BYOD: NEN Consultation

‘NEN –The Education Network’ is a secure education network set up under the national grid for learning initiative in 2000, originally named The National Education Network. It delivers services and resources to the various grids for learning, and in turn, to schools.

They have recently opened a consultation about bring your own device (BYOD) and how it can work within a school environment. please consider responding if you have any knowledge on the subject, or simply an opinion.

I spent much of last evening trying to get as many points as I could, in as little space as possible. So please forgive me if it doesn’t read very well. I thought it worth posting here, as it expands on my previous post about BYOD.

My Feedback…

I believe that bring your own technology could transform education. However there are a number of pit falls which educational establishments need to overcome before a scheme can be successful.

Banning mobile phones in schools has not worked. There is nothing inherently wrong with the technology, just the way in which it is used by a small minority. A behaviour issue, rather than a technology issue. The impact on learning can far outweigh the few issues that may come from enabling the use of such devices.

I work as a systems manager in a high school which has tried, and failed to implement a BYOD scheme. I also support a number of primary schools, which are also looking towards BYOD. Many of the points raised here come from my own experience from our failed scheme, and how we intend to ensure success, second time around.

Organisations often seem to think that BYOD is a good way of increasing ICT access to students cheaply. There are two issues with this assumption, firstly the students who do not have, want or have the means to buy a device. Secondly it takes a large investment by schools to create the systems on which the devise will reside. It is however a fantastic way of allowing students access to the latest technology in school; the technology they are most comfortable using.

Wifi

A significant investment into a schools wifi network is required. A successful scheme will likely involve one, if not two, devices per user. These devices need to be supported by the wifi network/controller. The system needs to be cost effective, expandable, and robust.

More importantly, it needs to be as simple as possible for the end user to connect. A scheme is more likely to be successful if users can configure their own devices. A captive portal, or hotspot service will ensure users are authenticated to the wireless network, and devices can be traced to users. Logs will need to be archived, so devices and users can be traced. Attaching your wifi controller to your current authentication platform (active directory / RADIUS etc.) will allow users to connect with details they already know.

Coverage must be good in all areas of campus, possibly even outside buildings. As many standards as possible should be covered – a/b/g/n and both 2.4 and 5GHz ranges.

Network

Investment may be required in your wired network. Schools will probably require extra network cables installing to each of the locations where access points are expected to be sited. Most access points use power over ethernet. Schools may even need to upgrade their switches to support the access points gigabit network connection.

Additionally it is well worth considering implementing VLANs. This can keep BYOD traffic separate from normal network traffic, helping with speed, and security.

Each device will need an IP address. Your current school scope may not have enough free addresses to cope with the additional devices. Network Address Translation may not be allowed by your regional broadband consortium. You will need to work with your provider, and possibly expand your current scope, or be given a new one.

Internet

Schools who invite hundreds, if not thousands of devices onto their network without considering their internet connection do so at their peril. The internet connection needs to have the bandwidth require by todays devices and users. The router needs to be able to deal with the amount of concurrent connections. If users find the service slow, they will likely revert to 3G. As a result you lose the filtering and monitoring of their device, and ultimately safeguarding.

Proxy Server

Most schools utilise a proxy server. Whether this is in house, or more often provided by the RBC, in either case they can cause issues.

For a successful BYOD scheme, proxy servers must be transparent. If entering proxy details becomes a requirement of connecting to the wifi, most users will not bother. Users shouldn’t need to authenticate. Most modern devices expect the internet to be available 24/7 without the need to input a username or password.

Schools/RBCs may need to look again at how users internet access is filtered/monitored and how this new type of access could be logged.

Firewall

All the major handheld devices ‘phone home’. They all expect to be able to access particular services. Apple devices require access to a huge list of IP addresses. Firewall rules must be implemented to allow for this, or devices become slow as they repeatedly try and fail to connect to these services.

Device Agnostic

Schools can’t insist that students buy a particular device, if any device at all. Therefore schools should look to web based services rather than base learning on ‘apps’. Build their education on devices they already own. A virtual learning environment based on html or php will produce the best results on devices. Consider employing a mobile specific theme to make small screen devices easier to use.

Ipads may be the most fashionable (and in my opinion still has the best quality educational apps) but schools must remember the less fashionable mobile operating systems, such as android, blackberryOS and windows.

Integrating with traditional technology

Mobile devices are a superb accompany to traditional computers. I don’t believe they were ever intended to replace them. Therefore schools must find new ways to integrate them into their traditional technology. This could mean opening up a schools local storage to student devices, or it could mean looking at utilising internet based storage.

Liability

A clear policy on damage, loss and theft of devices will need to be in place. Consideration must be given to students carrying devices to and from school, even if it is perceived they are already doing this. A well published scheme could attracted undesirable attention.

SLT

The schools senior leadership team must fully understand the scheme, be behind it, and prepared for hard work. BYOD schemes are usually brought forward by the ICT lead, or another tech savvy member of the team. However even the least technically minded member of SLT must understand how the power of student devices can aid their learning.

Technical Support

Schools must understand the level of commitment into a BYOD scheme in terms of technician hours. Technicians too must understand the decision to employ a BYOD scheme as well as being given time and a suitable budget to ensure their part in a successful scheme.

Teachers

Teachers need training and inspiration on how devices could be integrated into all lessons. Most will need to start small, asking a student to do a quick web search when a question comes up in group discussion. Later teachers may want to collate live feedback, perhaps of students understanding of the subject in hand. Before long, devices could be an important part of almost every lesson, but once again, teachers must make provision for those who don’t have, or have forgotten devices.

Pupils

Pupils need to understand when and where the use of the device is suitable, and permitted. The easiest way is through a policy, or a digital user agreement. To ensure students understand and appreciate each clause, I believe it is vital to get the students to be involved in creating the policy. If they feel like they own the policy, the hope is that they adhere to it.

I would love to hear some feedback (as would NEN) about my thoughts.

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