How to make BYOD work for your schools
Ed-tech directors share their strategies for meeting challenges such as access, security
All five of the district’s high schools have amended their procedures to let students have personal access to their own devices in between classes, during lunch, and at other “free” times throughout the day. Hobson said administrators deal with problems as they arise, but discipline problems have almost disappeared since the rules were implemented, down to between two and four from 400.
“I’ve said before that every school is doing BYOD—it’s just a matter of whether you’re ready to admit it or not,” she said.
Forsyth County still maintains 24,000 of its own computer devices—mostly desktops and laptops—that require network support, but Hobson said that in the future, she does not think schools will be outfitted with devices as they are now.
Classroom computers have seen increased use since the district’s BYOD initiative launched, because teachers and students carry content or ideas over from smaller personal devices and use computers to support certain applications or functionality that smaller mobile devices do not support. Classroom computers also are available for students who don’t have their own device.
District policy is designed so that IT staff do not touch, troubleshoot, or offer technical support for student-owned devices.
To address security, district officials have set up a separate BYOD network that is “segmented off” from more secure areas. Hobson likened it to a concrete wall 25 feet wide and 25 feet tall; students on the BYOD network cannot access student information, financial information, and so on.
In fact, the network is set up like free Wi-Fi networks found in restaurants and coffee shops across the country. Students connect to the network via a secure access point, and they get the same filtered internet access they would find on any school-owned laptop or desktop.
One of the largest challenges in a BYOD initiative is meeting the needs of students who don’t own a mobile device, or who don’t have internet access at home. While Forsyth County is an affluent area, the district currently has a task force examining equity issues that accompany BOYD. Some possible solutions include:
- Mapping every single public Wi-Fi access point within the school district to help students who have a device, but whose families can’t afford the ongoing cost of internet access.
- Examining company partnerships that would finance the district’s purchase of “My-Fi” hotspot-type devices available for checkout through school media centers. The district would pay for data plans within reason. This solution not only would help the student in question, but it would provide the same filtered internet access within the district’s schools to those near the student’s home, which would help the community at large.
“Infrastructure is a challenge,” Hobson said. “Every district that wants to do this will face that challenge.”
School budgets are already constrained, and district leaders must make sure that enough infrastructure exists to support the number of students who are going to bring their own devices and access the school network.