5 Lessons for Mobile Device Implementation

Copyright 2009 Miguel Guhlin

external image 20090123-kaq28yna7c8wd6kdu22hhnnwbn.png
Image Source: Graphic Design by Tonya Mills and Larry Stegall (hand-model)

"We truly need," shared a high school principal with me, "a mobile device that gives us quick access to information. What's your recommendation?" This kind of question highlights the need for administrators who desire to use a mobile device to DO MORE with less equipment. We have all met that excited, laptop-lugging administrator, who after a year of doing just that, finally switches back to paper. "I just got tired of carrying that laptop around."

“When I get back to my office, I have a stack of issues to deal with, hundreds of emails to read, and students outside my door waiting to come in.” This plethora of activities can create a major challenge for administrators who try to use every second of their time effectively. How can mobile devices maximize my time as an administrator? If that is the question you’re asking, then this article is for you. You will also find a companion web site--Mobile Administrator--for using the iPod Touch and a list of suggested service providers.

Mobile devices enable us to do more, as the image above illustrates. As many school districts are just embarking on research and implementation, here are 5 lessons to consider before implementing:

  1. If it wasn't the idea of someone at the top, then chances are it won't fly.
  2. Consider all the support issues to an implementation.
  3. Find out what choice your District will make in regards to the tool and the support issues.
  4. Choosing the right product for your environment, not just the best product all around.
  5. Choosing the right handheld.

Let's jump into these lessons.

Lesson #1 - If it wasn't the idea of someone at the top, then chances are it won't fly.
This is a sad but true lesson I learned. As a young, "get 'er done" administrator, I was about launching initiatives that would meet the needs of the people I served. My motto was, "The bus is leaving...you're either on it or you're not, but this needs to get done for them." Time and experience have tempered that. While I can point to some successes with that approach, those were successes that fell within the scope of one office or department rather than a major, district initiative fully-supported by administration.

Now, I appreciate the importance of bringing more folks to the table at the beginning and seeing if an initiative will fly....no matter how good something is, if the rest of the team isn't interested, it's not worth doing unless you can do it alone. And, as you might guess, you can measure the number of "do it alone" projects on one hand.

Lesson #2: Consider all the support issues to an implementation.
I've been fortunate in considering the support issues. My colleagues have always provided an abundance of information about what will work and what will not. I've noticed folks divide up into two camps--those that can think of every reason why something will NOT work, and those who are going to forge ahead no matter what they encounter. I learned early on that I fall into the second group but it took some time for me to learn the value of the first group...and I'm so glad I have learned it.

Now, I'm more inclined to listen to the nay-sayer FIRST because, when implementing a mobile administrator initiative, you need to consider these support issues FIRST before implementing:

  1. setting up a local server to house the data (unless you're going to let the vendor host it),
  2. interfacing with your district's equivalent of a data warehouse
  3. ensuring that photos of students be provided in electronic format (interfacing with student yearbook pictures at the high school can present a challenge if you're not standardized in who does the yearbook picture production),
  4. providing handheld technical support and training for each affected staff member
  5. some products have components that may be redundant to your student information system, which raises the question, which do you use? The one that's convenient (on the handheld) or the one that you must use for data reporting?
  6. Active Directory compatibility with the handheld software chosen (e.g. Palm Handhelds require admin rights to sync properly)
  7. Pricing of equipment
  8. Pricing of solution may involve a per site license or a per user license, and worse, a recurring annual fee. This last is terrible because you face a big expense every year.

Fail to consider these, and you may find yourself in a quagmire that will sap the joy out of your implementation. I've seen it happen and worked hard to avoid the experience myself.

Lesson #3: Find out what choice your District will make in regards to the tool and the support issues.
When I first implemented Palm handhelds, the initiative was wildly successful with our pilot group. However, purchasing the hardware was not cost-prohibitive but the cost of the contracts would quickly "break the bank." And, while I had one staff member supporting the initiative for the pilot group, was the district prepared to provide support and scale to meet support demands? These are only some of the questions--both funding and logistical or technical support--that a District has to consider.

