Emerging Technology

BYOD is Bombing

I hear it on a regular basis, “Our school district goal is to be at a one-to-one ratio of students to computing devices and part of our plan is to have students BYOD (bring your own device) from home.” I have yet to hear from anyone that the approach worked out as they expected. In fact, I have only heard about the messes that the policy has created. If your school district leadership is thinking this way, perhaps some of the thoughts herein will help to frame the discussion.

First of all, there is absolutely no verifiable data regarding how many homes have a laptop computer that a student could bring to school. Every single study out there does not differentiate between desktop, laptop computer, or tablet—big difference regarding portability and usability. Even worse, many studies consider a “smartphone” a computer.

I understand the point, but reading a 300-word story and then writing a 50-word synopsis in your own words on a smartphone or tablet is simply not effective. Yes, I am a digital immigrant and suffer from a medical condition called FSFHS (fat stubby fingers and hands syndrome), but really! 50 words on a smartphone? By the way, that exercise is part of the fifth-grade reading comprehension test in every state.

As a second point, if your house is like mine, the kids get the “long-in-the tooth” laptop that dad or mom no longer want. In fact, most of those hand-me-downs have so many idiosyncrasies that mom or dad are simply tired of futzing with the silly thing and give it to the kids. So even if there is a laptop available from home, it will be of questionable functionality. It will also have a fairly old version of the operating and web browser system, full of all the old known security holes.

Yes, there are a few upper grade students who will have some of the latest whiz bang devices but they are actually a miniscule percentage of the overall student population. The reality is that you will have a very small percentage of your high school grade students using the BYOD policy.

Your leadership says, “We’re going to be progressive and move forward anyway.” Now the real trouble, with a capital T, comes to school. No one has the foggiest idea of where that BYOD device went last night; what it touched, what touched it, and what hitched a ride on the device. Unfortunately, this is where most districts drop the ball. Now we have BYOD devices on our network delivering malware to other devices on our network.

Historically, IT only needed to protect the kingdom from hurtful things trying to get into the castle through the main gate (router/firewall). Now the hurtful things are in the castle and on the “safe and secure” side of the router/firewall. There is a very large community of users out there who have been addressing this problem since 1995, called higher education. They operate in a strictly BYOD environment and have done so with quite a bit of success for a long time. They and the vendors they use have developed essentially two different paths to success.

The older path is that they require minimum computing device hardware requirements. If the device meets or exceeds those minimums, the student must log-in and download the anti-virus/malware application the educational organization has standardized on. The fee for that application is buried somewhere in their “student services” fee. The student is also required to keep the application up to date. If the student fails to stay current, their device will simply be denied access to the network.

A newer model is now available with increased computing power and more powerful algorithms. You purchase one of the “Next Generation” firewalls which also monitors your front gate and the secure side of the network for unusual traffic or computing device behavior. Those units are not inexpensive and they come with a hefty subscription cost for constant updates.

Unfortunately, none of those districts who ended up with messes followed either of these paths. So, if your leadership insists on implementing a BYOD policy. Make sure they pony up for the additional expenses. FYI—if you are moving to a “Web Browser” environment (think Chromebook) only the next generation firewall solution will work for your environment. Also, don’t let anyone tell you that you do not need that level of protection with Chromebooks or similar devices.

This article originally appeared in the June 2018 issue of School Planning & Management.

About the Author

Glenn Meeks is president of Meeks Educational Technology located in Cary, N.C. He can be reached at gmeeks@meeksgeeks.com.

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