devices, from smartphones to tablets to laptops of varying ages and operating systems. One of the factors in making these programs a success is the school's ability to manage these devices, freeing teachers and students to concentrate on using the devices for teaching and learning.
"With students owning mobile devices of all types, districts are being presented with the challenge of managing and securing different mobile end points across many networks and different user scenarios,'' Fischer says. A key task for IT administrators is to secure and manage mobile devices whether they are student- or district-owned so users have a consistent and safe experience regardless of the device and OS. And, he adds, this discussion is happening in almost every district, and the need for MDM and mobile protection is only going to grow.
According to Fischer, there are five questions district managers need to ask when building a mobile device management strategy:
1. How can we use technology to ensure we meet policy (both district and CIPA) objectives?
2. How do I choose a solution that will not be obsolete in six months?
3. Do we have the right resources to implement and support a mobility
4. How will we protect against inappropriate content, not only inside our walls but elsewhere?
5. What is my mobile application
strategy? Development, deployment, management.
Teachers, Not Managers
Without a management plan, "teachers end up being policemen, wasting time dealing with the problems of these devices," says Elliot Soloway, a professor of education and technology at the University of Michigan. "School buildings have 30 kids in a room," he adds, "so your peak demand is going to be insane."
With mobile device management, says Soloway, teachers are able to "continue their instructional activities as opposed to becoming technology managers."
More than 80 percent of IT decision-makers within education have implemented or are planning on implementing mobile device management solutions that can scale across all devices, regardless of who owns the hardware.
An increasing number of schools are phasing out printed textbooks and replacing them with school-owned tablets and laptops.
Ninety-five percent of security decision-makers in education reported data security as a top priority over the next 12 months.
Three out of four IT decision-makers spend at least 20 hours each week on supporting mobile devices.
*Source: "Building an Effective Mobile Device Management Strategy for Education," Forrester Consulting, 2012
Choosing a Device**
Observe the following steps.
1. Determine how the device can support your curriculum, not the other way around. Stay focused on student outcomes and how the device can help deliver and reinforce key concepts.
2. Reach out to other educators in and out of your district. What devices are they using and how are they using them to convey difficult or important material?
3. Identify devices that may meet your classroom goals. Involve IT in this process to determine other applications that may be needed.
4. Evaluate options for mobile device management to ensure devices, applications, and functions can be centrally managed.
5. Select the devices that best match your classroom goals, purchase them, and be sure to monitor your district's rollout.
**Source: Jonathan Fischer, senior director of Mobile Device Management Mobile Security Solutions, AT&T