What Role Does BYOD Play In K-12 Deployments?

For the past few weeks, we’ve been discussing the Wi-Fi strategy when considering a K-12 deployment. Like with any network rollout, eventually the end-user devices come into play.

When Intel first coined the term BYOD or “Bring Your Own Device” in 2009, the idea of people bringing their own PCs, tablets, or smartphones in to work or school was something of a novelty. Clearly the phenomenon has taken off, and nowhere more than in education. There are compelling reasons why BYOD has exploded, beyond the obvious cost savings. Employers and schools are finding that when given the opportunity to choose their device, users are saved from the effort and time needed to get accustomed to new devices and can therefore accomplish tasks with ease and efficiency.

BYOD has profound implications for primary and secondary education because it creates the conditions for student-centered learning to take place. Roughly 75 percent of American school districts are implementing BYOD programs, and schools in the UK are following suit. In fact, BYOD practices provide such compelling benefits that many schools augment school-owned devices with a request to parents to consider purchasing devices for their children.

While BYOD provides tangible benefits to students and teachers, it presents a complicated problem to IT staff. IT is being asked to ensure the security and privacy of students and their devices/data, while supporting access to material from a client that IT doesn’t control at all. The largest enterprises in the world struggle with this issue, and IT leaders in education are also feeling the pain. Getting on the network has to be simple or users will not remember how to do it and IT will be overwhelmed with calls for help.

Access has to be non-intrusive, or students will simply remove the roadblock. And the policies that are applied to the user while at school or accessing school resources should not necessarily affect their connections in other situations. While parents might support the purchase of a device for school use if they are financially able to do so, they are not likely to be inclined to purchase another device on which their child can play games over summer break.

The security and accessibility answer lies in automatic actions that are taken predominately by the network itself. The method by which controls stay in the background allows the Wi-Fi network to provide the same type of experience as that of the wired network. The network should be able to tie into any type of authentication scheme supported by the district, which allows teachers’ devices to be separated from students’, staffs’, guests’, etc. Security and QoS policies can be established based on the users’ context, including their identity, device type, location, and application. Individualized access keys take security a  step further and are discussed in the next section.

Onboarding BYOD devices can be a daunting task. While the delivery of thousands of devices to the school just before the start of a term can be a cause for celebration, putting certificates and policies onto each device is a support nightmare. This is another activity that should be handled by your network itself, if possible. These features together will provide context-aware policy enforcement and safely onboard devices to the network.

Finally, whenever considering BYOD, it is useful to incorporate questions about substitute teachers, aides, or others who will require access to the school network and to protected data. These users need some access, but you may want to limit it by role or time of day. Another related issue is the guest network, which parents and others may want to access. Guest networks should be a standard offering inside the school, and may also need to be capable of being rolled out and pulled down in the case of an event. Internet and perhaps some intranet access would be appropriate in this use case, but the majority of a school’s resources must be off limits.

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Alexandra Gates is a Senior Product Marketing Manager at Aerohive Networks, where she helps define market strategy and vision for the cloud and WLAN products. She is a CWNA with a comprehensive background in wireless technology, including capacity and management planning, RF design, network implementation, and general industry knowledge.

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