Network security and content filtering are at the top of the list of concerns for schools integrating laptops or tablets in the classroom. While schools want their students to have some level of freedom with the technology, districts still have a responsibility to be CIPA compliant and to prevent children from accessing inappropriate content online. A flexible mobile device management solution (MDM) can do a lot to alleviate those worries and create a positive learning environment, but first, you have to find the right solution to put in place.
“Going BYOD, we knew that we needed to have some more capabilities to see who’s logged in so we could filter devices properly,” says Harry Howes, Computer and Technical Support manager, Highlands County Schools.
Last year, the small Florida-based school district piloted several small BYOD implementations, which they recently expanded on. Now, all students are allowed to bring devices from home into the classroom. The district’s 12,000 students also have access to laptops available for use on a class-by-class basis, but they cannot take those devices home with them. Before implementing BYOD, the challenge was to find an MDM solution that was flexible enough to meet each individual school’s needs within the district.
“We’re big on school-based management where principals make a lot of the decisions on how they want to run their school,” Howes says. “So we might have one school that wants to allow certain things or certain websites and another school that thinks it’s a distraction.”
Any MDM solution implemented by Highlands County needed some level of customization, a trait the district found in iboss.
“It’s a filter that goes right before our firewall,” Howes explains. “It tracks individual users so you can customize what filtering you want all the way down to one user.”
Right now, the district has configured its MDM so that it filters according to who logs onto the network. For example, if a student signs in they have one set of restrictions. Teachers have another. All teachers are set to have the same filters, but if a school wanted to customize that it could.
An added bonus of the Highlands County MDM solution is that it supports integration with Ruckus Wireless Smart Wi-fi. Typically, it can be difficult to maintain a sense of control over your network where personal devices are concerned. This is especially true if that personal device needs to access school or classroom resources on the network. With the Ruckus integration, students who log on to the district’s wireless from their own device are still subject to the same rules and restrictions as a district-owned device.
“One big benefit to this is if a teacher brings in a device from home, that teacher is allowed to access websites that would normally be blocked if we didn’t have the integration with iboss and Ruckus,” Howes explains.
For example, a teacher using a personal laptop would still be able to access YouTube to show students an educational video. They wouldn’t be prohibited from doing so simply because they chose to use their own laptop rather than a school provided one.
The Highlands County School district’s goal with MDM was not to restrict access so much so that students would forgo logging onto the school’s wireless and use their own cellular network. The trick was to find the right amount of filtering that protected the learning environment, but did not inhibit it.
“We want students to be on our network because it’s filtered and they don’t have to worry about getting to bad content,” says Howes. If its blocked all the time they’re more tempted to go on their own cellular networks and that’s what we want to prevent.”