Mobility: Changing The Way Education is Imparted

By Cheryl Tiahrt, Director of IT, University of South Dakota

Cheryl Tiahrt, Director of IT, University of South Dakota

I expect the proliferation of Internet connected consumer devices to have a dramatic affect on IT services and support on our campus in the next few years. This is not a new trend, but the wave has not crested.

We have seen two major trends in device use on our campus over the past few years. The first wave that significantly changed our support model was the widespread adoption of laptops. Today, approximately 95 percent of our undergraduate students bring a laptop to campus. Five years ago laptop use was less than 75 percent among the same group. The popularity of laptops increased the demand for wireless access and put a strain on our Help Desk which now serves as repair center, genius bar, and malware annihilation headquarters.

The second wave was the trend towards multiple devices per person. The 2013 ECAR Study of Undergraduate Students and IT, reports that over 58 percent of students surveyed own 3 or more Internet-capable devices. That statistic is close to what we see on our campus with about 2.5 devices per first year freshman. We now provide support for Internet-connected televisions, gaming systems, smart phones, tablets, and eBook readers. The Internet of Things is something we’ve been hearing a lot about lately. At the recent Gartner ITxpo, we were forewarned that by 2020 we will “throw more computers into our laundry in a week than we’ve used in our lifetime.” With over 30 billion devices projected by 2020, how will we transform our wireless infrastructure to handle them all? And the quantity of devices is not the most difficult challenge. How will we process and analyze the volume and complexity of data being generated?

But, before we can muster the enthusiasm to tackle future problems, we must get back to the issues of today. It is a difficult and often manual process to support the current myriad of consumer devices connecting to campus network security systems. We traded our mainstream network access control system for a more agile, open-source solution two years ago. Our big-ten technology vendor did not react quickly enough to consumer operating system upgrades and security updates and we often found ourselves unable to connect dozens of devices after an Android, IOS or Windows update. In higher education, unlike corporate institutions, Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) is not a new concept or one to easily be controlled through policy. Our open source solution for network access control was a major improvement and our constituents are happier (or more accurately, less annoyed.) We continue to struggle to devise solutions to accommodate the onslaught of devices and solutions best suited for home networks. And improvise we must. For the major technology companies, integrating these devices into the enterprise is secondary to a sleek form, flashy features and sensible sticker price.It is fortunate that most of us chose this vocation because we embrace change and welcome a good challenge!

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