Head of Class

Mobile/BYOD strategies enable innovative learning. 

GUEST COLUMN | by Bill Odell

CREDIT Södertörn UniversityThese days when students get ready for school, they’re as likely to bring their own device as their own lunch. The Bring Your Own Device (BYOD)/mobility phenomena is transforming education by creating new levels of students’ academic engagement, teacher interaction and learning effectiveness. While mobile technologies and BYOD programs promise great advancements for all educational institutions, they also can create unprecedented challenges for the IT teams responsible for securing and managing these diverse systems, applications and devices.

The key is to embrace the right tools and follow best practices for managing any and all devices securely and reliably without overwhelming IT resources or compromising educational excellence. 

By following in the footsteps of some shining examples, however, K-12 and higher-ed institutions worldwide can embrace the best that BYOD/mobility has to offer.

For example, the Roanoke County Public Schools successfully embraced mobility to provide its high school population with a more personalized learning experience. The Virginia school district is nationally recognized by the Center for Digital Education and National School Boards Association as the 2013 top “digital school system” in the United States among districts with more than 12,000 students.

To create an open, collaborative learning environment, Roanoke County supplies all incoming high-school freshmen with Dell laptops preloaded with learning and productivity applications. The benefits of the 1:1 laptop initiative extend beyond the students. Teachers use their laptops to quickly analyze online test scores as well as recognize and assist students who may be falling behind. Meanwhile, the district’s IT department takes advantage of automated systems management to effectively manage and secure all 6,000 laptops and 13,000 total end-user devices.

At Mary Institute and Saint Louis Country Day School (MICDS), students entering fifth grade are given personal laptops or tablet PCs. At the end of the final semester, all student-assigned devices need to be wiped and reimaged for the upcoming school year. System reimaging is a common back-to-school IT strategy that can overwhelm IT unless an automated solution with multicasting has been deployed to speed the process.

For MICDS, the ability push its reimaging project into overdrive has produced a major increase in IT efficiency as well as teacher and student productivity.

Many educational institutions face major hurdles when it comes to supporting BYOD and ensuring secure access to key educational applications. Such was the dilemma at Sweden’s Södertörn University (pictured above), where the IT department was overburdened trying to respond to user requests and hampered by the lack of automated tools to manage an ever-increasing BYOD trend among students, faculty and staff.

Fortunately, the university was able to improve how they manage downloads of updates to key software. As a result, the school can be more responsive in offering all users access to the programs they need, when they need them. Moreover, Södertörn University now has the tools to rapidly deploy system images campus-wide to hundreds of PCs, laptops and Macs while confidently pushing ahead with BYOD programs and policies.

As laptops, tablets, smartphones and other connected devices become more prevalent and BYOD becomes the norm, mobile technologies will enable the fast delivery of unprecedented amounts of digital content. For some educational institutions the opportunity to bring BYOD into a managed environment is the preferred approach.

BYOD has a long history at Pepperdine University. The school strives to maintain an open network yet secure access for faculty, staff and students. The increased use of personal devices across different platforms, however, brings security challenges, including “drive-by” malware, which threatened student data and drained IT team resources. Pepperdine also realized that traditional antivirus solutions proved inadequate in stopping malware.

So, the university took a proactive stance to stop the vulnerability and streamlines patch management for multiple devices across different operating systems. Through automation and systems management best practices, Pepperdine eliminated its malware threat, reduced security risks and empowered its IT team to focus on strategic IT initiatives, such as assisting faculty with courseware.

It’s clear that mobility/BYOD will play an ever-increasing role in driving the development of next-generation learning environments. The key is to embrace the right tools and follow best practices for managing any and all devices securely and reliably without overwhelming IT resources or compromising educational excellence.

Bill Odell is vice president of marketing for endpoint systems management at Dell Software. Bill has an MBA from Dartmouth College and BA in Political Science from UC Berkeley.

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