Here are a few more:
  • Due to support issues listed above, will your district standardize on one vendor that provides these solutions? If so, a Request for Proposals will have to be issued due to the number of campuses affected.
  • If campuses decide to purchase THIS product, what happens when another campus purchases THAT product? Multiple data interfaces would have to be setup, technical support enabled for the handheld, software, and more. With an under-staffed Technology Dept (all Tech Depts are under-staffed, it's a rule or something ), support would quickly become an issue.

Consider your initiative in light of what decision the District is going to make in regards to standardization, data interfacing, and technical support, and the handheld unit to be selected.

Lesson #4: Choosing the right product for your environment, not just the best product all around.

Here are a few products to consider, but by no means an exhaustive list. I encourage you to explore these because they are constantly being improved. Half of Texas uses Eduphoria, so you can't go wrong with it. However, I've also used Media-X and have found their product to be excellent...just keep in mind that they are Canadian company, so support is usually over the phone. They are very responsive, though. I've also had contact with Austin Sky and they have been very active in developing their product.

  • Professional Development Appraisal System (PDAS):
    1. Eduphoria SchoolObject PDAS2007- cost is per campus and product can be demonstrated in 20 minutes to principals. This is an excellent solution
    2. Media-X - mVal - Standards based performance appraisals of professional staff including a new walk-through feature.
  • Student Information:
    1. Eduphoria's AWARE
    2. Media-X - ePrincipal and ePrincipal Mobile - http://media-x.com/products/eprincipal/index.php
    3. TruFinder's ScheduleFinder and other products
    4. Austin Sky Technology - Mobile Student - http://www.austinsky.com/>

Lesson #5: Choosing the right handheld. In regards to handhelds available, here are various competitors on the market. While some districts swear by tablet PCs as the perfect alternative to a laptop and/or handheld (too small a screen), some districts may prefer handhelds. I have to admit that the current craze is for Apple iPod Touch and/or iPhone.

While there are many handhelds, including PocketPC, Palm, and iPodTouch/iPhone, the iPod Touch has a lot of promise. I encourage you to visit the Mobile Administrator web site, a wiki I put together with feedback from lots of smart folks, that focuses on using the iPod Touch.

Find it online at http://mguhlin.net/madmin

In the meantime, some of the challenges of choosing an iPod Touch:
  • Some folks may want a stylus for the iPod Touch
  • You have to use a credit card on iTunes but most school districts don't support that.
  • People want to sync their music--which they may have purchased--and put that on their iPod Touch. This is problematic for a variety of reasons, one of which it may be in violation of Board policy (loading personal software on district equipment).
  • Use of email that may contain confidential data in text or attachments is stored on a mobile device that can be "hijacked."

Lesson 6: Mobile Device Administrative Procedure
In the procedure below--stolen from Judson ISD in Texas, modified and anonymized, then shared among thieves with appreciation to Steve Young, Judson ISD's CTO--you can see that there are a LOT of issues with mobile devices in schools. It is important that you spend time considering how much you will support. For example, will an iPod Touch stylus be considered an essential item that will be District purchased or a frivolous accessory that mobile administrators will have to purchase on their own using personal funds?

Or, consider the issue of iPod Touch and the desire to purchase applications and music via the iTunes store. Some district administrative procedures prohibit staff putting content purchased with personal funds--such as software programs and/or music--on district devices. Other situations may arise from the use of tools like Fring, which turn your iPod Touch into a mobile phone using Skype.

fring™ is a mobile internet service & community that enables you to access & interact with your social networks on-the-go, make free calls and live chat with all your fring, Skype®, MSN® Messenger, Google Talk™, ICQ, SIP, Twitter, Yahoo!™ and AIM®* friends using your handset’s internet connection.

