Mobility Management 101: Talking Tech to Teachers & Staff

As schools and universities across the globe trade their textbooks for tablets and slide rules for smartphones, the IT staff of these institutions must rise to the challenge of protecting and managing these new endpoints of burgeoning knowledge.

To aid in this vital endeavor, Fiberlink, an IBM company, hosted a 1-hour Webinar to help translate common mobility management terms into staff and teacher speak . According to webinar hosts Frank Gentile and Tyler Hoy, education mobility specialists with Fiberlink, the toughest challenge facing IT in education is evangelizing the virtues of mobile device management, mobile app management and mobile content management to budget approvers and teachers within the school district.

Unlike other industries, educational organizations often rely on bootstrap resources to manage smartphones and tablets. There are even scenarios where there are no IT resources within a district, leaving teachers with the burden of managing a technology landscape that is still misunderstood even within the most erudite IT circles.

To find out just how many schools are currently contemplating mobility, the Webinar opened with a simple poll to determine the audience’s timeframe for mobile enablement. 40% of attendees were already in a pilot program for implementing mobile devices. Another 40% had plans to initiate a pilot program before the close of this school year, while the final 20% were ready to launch a program before the end of the current calendar year.

Mobile Policies Prevent “Running in the Halls”

School is as much about learning societal rules as it is about facts and formulas. With the proliferation of mobile communication and productivity applications, students would be wise to learn the mobile rules of conduct they will be expected to follow when they enter the workforce. Policies within a mobility management platform are those first lines of defense, just as a hall monitor stops kids from pushing and shoving their way to class.

According to the second Webinar poll, over 50% of attendees were not enforcing basic policy protection (like passcodes) or remediation for lost or stolen devices (like blocking or wiping a device).  To take the severity of the situation another step, policies also quickly enable access to WiFi, apps and school content. Some participants said they were relying on Apple Configurator to meet some of these needs, but the need to physically tether devices to a management console leaves little to no room for scalability. Also, this approach only addresses one OS, Apple. In a world where Android dominates the consumer market and schools look to cut costs by relying on Bring Your Own Device Programs, the Configurator model breaks down rapidly.

With mobility management solutions like MaaS360, all devices are enrolled into the system and configured over the air. This means with the push of one button, IT (or a teacher) can easily push a notification to students via SMS or email. Once a student hits “accept”(or whatever custom End-user Licence Agreement, or EULA, the school wishes to enforce), the device is enrolled and policies are enforced.

Now, not only are devices connected to network resources, but also the administrator now has a clear view of the school’s digital footprint. Device types, installed apps, OS types and versions are all easily accessible from the front-page watchlist. If a student tries to jailbreak or root the device, policies spring into action to place the mobile rapscallion in digital detention until they are back in compliance. Digital detention can also be used when passcode entries reach their limit or for devices not on the latest and greatest operating system version (or to keep devices on older OS versions until all the bugs are worked out in the latest and greatest).

Learning: There’s an App for That!

school-lockersIn actuality there are thousands of apps that can harness the power of young minds and further foster the teacher student relationship in the digital age. However, IT has struggled with the best way to distribute the apps they want on phones and control time wasters like Flappy Bird or Candy Crush.

Enter Mobile App Management. With this tool in place IT can blacklist (ban) or whitelist (allow) both public and custom developed apps. Another popular control model is Kiosk mode, while often used in retail environments for point of sale or inventory lookup, this mode can be customized to turn school owned devices into running just the apps set by IT.

Mobile Container: The School’s Cleanest Locker

For enterprising schools that want to reap the cost savings of Bring Your Own Device, a mobile container would be the wisest choice for true security.

The container acts as a partition keeping school email, documents, apps and even web browsing in a separate passcode protected space. Even school-owned devices can benefit from these controls especially from the perspectives of web access and content distribution. A safe internet playground is not only the norm these days for students at home it also allows schools to meet Child Internet Protection Act (CIPA) requirements with robust filters based on categories or specific URL blocking.

Also of security note: within the containerized document sharing environment schools can abandon free cloud collaboration tools like Dropbox and Google Docs for a private cloud alternative. This low-cost, but infinitely more secure, alternative facilitates permission controls, sharing and even editing of the most popular file types being used today.

For the final poll of the Webinar, Fiberlink asked attendees what part of mobility management was most pressing for their district. App management was the clear winner taking 50% of the votes, while over-the-air configuration, digital detention, content control and secure browser shared the rest of the votes.

Educating (and Monitoring) the Educators

While much of the webinar and following Q&A focused on the needs of students, Frank and Tyler were quick to mention the ability to bring teachers and staff into the mobility management fold. Since MaaS360 policies can be customized into groups, the rules for adults on campus can be more flexible than the rules placed on students while ensuring their devices that are carrying sensitive student records can be located, blocked or even wiped in an adverse event.

Savvy school budget and IT leaders are rapidly learning that mobile is a first, not second screen experience, requiring the same controls and safety measures as more archaic endpoints like laptops and desktops.  Mobile device management, mobile app management and mobile content management are questions of when, not if.

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