Why School District 1:1 Mobile Device Programs Fail

Posted on September 09, 2014

As schools around the country kick off the 2014-2015 school year, the headlines seem tell a story of one school district after another abandoning highly touted programs to put laptop or tablets into the hands of every student. Here are just a few recent articles that seem to mark these programs as failures:

At the same time, similar programs in other districts are earning headlines like these:

Why do some school districts abandon mobile device programs that fail, while others reap huge benefits? There are many reasons, but one of the biggest reasons appears to be a lack of understanding about just what kind of infrastructure is required to support the programs once they are rolled out.

A study conducted by Florida State University evaluated laptop programs in seven states, and concluded that one of the primary reasons that programs fail is a lack of planning and teacher training before the programs begin. According to the study, successful programs tend to have several common elements that are lacking in failed programs, including:

Those results don't surprise Jared Hansen, CEO and founder of Breezy, which provides secure mobile printing solutions to several successful school district technology programs. "I always worry when I see a news story that says that a foundation or business or individual donor is going to give a school district all these pieces of hardware. A successful student technology program isn't about the iPads or Chromebooks or Android tablets you put into student's hands," Hansen says.

"For a mobile device program to succeed in schools, a lot of work has to go into how the technology is going to be used in the classroom, and how students and teachers use the technology to improve the learning process."

Don't Rush a Deployment

Based on his experience with school district deployment of mobile devices, Hansen says that the best piece of advice he can give schools is simple: don't rush a deployment. "It takes time " probably a minimum of a full school year " to plan and test a pilot project before you're close to starting a program to put mobile devices into the hands of a large number of students."

In many ways, he says, classroom technology usage mirrors corporate bring-your-own-device (BYOD) experience. The similarities include a need for more bandwidth, higher network capacity and speeds, and robust security measures that include secure mobile printing with on-device encryption. "Until you stop and think about the serious consequences of letting teachers and students send unsecured documents wirelessly to printers on and off campus, secure mobile printing might not seem like a big issue," Hansen says. But in light of FERPA and other privacy laws, and the not so trivial risk of plagiarism and leaked grades, answer sheets, and confidential correspondence, it's a significant part of the planning process.

"Students and employees share a common trait when it comes to how they use mobile devices. They're focused on getting their work done " and they'll do what they think it takes to solve a problem on their own if the school (or the employer)doesn't make it easy to do it within the guidelines established for using the devices," Hansen points out.

When Indiana's oldest school district, New Albany Floyd County Consolidated School Corporation (NAFCS), decided to implement a district-wide iPad program for its 11,000 students and 700 teachers, the first step was a 30-member planning group that spent over a year evaluating every aspect of the infrastructure, curriculum, and training needs such a program would have. "It was one of the most impressive planning processes I've seen," Hansen says, so by the time the pilot program began, there weren't too many surprises left. A solid, well-planned roll-out gets the program off on the right foot.

"Nothing can guarantee that a program will succeed, but a rush to deploy too quickly and a lack of pre-planning can almost surely guarantee failure."

For more information on Breezy's education products and services, click here or download a case study on the successful NAFCS deployment here.

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