Solving the challenges of mobile device management

The federal e-Rate program does not discount the cost of the data plan.

While the potential for mobile learning with smart phones or other portable devices is huge, many challenges remain before everywhere, all-the-time learning becomes a reality.

One such challenge is how to police the devices to make certain students are using them only for tasks that have to do with learning and are not accessing inappropriate content.

A simple way to do this is via identity management, says Phil Emer, director of technology planning and policy at The Friday Institute, which is housed within North Carolina State University.

Emer says it’s inevitable that students eventually will be allowed to bring their mobile devices into school, and identity management can help make this happen. Each child should have an account, and any time students use a wireless device, they should be required to log into the school’s wireless network, just as enterprise users do, where they can be monitored. “You can even put it all together on a website for parents,” he says. If a student is doing something inappropriate, either the parent or the school sees it and can put consequences into place.

“People over-interpret CIPA [the Child Internet Protection Act]. They do little or no monitoring, they just filter the whole internet,” Emer says. Instead, he suggests, schools should filter the “clearly unsavory stuff” and leave the rest flexible.

Still, students will always look for ways around security. “It’s almost like an ongoing arms race between students and administrators,” says Michael Flood, education solutions practice manager at AT&T. But there are solutions, such as “middleware” software that AT&T and other companies provide.

In a mobile device environment, “you can force all traffic from mobile devices to route back through the district, so you have some assurance that access is as good as it is on campus. You can also implement a filtering system through the mobile network, through the carrier,” he says. Mobile device management (MDM) software also can help solve the problem. “Some districts require that MDM be installed on any student- or faculty-owned device if they want to use it at school,” Flood says.

He adds that some school leaders look at the issue simply from an “acceptable use” perspective, addressing it purely from a policy standpoint and not a technological one.

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