The bring-your-own-mobile device movement doesn’t only exist in enterprises or government departments. Public school boards are increasingly adopting the policy as well.
Those holding back have one key worry: Security.
That was the problem facing Alberta’s Wolf Creek Public School District, a 5,994 sq. km. region between Calgary and Edmonton with about with 8,000 staff and students in 28 schools.
The board solved the security question by going to network access control (NAC), but the way it’s being implemented may be instructive: In short, the board is taking its time, giving principals the discretion on when to allow students to bring their own laptops to school.
The NAC project started in 2009 with a pilot project and two years later 17 of the 28 schools adopted BYOD.
Which is fine for Mark McWhinnie, the board’s director of IT integration and Gary Spence, its assistant superintendent.
“We recognize that the change the learning environment to include anytime [Internet] access with technology tools requires some careful planning on the part of the school and the classroom teacher. So we want them to be very methodical with their approach, covering off logistical (and) behavioural challenges.”
The story starts about seven years ago when the district was mulling over its strategy for computers in the classroom. Ideally, McWhinnie says, it was hoped there’d be one for every student. And in two schools that what they had under a special funding program from the province. But the district realized that it couldn’t count on the province to fund laptops for all the students.
When that project ended four years ago, the district had to think about the future. Fortunately, McWhinnie said, the price of laptops had begun to fall, so a bring your own device policy was becoming and affordable for students from Grade 2 to 12.
Connectivity wasn’t a problem. All of the district’s schools are on the Alberta SuperNet broadband network that connects public institutions, which delivers a 20 megabit per second duplex connection to each (plus a separate 6 Mbps reserved for video conferencing and voice-over-IP phones).
Wolf Creek has been an Alcatel-Lucent shop for years. Within each school there’s an A-L 6800 series Gigabit router and 6200 series workgroup switches. Each school has a wired and wireless network, the latter using a total of 450 Alcatel-Lucent access points in the schools.
Once the decision had been made to allow students to bring their own mobile devices, a way had to be found to ensure the network would remain secure. The search for NAC solution started early in 2009 and came down to solutions from Enterasys Networks, Bradford Networks and Alcatel-Lucent. Officials from each company did a demo for the district, but it was A-L’s solution, an appliance called CyberGatekeeper from Mountain View, Calif.’s InfoExpress Inc.(which A-L resells), that caught their eye.