by Jean Tower

In early 2010, as METAA was planning the first CTO Clinic, one of the topics we felt people were starting to be more interested in was BYOT, or Bring Your Own Technology. We spoke with leaders from other CoSN chapters and Bailey Mitchell, our colleague from Forsyth County, Georgia, told us about their nascent BYOT initiative. At that 2010 clinic had a few breakout sessions that concentrated on mobile computing and BYOT, and the panel on BYOT was standing room only. This year, the theme of our CTO Clinic, held in early May, was Cloud Computing. Again, the breakout sessions on mobile computing, one-to-one computing, and BYOT were very popular and well-attended. It would appear many technology leaders are open to investigating BYOT, but that many are still struggling with the issues that BYOT will open up.

I think that for many school districts, the only sustainable way to maintain a one-to-one computing environment will be to institutionalize BYOT. So, as I consider BYOT, I look at the history of how we have dealt with personal devices in schools, depicted by three phases: ban them, control them tightly, and accept the disruption. Last, I mention some concerns that we will need to address in order to welcome the disruption.

Our initial approach to personal devices was to ban them from being used in schools. For some reason, network administrators actually thought that “just say no” might work as a policy. Vivek Kundra, the United States CIO, has been quoted as saying that the more a CIO says no, the less secure their network becomes. That’s because users who are told no will simply go underground and will find a way around the rules. That’s exactly what happened when users were told they could not bring their own devices in to schools. They brought them anyway and this encouraged shadow IT practices that opened more security problems than allowing personal devices would have introduced.

The next stage was that some districts shifted from a total ban to trying to have really tight controls over BYOT. During the tight control years, what I saw most often was that students were not allowed to use any mobile device in schools (cell phones were outlawed and often confiscated if found “out of the backpack”) but teachers were allowed to bring in laptops, and what they could be used for was rigidly controlled.

Many schools are now either considering or are implementing BYOT. We are deluding ourselves if we believe we can ban or totally control all student and staff owned mobile devices. So what’s left? Now is the time to cultivate a culture that welcomes BYOT and nurtures responsible use.

What factors prompted phase three? I think there are several points that make this the right time to welcome this disruption. First, our students and staff have mobile devices – the expansion of mobile devices has been phenomenal. Second, our constituents expect to be able to use their mobile computing devices any time, any place. Third, current economic conditions are forcing us to be more creative in trying to meet needs with fewer resources. And fourth, with cloud computing and web 2.0 tools, schools can leverage student owned devices for educational uses without worrying about whether they will have the “right” software on the device.

What concerns do we need to address? A few come immediately to mind.

Network Drives
Perhaps access to storage file servers will be limited to school-owned devices. Some people will say we can’t allow BYOT because those users can’t access the school file servers. There are solutions, including the use of free cloud solutions from Google and Microsoft or private cloud solutions like Citrix or StoneWare.

Another perceived obstacle is the concern that students and staff won’t have access to the applications they need to be productive. See above.

Viruses and Malware
People will bring in infected devices – understand this, accept it, and set up safeguards on your network.

We always think about equity, making sure we aren’t setting up a “haves” and “have nots” situation. As we allow BYOT, schools will be obliged to make sure there are solutions in place for students whose families can’t or won’t provide a device for the student to bring to school.

Schools are required to filter internet content (blocking sites that would be considered unallowable content under CIPA guidelines). Schools can remain CIPA compliant by making sure that students and staff know that while on school property, personally-owned devices may access the internet only through the school internet gateway.

Security of Personal Devices
What happens if a student’s device is lost or stolen or damaged on school property? I’m sure that schools deal with this in many different ways, but I would suggest a policy that says that responsibility for the device is up to the individual and the school has no liability.

Many of the issues that BYOT raises can be addressed with policy, education, and procedures, and don’t require a technical solution. I think that school rules and policies are stronger and better endure the test of time when they are created collaboratively and reached by consensus. In addition to the suggested policies above about security and CIPA compliance, schools will need to set rules and guidelines about use of personal devices. I suggest that schools convene a task force to develop these guidelines, and that such a task force include teachers, administrators, parents, technology staff, and students.

Trust is not a concern, but a core belief and value that will help guide a BYOT deployment. I believe that the success of a BYOT initiative will depend largely on whether we have built the initiative on the precepts of trust, respect, and responsibility.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Adam April 2, 2012 at 11:38 am

To facilitate BYOT schools must give students and staff easy but secure access to the school’s applications from various devices (including iPads, iPhones, Android devices and Chromebooks), while minimizing the intervention required by IT staff. An ideal solution for such a scenario is Ericom AccessNow, a pure HTML5 RDP client that enables remote users to connect to any RDP host, including Terminal Server (RDS Session Host), physical desktops or VDI virtual desktops – and run their applications and desktops in a browser. AccessNow works natively with Chrome, Safari, Internet Explorer (with Chrome Frame plug-in), Firefox and any other browser with HTML5 and WebSockets support.

AccessNow also provides an optional Secure Gateway component enabling external users to securely connect to internal resources using AccessNow, without requiring a VPN.

For more information on Ericom’s solution for BYOT & education, visit:

Note: I work for Ericom

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