Combine your iPod Touch with an Apple Blog/Podcasting server, you now have school district administators--a low-tech group--possibly subscribing to school district podcasts via iTunes. The unforeseen consequence, though, is that publishing school district podcasts via iTunes may bring a high level of transparency and scrutiny to content produced. Has your district considered the repercussions of transparency and is it prepared to handle the consequences? As was pointed out at the Texas Association of School Administrators (TASA) 2009 Midwinters Conference (listen to the podcast and read the notes), administrators need to reflect on the reality of the following:

Unlike traditional communication tools, social media [like podcasts] involve unlimited life, unlimited relationships. As administrators, we have to remember that we can't control it...we cannot control social media 100%. We'll have to participate....

Choosing the right tools for the job isn't always the most challenging aspect. The question school districts need to ask as they embrace new technologies, disruptive social media, is not will we use these tools, but "How are we going to ensure that we implement mobile devices--and all that comes with them--in ways that meet our fundamental mission?"


The OTHER Independent School District provides cell phones to certain staff for administrative purposes. The goal in providing these resources is to facilitate communication for District purposes. With access to District provided cell phones, employees must use the device for District purposes only and limit that usage to what is necessary to do their job. Personal calls made on District cell phones are prohibited. The Chief Information Officer will oversee the District's cell phone usage. The Director of Network Services or his/her designee shall review the monthly statements for compliance with administrative regulations for cell phones.

Acceptable Use

Use of cell phones can be broadly categorized as acceptable or prohibited:
  • Acceptable use of cell phones is legal use consistent with the mission of the OTHER ISD, i.e., use that furthers the district's mission of learning and teaching.
  • Prohibited use is illegal use and all other use that is not acceptable.

Campus/Department Level Responsibilities

Immediate Supervisor or designee is responsible for disseminating, collecting signed permission forms, returning forms to Network Services, and enforcing the proceduer for District Cell Phone Usage at the campus/department level

Individual Level Responsibilities

Cell phones are provided specifically to carry out official District business when other means of communications are not readily available.
The following standards will apply to all users of District provided cell phones:
  1. Cell phone users are responsible for all calls made on their respective phones.
  2. Cell phones are not to be used when a less costly alternative is readily available, unless as otherwise necessary for safety or emergency circumstances.
  3. District cell phones shall not be used for personal calls, except in the event of extreme personal emergency. In the event that a personal call is made, the Network Services must be notified by the phone user in writing of the date and circumstances of the call in question. Phone users will be held liable for non-work related calls.
  4. Employee should not give out District cell phone number, except to essential District personnel or others with whom the Employee is required to communicate with in essential District duties.
  5. Cell phones are not to be loaned to others.
  6. Employees issued a cellular telephone are responsible for its safe keeping at all times. Defective, lost or stolen cell phones are to be reported immediately to Network Services who will in turn notify the service provider. Employees are responsible for the replacement cost of lost or broken phones and are responsible for all call charges made prior to reporting phone lost to Network Services.
  7. Cell phones issued for employee use are to be returned to the Network Services at the conclusion of the school year, activity or as otherwise specified.
  8. Cell Phone use while driving a school bus is prohibited.
  9. Any charges incurred for the convenience of the employee are the responsibility of the employee.
  10. Internet access, bandwidth, data, email, ring tone, application, download, instant messaging and text usage on District provided cell phones is not allowed without approval of Chief Information Officer.

Consequences of Improper Use

Improper, negligent, or unethical use may result in disciplinary actions consistent with the existing district policy, procedures, the Texas Penal Code, or other applicable state and federal laws. This may also require restitution for costs associated with lost or damaged cell phone and costs incurred with improper use or due to non-reported theft.


The District will cooperate fully with local, state, or federal officials in any investigation concerning or relating to misuse of the District provided cell phone.

Personal Cell Phone Connectivity
Technology Services will support wireless connectivity from personal cell phones to OTHER ISD email for District office administration (Superintendent, Associate Superintendents, CFO, CTO, Executive Directors, Directors and Assistant Directors) and campus administration (Principals and Assistant Principals).

Network Services Role

  1. Blackberry and Exchange Servers are functioning and licensing is installed. Configuring permissions and synchronization settings on Blackberry and Exchange Servers.
  2. Windows Mobile is functioning and User Active Directory Account Mobile Messaging is set to Enabled.
  3. Basic Troubleshooting for phone connectivity to server until such time as the technician determines an upgrade to phone software or phone firmware is necessary.
  4. Disabling of connectivity upon notice from employee of misplaced, lost, stolen or replaced cell/smart phone.

