At the Mobile 2011 conference in Phoenix, Arizona my eyes were opened to the mobile learning revolution that is taking place in education. Mobile learning is much more than students getting the latest cool device. It is all about students taking control of their education and teachers helping to facilitate and mentor students into learning 21st century skills of team work, collaboration and creativity. The old paradigm of a teacher drilling facts into students is being replaced by engaging, mobile, anywhere, anytime, project-based learning.
Educational leadership knows this is taking place, but they are struggling with how to fund the revolution. The devices are getting cheaper, but in today’s economic conditions there is just no way the majority of students in our schools will be getting school funded mobile learning devices anytime soon.
However, about 65 percent of students across the country already have some type mobile learning device in their pocket or at home. This past school year, my kid’s school started a BYOD program and hundreds of thousands of dollars of technology walked in the school doors the first day. I was shocked to see the program struggle during the first year, so I talked to the teachers and a couple key issues surfaced.
First, in order to have a successful BYOD program someone at the school must provide the teachers with a list of apps, websites and methods to infuse the curriculum with new digital learning experiences. Teachers do not have the time to adapt the curriculum to the new paradigm.
Second, the teachers were worried they couldn’t see what the students were doing on their devices during class time. They felt a huge responsibility to make sure students were using the devices for learning, not games or browsing the Internet.
Challenges of a BYOD Environment
In a traditional computer lab or 1:1 environment, the school owns the computers, has admin rights and can install classroom management software. This software gives teachers the tools they need to teach more effectively in a digital classroom. There are several mature classroom management products that help teachers demonstrate skills, monitor and assess student progress such as LanSchool, NetSupport and Netop. However, in a BYOD environment, the school does not have admin rights to install software on student computers, so most classroom management software cannot be used.
From a classroom management perspective, the combination of wired and wireless networks provides a tricky challenge. Most classroom management products struggle to find students on mixed wired and wireless networks if the routers, switches and access points are not properly configured. This can be frustrating for teachers that just don’t understand why their students won’t show up.
Another struggle in a BYOD environment is that students will bring in a large variety of devices and operating systems. Classroom management software requires specialized code for each operating system and device. Most vendors have not made the investments to support the wide variety of devices that the students are using.
Finally, in the new mobile world, all of the students may not be sitting in your physical classroom. Most classroom management solutions are designed to only work at the local school. They do not find student’s computers that need to attend class, but are not on the school’s network.
Classroom Management Solutions for BYOD
In the past six months the classroom management vendors have started to add functionality to address the challenges of working in a BYOD environment. Here’s how they’ve done it.
1.Load On-demand Student Software
In a BYOD school, IT does not have admin rights on the student machines. To solve this problem the classroom management vendors have created versions of their software that will load the student software on-demand.
Instead of requiring admin rights and installing a traditional software service, classroom management products install a small application that downloads and runs when the student is in school and then disappears when the student logs off the school network.
The student software can be run manually from the school’s website or automatically if the school has implemented a software solution like Stoneware’s Unified Cloud.
2. Peer-to-Peer and Server-based Architectures
For schools with complex network infrastructures that include guest networks, VLANs and a combination of wired and wireless networking we recommend looking at classroom management solutions that offer both a server-based and peer-to-peer solution.
Peer-to-peer solutions that utilize broadcast or multicast packets are generally the easiest to setup, use the least amount of network traffic and work over wired and wireless networks. However, they generally require specialized network configuration to forward the peer-to-peer traffic across subnets so that teachers can quickly and reliably find the students in their class.
Server-based solutions require additional server hardware, but utilize connection oriented protocols like TCP and HTTP to communicate with students. Server-based solutions use slightly more network traffic, but don’t require any specialized networking settings to reliably discover and communicate with students.
Each school is different and should choose the classroom management architecture that matches their networking infrastructure and networking expertise.
3. Cross Platform Classroom Management
Make sure your classroom management vendor supports the devices and operating systems your students will use everyday. It is important that you ask them when they supported new devices and operating systems. Most vendors will support Windows quickly, but ask them how long it took to support options like NComputing, Mac, iOS, Android, Linux and Multipoint server.
4. Distance Learning
A classroom management solution should support students that are not on the school’s local network. Students get sick, go on vacation, are suspended and potentially live in areas that may not have the class they need
Classroom management software should support students on the internal network and external network at the same time. This will help a teacher teach the students in a local and remote classroom at the same time.
Distance learning generally requires a separate server or hosted service to see both local and remote students at the same time.
It is pretty amazing that over the past three years we’ve seen such rapid change in educational technology. BYOD has so much potential to bring mobile learning to more students that it simply cannot be ignored. As you evaluate BYOD for your school, we hope this will be helpful as you consider the challenges and tools that teachers will need to make it a success!