Jun 13 2013

Schools Go Mobile on Multiple Fronts

A combination of wireless networks and devices offers students and teachers access to a new world of digital and online learning.

A new wireless infrastructure at the Medina City School District in Ohio has enabled the district to expand its mobile footprint both in and out of school.

Stacy Hawthorne, technology integration coordinator for the district, says the Enterasys wireless LAN coverage supports a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) program at the high school and two middle schools.

Now that most students bring tablets to school, they’ve increased content creation and collaboration. “Students go on field trips and take pictures and videos on the tablets and then write their stories,” Hawthorne says. “We encourage them to develop a digital footprint that travels with them wherever they are.” 

The Medina City School District also received a $138,000 eTech Ohio Blended Learning grant for a pilot program of blended learning for math, social studies and language classes. High school students take a full set of classes onsite three days a week; the other two days, they attend an online class from home. “There’s no way we could have started experimenting with blended learning without the technology,” Hawthorne says.

62%The percentage of executives and IT managers who say better communications and knowledge sharing are the primary benefits of mobile technology

SOURCE: “Business Technology Innovation: Six Key Trends in Optimizing IT for Competitive Advantage” (Ventana Research, December 2012)

Chris Silva, an industry analyst for the Altimeter Group, says today organizations are often more focused on what they can do with mobile technology, rather than which platform they are using. He says Medina’s experience with students becoming content creators and piloting blended learning is a case in point.

“What’s stood out to me the past several months is that we’re moving away from caring about the device and are focused more on experiences and services,” Silva says. “People want to access the information that’s critical to them, regardless of screen or location.”

Mobilizing the Staff

At the Springfield School District in Illinois, the mobility initiative kicked off about a year ago when the district purchased notebooks for most of the teachers. The next step was upgrading the district’s wireless network with Aruba Networks gear, says Brent Qualls, manager of data and information systems for the school district.

The infrastructure enabled the Springfield School District to roll out a de facto BYOD policy where the principals leave it up to the classroom teachers whether to permit students to bring personal notebooks and tablets to class. At this point, most of the district’s larger schools have sufficient wireless density to support BYOD.

Qualls says the teachers use the notebooks both in class and at home, and the district’s administrators also have notebooks. “The goal is for both teachers and administrators to be connected wherever they go,” he adds.  

6 Mobile Data Management Trends

As mobility permeates the enterprise, the following trends are shaping deployments, according to Jesse Lipson, vice president and general manager of data sharing for Citrix:

1. VPNs are disappearing. It’s clumsy and inconvenient for users to connect via VPN, especially when more organizations store their data in the cloud.

2. Active Directory integration is tops. Lipson says organizations use an average of 30 software as a service apps, which are most commonly integrated with Active Directory Federation Services.

3. Physical tokens will go away. Client certificate authentication will replace traditional two-factor authentication as mobile device management software makers increasingly provide these certificates. Many organizations also use text messages for the second factor of authentication.

4. Autologin takes hold. Most enterprises realize that it’s unreasonable to ask users to enter their credentials at every login of their smartphones or tablets. Four-digit PINs are acceptable to users and offer some added security when autologin is enabled.

5. On-premises storage survives. Organizations see this as a way to maintain security, compliance and convenience. They also have a considerable amount of legacy storage that needs to be accessed via mobile devices.

6. IT groups debate the “open-in” question. The IT team must decide whether to let apps open data in other apps and strike a balance between security and convenience.

<p>Natalia Silych, ThinkStock</p>