Implementing a mobile strategy in the enterprise can be hard enough. But consider the challenges facing those brave public school districts looking to help prepare their students for the future by putting a tablet in the hands of every student: They need to manage, maintain, and monitor hundreds or thousands of devices for a constituency users who may be disinclined to follow best practices -- which is to say, children -- on a taxpayer-funded budget that could charitably be called "modest" at best.
That was what Robert Guritz, Director of Technology for the Bowling Green R-1 School District in northeast Missouri, was facing when, two and a half years ago, the school board voted to make achieving a 1:1 student/computer ratio a priority.
Like their colleagues at the Coachella Valley Unified School District, the Bowling Green school board aimed to empower teachers to prepare students with the skills they need to succeed in the 21st century, especially important in a rural area where a significant number of students don't have Internet access at home.
True confession: I never expected to fall in love with a "phablet"
In September 2012, the plan would start to become reality, as Bowling Green R-1 School District launched a pilot of its 1:1 tablet project, placing 250 Android tablets from Lenovo and Vizio in selected classrooms across its elementary, middle, and high schools.
But where Coachella Valley had millions of dollars from a bond measure to revamp its IT infrastructure ahead of purchasing an Apple iPad for every student and teacher, Bowling Green had to make its mobile initiative happen on a much stricter budget.
The plan wasn't to necessarily go the tablet route: Guritz and his team were charged with auditing everything from laptops to netbooks to eBook readers, spending "many months" trying to figure out the best way to balance cost against student learning potential. Lenovo offered to let the school district try its ten-inch ThinkPad tablets -- pre-loaded with QuickOffice productivity software, compatible with the district's printers, and available for less than $300 -- before a purchase, and they were off to the races.
As for the all-important mobile management software, which enables administrators to maintain a watchful eye on what web content and apps students can use on these tablets, the process was similarly lengthy, but ultimately less stressful: Guritz says that he was tempted by offerings from LANdesk and Microsoft, but the price tag to implement them would have been too high, adding ten thousand dollars or more in costs just to administer those solutions.
Guritz has been using Novell products to build and manage the school district's network for sixteen years running, he says, and in the end, it just made more sense in terms of both time and money to go with Novell's ZENworks Mobile Management platform.
The choice to tap Novell ZENworks was only made at the end of the summer, with mere weeks remaining before the school year began. But Guritz says that with a little bit of hustle, he was able to enlist teachers to help configure the ThinkPad tablets, giving them the freedom of installing the necessary applications, and restricting the appropriate permissions (including, in most cases, the camera), with time to spare.
Bowling Green's tablet pilot program is relatively limited and mainly focused on the high school, as it stands today: Four of Bowling Green high school classrooms have a tablet for every chair, while four 7th grade teachers are sharing one classroom full of tablets. The elementary schools are participating as well, with some classrooms offering five tablets to share.