In 2008, long before “bring your own device” was a buzz term, administrators at Marion County (Fla.) Public Schools (MCPS) were looking for an alternative to a one-to-one laptop program. Scott Hansen, chief information officer, says that one-to-one just wasn’t feasible for the 42,000-student district, so administrators considered other options. After updating the network infrastructure and installing Wi-Fi technology in multiple high school buildings across nine campuses, Hansen then decided to make Marion County schools like a college campus and allow students to use their own mobile devices in class.
Last year, one middle school started participating in BYOD, and Hansen foresees all eight middle schools participating by the end of the 2012-2013 school year. “From an IT standpoint, BYOD is easy to manage with the right tools,” says Greg Tan, chief marketing officer at Stoneware, which manufactures cloud-computing and classroom-management software.
“Infrastructure is so important; you must have enough storage, powerful servers and sufficient bandwidth, or BYOD will fail.”
MCPS uses several tools to manage BYOD, including Stoneware’s webNetwork, network infrastructure from Cisco Systems, and Microsoft Active Directory Domain Services. WebNetwork’s virtual layer creates two relays from the data center to a browser. According to Tan, there is no way for anyone to hack into the physical network and cause problems.
All information can be accessed through Stoneware’s Web-based Unified Cloud, which delivers all files, applications and reports through a single sign-on with any device. Students only need a modern browser, such as Safari or Internet Explorer 6, and an Internet connection to access all of their files and grades and to navigate the Internet safely.
“BYOD is much easier on the IT department because students troubleshoot and manage their own devices,” says Hansen. “Students really respect the property of other students. We haven’t had any stolen property incidents.”
About 500 students bring their own devices into each high school. Hansen says he is often asked about the equity of a BYOD program, and the consequences. “Where was the equity when we provided only 60 mobile devices [that the district could afford and purchase] for 1,600 students? By allowing students to participate in BYOD, we have given students who do not have devices the chance to collaborate in a group or use some of the school-provided devices,” says Hansen.
BYOD on a Budget
Mankato (Minn.) Area Public Schools, which serves about 7,500 students, joined the BYOD movement last year to add more technology devices to the classroom without increasing its budget. “We have had Wi-Fi in every building for the last few years, and we just upgraded the capacity over the summer,” says Doug Johnson, director of media and technology at Mankato area schools. “Our signal is now stronger, but we still constantly have to monitor whether we have adequate bandwidth.”
According to Johnson, it cost about $50,000 to install wireless access points and increase bandwidth, but that is little or nothing compared to what it would cost to implement and sustain a one-to-one laptop program.
“In a perfect world, we would have enough money to provide a device for every child, but it would cost us over $1 million to do that for just a couple grade levels,” says Johnson. “Instead, we are trying to provide more personal access. We are also trying to keep the computer labs open before and after school and at lunch.”
Just over one year into the program, students most commonly use mobile devices in the classroom as calculators and student-response systems, which support active learning by allowing students to respond to a question via text.
“We are also trying to use Web-based resources, such as Google Apps for Education, rather than applications specific to Android or Apple as much as possible,” says Johnson. “With browser-based apps, we don’t need to find and update resources and applications that are compatible with a wide range of devices and operating systems.”
Robust Network Infrastructure
Anderson County (Ky.) Schools (ACS) serves about 4,000 students in nine buildings and just started its second full year of BYOD at all grade levels. ACS technology staff members had to upgrade their network to support BYOD, gain control and visibility of personal devices on the network, and provide reliable 24/7 access to cloud-based applications.
The district uses Microsoft Forefront Threat Management Gateway for protection against Web-based threats such as hacking, as well as several Enterasys products, including OneFabric, S-Series and B-Series modular switches and Mobile IAM. OneFabric enabled ACS to double the number of devices on the network and to manage and secure the network regardless of the type of devices students have been using. And Mobile IAM controls network access based on user, device, location and application to ensure compliance with the Children’s Internet Protection Act and the district’s acceptable use policy.
General funds and monies from the Kentucky Education Technology Systems (KETS), which matches local dollars spent, funded the project. It is a smart alternative to implementing a large-scale project, like a 1:1 laptop program, which would become out-of-date in coming years, says Bret Foster, CIO for Anderson County Schools.
“We have saved money with BYOD because we haven’t had to add any new technicians to support student devices,” says Bret Foster, who works with a staff of three technicians. “It’s definitely an investment, but we are providing better access to technology for kids, and they are able to use devices they are proficient with. Technology changes so fast that if you try to keep up with it on a large scale, you will always be playing catch-up.”
Courtney Williams is a contributing writer to District Administration.