Just one generation into the age of personal computing and, for the children of parents who had nary a single bar of cellphone reception or megabyte of random access memory at their disposal for the duration of their own matriculation, the college experience is now very different. Personal electronics have become de rigueur equipment for modern-day campus life, not just fashionable, but absolutely necessary for survival.
There is, in fact, a popular urban legend that could easily be just a mouse click from the truth, about a large prominent university in America whose student body returned from winter break not so many years ago with their electronic-device-filled holiday booty and promptly overloaded and crashed the campus computer network as everything was fired up at once.
Unlike most urban legends, this one is much more likely to be proven true than false, because of the undeniable popularity of these devices, and how, in seemingly one large electronic tidal wave, they have assumed such a dominant role in our everyday lives, including in our education system.
Campuses across the country are now being confronted with a movement known as “Bring Your Own Device” (BYOD). How does a university react to this influx of so many personal computing and communications devices introduced into its community, each bringing with it a little more demand on the infrastructure and at least the potential for malware or virus intrusion? Here are three steps being taken by institutions seeking the best security within the context of embracing technology as widely as possible into their curricula:
As devices that make computing progressively more convenient proliferate, their users will demand 24/7 wireless connectivity. This not only includes broader bandwidth, but denser coverage, with more and improved wireless access points. Once wireless access proves sufficiently robust, students are likely to switch over from wired access, and demand for access and performance will increase exponentially. Invest in technology that is easily expandable.
The need for security is no new concept to institutions of higher learning, but the threat risk will never be higher than under a fully-embraced BYOD policy. Campuses are now instituting somewhat more rigorous approaches to ensuring the security of their networks, including adding additional firewalls around sensitive data such as financial and personal information; scanning devices for virus protection before they’re allowed into the system; requiring students to register their devices, so that viruses and unauthorized access attempts can be traced; education programs for all users regarding security practices prior to providing access, and making antimalware and antivirus software freely available.
As with most other important movements on campus, the faculty (and staff) must lead the way. Ensuring that the people who create the need for, and most frequently utilize, increased classroom technology are well versed in said technology and its highest and best (and safest) use is probably the most critical step in creating the optimal computing climate in and around our colleges and universities. Professional development sessions addressing the specific needs of various academic disciplines seem to be the preferred method of conveyance of this knowledge among those on the receiving end.
The virtually countless advantages of the BYOD approach to campus technology are yet another unmistakable sign that technological advances are changing the landscape of education in America in irreversible ways. Universities have proven to be powerless in stemming the tide, and why would they want to? As long as technology serves as an agent for improving the manner in which our upcoming generations learn new concepts, the best focus upon which our IT departments could be fixed is discovering the safest, most efficient, most effective manner to accommodate these inevitable changes.