Mobile Devices: The next lock-down after filtering

The initial discussion paper from the ICT Excellence Group makes a number of proposals about the use of mobile devices and bring your own technology (BYOT). These are exciting ideas and the proposals of the group, of which I am a member, are guided by the needs of learners and teachers on the ground.

We need to keep apace with technology and the changing nature of its use by our young people. A major part of that is the use of learners own devices in school but I have a growing concern that access to connectivity in schools will be the next “lock-down”, replacing our frustrations with web filtering with frustrations relating to how we help learners get their devices connected.

A great many of our local authorities are moving forward with their plans to allow children to connect their own devices in school but many of these plans are routed in a desire to control access, monitor and even directly configure the devices that learners use.

What do learners want when they connect to a school network? Fast connectivity: they are not generally interested in accessing the local network, or the shared file store in school, or the corporate email service or the LAs exchange server. The leaner’s content is on-line, in Google Docs, DropBox, SkyDrive; In Facebook, Livemail/Hotmail, Youtube and Twitter. LAs are spending significant sums of money adding additional layers of complexity to their networks to support BYOT but do they really need to?

When I go to McDonalds and Starbucks, I can connect my device to the network, open a browser page, agree to the Ts&Cs and then get started. I don’t need to install a device profile, add a network security policy or promise my first born child to Scientology.  I just get connected.  This is the ease of use that we need in schools.

But LA systems are adding these layers of complexity (not the Scientology bit!) to device connectivity – its all a bit complicated and could potentially get in the way of effective learning.  Mobile Device Management Systems may be the next major obstacle to effective use of technology in our schools. Are we really going to start the BYOT revolution by trying to police every device which enters a school? We tried that with filtering and look where that has taken us.

After all, in 2 to 3 years our learners will have 4G and access to data at any time on fast connections. Systems like MobileIron are all very good for managing devices which are owned by the local authority or school but should we even be considering forcing network policies on to devices which the LA doesn’t own?

I think BYOT comes with an inherent element of trust.  We need to trust users will use the connectivity appropriately.  To keep our corporate networks secure we connect mobile devices to a separate Virtual Network on our corporate network, one which is just configured to allow access to the Internet and protects the network resources/data/hardware from the perils of access from other systems.

If we don’t respond sensibly to the challenge of BYOT we will add significant cost and inconvenience to the experience of our users.     When it comes to technology, keep it simple silly!

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