Administrators from several local school districts had much to consider Dec. 9 as vendors and experts from the Lower Hudson Regional Information Center outlined the latest trends and technologies that will most significantly impact education in the years to come.
The presentations were part of the LHRIC's Technology Solutions Briefing (TSB), an annual event that provides technology leaders and decision makers with a more in-depth look at what's new in the industry.
Held at the Edith Macy Conference Center in Briarcliff Manor, the five topics discussed at the half-day session included information on wireless technology, virtual desktop infrastructure, mobile device management, and the strategy, Bring Your Own Device (BYOD).
Here is a review of each session:
Bring Your Own Device (BYOD)
Co-presented by Rob Predgo, the RIC's manager of Technology Services, and Steve Struthers of Dyntek, the 45-minute session on BYOD was an overview of a technology strategy that is moving, said Mr. Predgo, at a "breakneck pace." Because students are using their own devices (including laptops, netbooks, tablets, and smart phones) on a regular basis anyway, it makes more sense for them to access a school's wireless network, he explained. That would increase their technology access and their chances of succeeding in a 21st century learning environment, noted Mr. Predgo.
Because the BYOD initiative is still relatively new, many school districts are still trying to figure out the best way to implement such a strategy. As a result, said Mr. Predgo, best practices should be implemented to guarantee that a district's organizational data is fully secure, together with policies that protect that data. It's important also, added Mr. Struthers, that administrators choose a method by which students can access online information effortlessly, be it wirelessly or by other means.
Initiating a "trust model" is also important. That means identifying common personal device security issues and confirming the identity of users and the devices they are working on, among other safeguards. Determining if a district's Acceptable Use Policy extends to the use of personal devices is also crucial, added Mr. Struthers.
"It’s not about the technology," he noted. "It's really about setting up a platform." He added that the success of any BYOD program will depend on effective preparation, while its long-term sustainability will depend on the ongoing quality of the users' end-to-end experience.
Mobile Learning: New Rochelle's Experience
In her presentation, "Moving a Mountain: Mobile Learning on the Go!," Dr. Christine Coleman, director of technology for the New Rochelle School District, explained the process of putting 125 mobile learning devices into the hands of students at Jefferson Elementary School.
Dr. Coleman explained that as a result of the initiative, the formal structure of the classrooms has changed, creating an environment where students work in clusters as opposed to working alone, and where engagement and interactivity are the primary goals.
Halfway through the project, Dr. Coleman noticed that many of the students were using their netbooks on the school grounds. Since many of the students do not have Internet access at home, she worked to change the situation by applying for the Federal Communications Commission's "E-rate Learning on the Go" program, an initiative that helps schools and libraries deliver Internet connectivity and digital learning through mobile wireless devices.
In January 2011, Dr. Coleman applied for the FCC's E-Rate Deployed Ubiquitously (EDU2011) program, a pilot initiative to provide students or library patrons with broadband Internet access through the use of portable wireless devices. The idea, she explained, was to take the money that would have been spent on the purchase of textbooks and put it toward wireless learning, which included the purchase of Android smart phones and the utilization of Google Apps for Education.
The initiative, which has impacted over 3,000 students, many of them ESL learners and residents of economically-disadvantaged neighborhoods throughout the city, together with 150 teachers, has created a ubiquitous learning environment where collaboration is key and teachers and students can easily share learning resources, she explained.
Encouraging other districts to follow in New Rochelle's footsteps, Dr. Coleman said, "It’s not about the device, it's about what the kids can really do with it and how much learning they will get out of it."
In its infancy, school districts used wireless networks "very sparingly," said the LHRIC's Anthony Ferrante, in his presentation on the advances of wireless technology. Together with Jamie Bogert of Annese & Associates, Inc., a technology solutions provider to schools in New England and throughout New York State, this presentation outlined the primary benefits of using a wireless system in school district buildings. It also included information on the costs involved, the security steps that should be taken and the types of wireless systems that are most suited to a school environment.
Perhaps the biggest advantage of installing a wireless system is that it compliments a district's BYOD initiative, explained Mr. Ferrante, a network support coordinator at the RIC. Other benefits include enhanced scalability, increased mobility and accessibility, and simplicity.
When installing a wireless system, the most important aspect of it is in the planning, said Ms. Bogert. Because students and teachers have the ability to access the wireless network not just within the building but on the sports field and in other areas close to the school, the "conversation needs to move from, where do we need the coverage to how much coverage do we need," she said.
Other considerations include the types of applications that students have access to, in addition to using a system that combines data, video, and voice networks into a single cohesive infrastructure.
Districts must also take security considerations into account when converting to a totally wireless environment, noted Ms. Bogert, as well as choosing a centralized management system that secures information, defends against hackers and malware, and sets a control policy for users, devices and networks.
Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI)
For districts interested in repurposing their old PCs, in maintaining the central management of desktop images, and in seamlessly rolling out new applications, desktop virtualization might be the answer. Bill Stein, manager of the RIC's Systems and Operations, together with Jim Geueke of Mainline Information Systems, gave participants up-to-date information on what's happening in the industry.
The advantage in switching to desktop virtualization, explained Mr. Geueke, is that end user data is stored on servers and not on an endpoint device. In addition, user data is backed up along with server data and desktops can be available in a disaster.
When our local area experienced a surprise snow storm last October, shutting down power in several school districts, a virtual desktop system would have worked well, noted Mr. Geueke. The cloud-based strategy also compliments the BYOD initiative discussed earlier in the session because the end user provides the device and user acceptance, and there is minimal power needed.
"Your employees should be able to access their desktops at any time with any device," added Mr. Geueke. "Data should never be saved on the device that's being used, because there's only so much technology-related security that you can have."
Mobile Device Management
The final session of the day focused on mobile device management, including trends within the industry, the growth of mobile devices, the security risks that poses, and the smart phones that are most vulnerable to hackers and malware.
Led by Mr. Predgo and Jeff Sciueche of McAfee, the session focused initially on how the mobile devices being used by staff and students can be properly utilized and secured. Because of the changing nature of the industry, the information that is given today is "drastically different" than what will be available six months to a year from now, said Mr. Predgo.
With an app explosion that goes well beyond email and the Web, the presenters suggested that districts might want to think about the applications they want to allow and what ones they might want to ban. The security threat to mobile devices has been growing increasingly, with the Android being an early target.
Very often, noted Mr. Sciueche, there is a policy disconnect between the IT departments and the end users. Added to that, he said, is the fact that mobile devices are predicted to be the new malware frontier, that more than half of all users don't lock their devices, and that almost one in five devices are lost each year.
To access the PowerPoint slides for each of the sessions, go to http://www.lhric.org/networking.cfm?subpage=803. For more information on the specific products mentioned in this article, visit the following vendor websites: www.annese.com, www.dyntek.com, www.mainline.com, and www.mcafee.com.