Desktop Services Role

  1. A technician will setup wireless connectivity to OTHER email via the Exchange Server. Technology Services will not support direct connection to PC’s via local desktop software.
    1. Remove PC ActiveSync/Blackberry Desktop Software if present
    2. Setup Cell Phone Exchange ActiveSync OR (if Blackberry go to C)
      1. Mail server: mymail.OTHER.net
      2. Set Options as follows:
        1. Download 0.5K of message
        2. Hold Email for 3 Days
        3. Synch Messages, Calendar, Contacts, and Tasks
        4. SSL must be enabled
      3. SSL Certificate must be installed.
      4. Setup screen lock with PIN chosen by employee.
    3. For Blackberry, configure device with Blackberry Enterprise Server in conjunction with Network Services (Network Administrator)
      1. Setup screen lock with PIN chosen by employee.
  2. Basic troubleshooting for connectivity to mail server until such time as the technician determines an upgrade to phone software or firmware is necessary.

Employee Responsibilities

  1. All financial and security burdens fall to employee (this includes data, mail, Blackberry Enterprise, and internet service charges)
  2. Technology Services strongly recommends an unlimited data plan with service provider.
  3. Blackberry connectivity requires the purchase of a $100 client access license for the Blackberry Enterprise Server. Additional licensing costs might be incurred by the employee when upgrades are necessary. License cost is paid via a budget transfer to Network Services.
  4. The employee is accessing OTHER email systems and conducting business as a OTHER ISD employee; therefore, Acceptable Use Policy, guidelines, and consequences apply when using a personal cell/smart phone for OTHER email.
  5. If a technician determines an upgrade to software or firmware is necessary, the employee is responsible for returning to the mobile service provider for the upgrades as to not void the warranty.
  6. The phone must invoke PIN key access when powered on and when idle for more than 5 minutes.

# Confidential data accessed through OTHER email or websites is not to be saved on the phone.
  1. The Director of Network Services or designee is to be contacted within 24 hours if the phone is misplaced, lost, stolen or replaced. To protect OTHER ISD data, the device may be remotely disabled/locked/wiped by Network Services. If phone is recovered by employee, the employee bears any costs if phone is unusable or needs reprogramming.
  2. To ensure data is unrecoverable, employees must hard reset(clear all memory and settings) disposed or trade-in phones prior to disposal or trade-in. (Refer to phone manual for directions)
  3. All requests for access and issues with access are to be referred to the Technology Helpdesk through a work order in the Technology Helpdesk.

Cell Phone Decorum
Cell phone use includes talking on the phone; text messaging and/or any other activity the phone is capable of doing.
Staff should adhere to the following standards:

  1. Employees may carry a cell phone device. Classroom/instructional staff members that carry a cell phone should have the phone in off mode during instructional time. Having access to a cell phone should never disrupt instruction.
  2. Employee personal calls are to be strictly limited and if necessary should be brief in nature. Calls are not to interfere with a person’s job duties.
  3. Having access to a cell phone does not preclude employees from following established protocols within specific departments or campus locations. Employees should refer to the department or campus employee handbook for additional information and/or guidelines.
  4. Cell phones should be in silent mode or off during meetings and professional development.

Supported Platforms

  1. Windows Mobile 5.x, 6.x
  2. Blackberry 4.x
  3. iPhone not currently supported due to current lack of ActiveSync support. When Apple releases ActiveSync support (iPhone 2.0), adding iPhone support will be considered.

Technology Services Disclaimers

  1. Technology Services will not upgrade firmware or software on devices.
  2. Technology Services will not be held liable for loss of data due to conversion or remote wipe/lock.
  3. Technology Services will not restore if corruption occurs during conversion.
  4. Technology Services is not responsible for service provider chargers for using mobile data, email, and Internet.
  5. Technology Services will not be held liable for loss of data or charges from service provider due to virus or malware transferred via District's email.