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Mobile Device Management: 5 Things to Consider

24 Jul 2014 by Marsha Branch

The old school setting — with a chalkboard and desks topped with pencils and those familiar black and white composition books — is exactly that: “OLD SCHOOL”. The modern classroom is abuzz with Google Chromebooks®, iPads®, tablets and even smartphones, all used to enhance students’ learning experience. And as schools up the ante with one-to-one computing programs (one device per student) and Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) initiatives, being able to seamlessly and efficiently manage them is an absolute necessity.

How do you manage all of those devices?

“With the number of iPads that we have in our district … we don’t want [teachers] to spend their days putting apps on devices,” Dr. Jared Bloom, the Assessment and

Technology/Office of Curriculum and Instruction Supervisor for New York’s South Huntington School District, said.  “Without having some kind of solution, we’d have to touch each device, one by one, every single time, which is just an impossibility once you get past a certain number of devices.”

The 1,000 iPads, in Bloom’s district make MDM solutions necessary, not only for human resource management, but also for asset inventory and security. The software keeps track of where devices are at any given point in time and of what’s installed on them. It can also be used to block access to inappropriate websites and the installation of non-education apps.For South Huntington, that solution is AirWatch, one of several Mobile Device Management (MDM) software systems currently on the market. It’s vital, Bloom says, to any school utilizing at least 30 devices.

4-SHUFSD-iPad Cart 1

Senior Systems Engineer, Seth Levenberg Managing iPads

The beauty of MDMs is that they allow just one person to update or alter the content and security settings on hundreds of devices in just seconds. That’s a great selling point for understaffed schools utilizing an increasing number of mobile devices. Devices can be managed on a large scale by just one or two network engineers, or on a smaller scale by teachers in the classroom. How they are managed is dependent on the MDM software purchased and the devices being used.

“There are some device managers that will work better with IOS on Apple devices…[and] some that will work better for Android,” South Huntington’s Senior Systems Engineer, Seth Levenberg, said. There are also MDMs that support different types of devices at the same time. Schools should therefore take into account which devices they plan on deploying, or are already using before purchasing an MDM system.

“For our iPads, we use a combination of our AirWatch wireless mobile device manager with Apple Configurator, which is Apple’s device management that’s not wireless”, Levenberg said.  “So for our initial setups we used Configurator, and then…we can use AirWatch, the wireless mobile device manager, to update the iPads and add apps on the fly.”

Google actually seems to be moving away from separate Mobile Device Management software and incorporating it into their Google cloud service, through the Google Apps for Education admin console. This allows teachers to play a greater part in adding and removing apps in the classroom.

“It’s a really fantastic tool and we are at the very early stages of testing this out, but it definitely seems like this is going to be the new way that all of the devices are going to work at some point,” Bloom said. “Right now Apple doesn’t have that, where the teacher has that ability, but I’m guessing that at some point they will.”

The Android-specific feature allows teachers to transfer free and paid apps to their students’ devices, instantly…without having to rely on tech staff. “Seth [Levenberg] is still very much involved in the process,” Bloom said. “But…allowing some of our tech-savvy teachers to take that control, really helps make the process smoother and allows for those teachable moments.”

Birchwood Intermediate third grade teacher Janine D’Elia agrees. “I have 30 iPads available to me, [and] I have 26 students, [so] the ability to manage these devices is a very important part of my classroom.

D’Elia agrees that allowing teachers to manage some aspects of app sharing and downloads facilitates faster exposure to, and utilization of, new apps by the students. But she stressed that having a Mobile Device Management System that technical staff can use to maintain the devices is vital. “[This] allows the teaching staff to focus on instruction and implementing curriculum in a creative and innovative way,” she said.

Top 5 Mobile Device Managers

South Huntington Tech Team Shares Their Top 5 MDM Solutions for Schools

Before Purchasing an MDM

So, if you’re convinced that your school or district could benefit from MDM software, there are a few things to consider before buying:

  1. Make sure you have a five-year technology plan that lays out how you’ll be utilizing devices in your district and the number and types of devices.
  2. Know the IT personnel in your district, whether they be technical staff, or administrators and teachers who are technical, because your staff component and their capabilities may help you decide which tool will be best. If you do not have IT professionals, or your staff members are less technically proficient, a simple device management tool like Configurator or Google Play might be a more practical choice.
  3. Know your price point. The price difference between one MDM and another can be thousands of dollars, with first-year costs being the highest. Renewal costs are usually significantly less.
  4. Have discussions with stakeholders about their needs. Decisions should not only be made based on technological needs. The teachers’, students’ and parents’ needs should also be considered in order to make a decision that best enhances their experience.
  5. Once you’ve figured out what you want, make sure the company is willing to come in and provide you with a demo to ensure the software fits your needs. While a specific MDM’s capabilities may look great on paper, that doesn’t mean it will actually do what you need it to, or do it in a way suited to your staff’s capabilities. Companies are usually willing, if asked, to run pilot programs for clients.

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