Mobile Devices in Higher Ed: Key Considerations


Mobile devices have become an indelible part of the technology landscape in higher ed. Students are accustomed to having anytime, anywhere access to applications, data and other network resources using their preferred devices. Smart institutions have embraced this trend, using mobile-friendly apps and materials to enrich learning and enhance the student experience.

However, the increased usage of mobile devices in higher ed has created several IT issues. Lack of bandwidth has become a big problem as many schools underestimate demand. The typical user has two or three devices, with the vast majority of these devices accessing the network at the same time each day. High-bandwidth applications such as video are also becoming more prevalent. As a result, schools need to plan bandwidth accordingly and be prepared for spikes in usage to meet availability and performance demands. A wired and wireless network refresh may be in order.

Of course, security is a major concern with mobility. Personally owned devices may lack basic security controls, and users may engage in risky behaviors. Hackers can steal user credentials or gain access to sensitive data that has been downloaded to a mobile device. In addition, mobile devices are increasingly targeted with malware that can infect the entire network.

Locking down the network is neither practical nor desirable. Instead, schools must balance network access with the need to protect institutional data.  Security initiatives should incorporate user awareness and training to ensure that everyone understands their role in preventing a data breach. IT should involve stakeholders from all departments, and explain the risks clearly and concisely in nontechnical language.

The right mobile device management (MDM) solution can help overcome these challenges. MDM uses a variety of tools and services to centrally monitor, manage, secure and support a wide range of mobile devices, operating systems and applications across a network.

The goal of MDM is to maximize mobile performance, functionality, reliability and efficiency while enforcing policies to control and protect devices and data. Monitoring tools enable IT to analyze the performance of any device and app to identify network bottlenecks and other issues. MDM also allows IT to track the location and activity of connected devices, control how traffic is routed, block the use of unauthorized applications, control network access, and quickly add and remove devices and users to and from the network.

Because colleges and universities have complex, geographically dispersed mobile environments, there are a number of factors to consider when choosing an MDM solution. Look for a solution that enables device-specific policy configurations. For example, a school-issued laptop may require fewer access restrictions than a personal smartphone. Similarly, MDM should allow you to customize the user interface so that only authorized applications and services are available to each user.

It may also make sense to consider a cloud-based or hosted solution. As the needs of your school evolve, it’s important to have the flexibility to change the delivery method instead of being forced to find a new MDM solution.

Mobile devices bring a lot of value to the higher ed environment, but schools must have a clear plan for ensuring security and providing a high-quality user experience. Good communication, a robust network and a comprehensive MDM solution can help you overcome the challenges of mobility.