Smartphones Hit Schools, MDM Vendors Don Thinking Caps
Want to block Angry Birds while a student is inside your school's Wi-Fi geo-fence? There's an MDM app for that.
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Some schools swamped for years by student-owned mobile devices are turning to administrative software for managing "bring your own device" (BYOD) environments. In February, SOTI, one the oldest providers of enterprise mobility management solutions, announced its entry into the education market.
"This is a brand-new category for SOTI," Aaron Davis, product marketing manager for education, told InformationWeek in a phone interview. SOTI claims more than 10,000 customers around the world for its enterprise product. SOTI's MobiControl for Education mobile device management software supports Apple iOS, Google Android and Microsoft Windows devices, and works on both school-issued or student-owned tablets, smartphones and laptops. It's available for both K-12 and postsecondary, but SOTI has seen more requests from the former, Davis said.
Not only can MobiControl manage how and when devices connect to the Internet while on school property, it can control and provision applications on devices, using either individual or group policies, said Davis. First, the SOTI app must be installed on each device. After that, devices can be centrally managed over an IP connection. This management includes local applications. For example, a school could block the smartphone game Angry Birds while a student is inside the school's Wi-Fi geo-fence.
To further address the problem of students distracted by phones, devices can be put in a "kiosk" mode, which shows only authorized apps and content on the home screen. In addition, messages can be broadcast to every device or to some subset of devices.
Apps from SOTI or from a market like Apple's iTunes or Google's Play Store can be downloaded and configured using administration features. An admin tool called Classroom App Catalog can send apps to every device, or just those associated with a particular grade or class. This makes it possible to manage many devices "at scale," Davis said.
In addition, devices can be controlled, programmatically, based on different policies. For example, if a tablet isn't used for a predetermined number of minutes, it can display a message, be locked or even have its data wiped.
Sensitive to privacy concerns, Davis said SOTI is still working out the types of analytics on device use that will be available to teachers and administrators. "We're looking at how to handle activity monitoring," Davis said, adding, "We expect teachers to ask for this functionality as a way to monitor [student] engagement."
According to Davis, 15 schools across the U.S. are trying SOTI, and there are pilots in Canada, Turkey, Germany, Russia, China and Brazil. SOTI profiled one of its early users, East Orange Campus High School in East Orange, N.J., which is using MobiControl for nearly 500 students.
SOTI's educational discounts for MobiControl are still being worked out, Davis said. But he did reveal there will be two models: A per-device cloud subscription or a one-time fee for the on-premises server.
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