Bring Your Own Network (BYON)

Bring Your Own Network (BYON)

So you’re letting your students BYOD and it’s going well. You’re saving money because students are bringing in their own technology, teachers are excited to be using digital resources, and your superintendent is telling everyone you’re a 21st-century district.

It sounds too good to be true and, sadly, it is.

Now your students are curious. They’ve realized the school network is slow, filtered, and will take longer to access with only a 15-minute lunch period. Perhaps they’ve discovered MyFi, softAP, and WiFi tethering applications that allow them to bypass your managed network and surf the Web without your controls in place. Even worse, since students are doing this on school property, you are responsible for their behavior.

What’s an overworked CIO to do?

Solution #1: AUP to the Rescue

“There’s no magic to it,” says Joe Prchlik, director of operations and technology for the Northwest Ohio Computer Association, which provides wireless services for 25 districts across the state. “The best solution is to enforce your acceptable use policy (AUP). We see it as a classroom- or school-management issue.”

Prchlik uses Cisco-hosted controllers that allow him to manage access points and provide weekly reports to his schools. IT directors can use the reports to identify rogue networks within their environment.

Carl Behmer, supervisor of technology and information for Paso Robles (CA) Joint Unified School District, agrees with Prchlik that districts need to have strict policies in place. “When you embrace BYOD , you are accepting its potential complications, such as wireless hotspots where students can MyFi off their phones. Legally, we can’t put cameras out there, and my district can’t afford equipment that searches for rogue devices every minute.” Instead, Behmer turns to his AUP. “If a kid is doing something wrong and is found out, the disciplinary committee has to deal with it.” Behmer points out that even if a district isn’t doing BYOD , students can try to use their own networks to connect.

Solution #2: It’s a Matter of Trust

Although many administrators may lose sleep over this suggestion, Behmer says that once his district simply trusted the students with their devices, BYO N became less of a problem. He knows that a small percentage of students are still breaking the rules, but he realizes it’s something he can never completely stop. “Our schools are surrounded by houses. If someone sets up a wireless access point at a house that’s 25 feet away from the campus, there’s nothing I can do. It comes back to responsibility and us monitoring our students. But if they want to get around it, they will. The kids are ahead of us.”

Solution #3: Teach Responsibility

“When we first started implementing a wireless network a year and a half ago, our students were using it before we announced it,” laughs Pat Karr, network services manager for McAllen (TX) Independent School District. “Every one of these kids is a hacker by trade— and that’s not a bad thing.” Karr understands that students get bored and try to circumvent security procedures and policies. “They aren’t being malicious,” he insists. “They don’t believe they should be filtered, and they want to ‘beat the establishment.’”

To make the school network more appealing, Karr’s district became less stringent about filtering while remaining CIPA-compliant. Karr runs four 5800-series controllers that handle 500 access points apiece. He relies on Cisco and AirWatch to help him manage his 1,600 access points throughout the district.

Still, he believes he can mitigate BYON through education. “We have to tell teachers and students that they won’t be allowed to BYOD if they bypass our rules. We have to educate the parents and community as well, because a collaborative effort results in good synergy.”

Solution #4: Make Your Network the Place to Be

Andrew Wallace, director of technology at South Portland (ME) Schools, found out about BYON when a teacher couldn’t print but could get to unfiltered websites. Wallace quickly realized the teacher had inadvertently connected to a student-created rogue WiFi hotspot. “As more and more wireless providers allow for tethered Internet access via a cell data plan and students become more savvy at jailbreaking smartphones, this is something schools will need to be keenly aware of and develop policies around,” he says.

As a Maine district, South Portland has been a 1:1 school for a decade, so it’s not surprising that the students are pushing the envelope. “Students live in the cloud. They don’t need our file storage. Why use a schoolprovided laptop if your phone gets to Google more quickly?”

For Wallace, the key is to make your wireless network so robust that students don’t want to go off on their own. He suggests that districts invest in the fastest Internet speed possible and come up with incentives to keep students on your district’s network. Wallace asked teachers and librarians to curate high-quality videos from YouTube and other sources and made them available on intranet. He’s also investigating background computer scripts that would be installed on student machines. The scripts would periodically check that the computer was on the school’s network (if in the district) and would default to the school network if the machine was not already on it.

But perhaps the smartest thing South Portland did was to buy MinecraftEdu (, an educational version of the phenomenally popular game. “It’s on an amazing server so students have a positive experience,” Wallace says. “They’re using it to do great things, like build replicas of the Battle of Gettysburg or construct the Jamestown colony. We are making it worth their while to stay on the network.”

Networking Tools

Centralized management is an important first step in getting control of BYON . These companies make products that can help you do that.

■ AirWatch

■ Cisco

■ Dell SonicWALL

■ Enterasys

■ HP

■ Lightspeed Systems

■ Meru Networks

■ NetApp

Mobile Device Management

Mobile device management (MDM) products lets you manage and support all of the mobile devices throughout your buildings. It makes it easier to distribute apps, data, and configuration settings. Here are some companies that offer MDM solutions.

■ Absolute Manage (
■ AirWatch (
■ Citrix XenMobile MDM (formerly Zenprise) (
■ IBM Endpoint Manager for Mobile Devices (
■ LANDesk Mobility manager (
■ Lightspeed Systems Mobile Device Management
■ McAfee EMM (
■ Meru Networks (
■ Symantec Mobile Management (

Late-Night Reading Material

■ Mobile Learning in Today’s Schools, an information guide from Lightspeed Systems. Download at

■ Bring Your Own Network, a white paper from iPass, describes how a BYOD strategy can enhance productivity. Download at

■ BYOD Demand in Education Organizations At-A-Glance, a white paper from Cisco, covers preparation, security, and network capability. Download at