A leading provider of special-needs education turns to a more advanced mobile device management solution to improve instruction and secure student information.
The impact of mobile technology now reaches far beyond the traditional business world. It's altering the way learning takes place in a wide array of environments and situations, including among the developmentally disabled and others with special learning requirements. At Bancroft, a private, not-for-profit provider of specialized learning services—including individuals with autism and brain injuries—mobile devices and apps are ushering in a new era of possibilities and opportunities.
The 130-year old organization, which operates three major schools in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware, serves about 1,700 individuals each year. One of the schools is a pediatric center that is part of a medical facility where children receive 24/7 medical care.
"We wanted to introduce mobile devices such as iPads, iPhones, Android devices and Kindles, and integrate more advanced learning into day-to-day instruction," explains Fina Nash, vice president of business operations and innovation. "Mobile devices are very effective in helping our students learn—particularly those with communication issues, including those who are non-verbal."
About two years ago, the organization established a formal program that introduced tablets into the facilities. The devices allow special education teams to tap into specialized instructional apps to aid in teaching basic subjects, such as math and English, along with assistive technology apps to help students with disabilities overcome physical and mental challenges.
The program, which uses IBM's MaaS360 mobile device management and security tools, allows classroom instructors, clinical staff and school administrators to select specific tools and apps so that they can better engage with students and improve overall learning.
Prior to adopting the iPads, Bancroft relied on fixed computers and more conventional methods. But along with the opportunity to improve learning, the initiative introduced a few challenges. One of them was managing and securing the devices.
"With the iPads, we can push apps through to the teachers, but we have to manage and control the environment," Nash explains. "There are thousands of apps in the marketplace, and if someone has to sort through all of them, it would be completely overwhelming." The MaaS360 solution displays only relevant apps. "As a result, teachers don't have to spend a lot of time sorting things out," she adds.
In addition, the clinical staff uses the iPads to make decisions about the health and welfare of students outside the classroom. Among other things, they rely on the devices to conduct therapy sessions and create personalized development programs.
That created the need for confidentiality standards and HIPAA compliance requirements. The cloud-based MaaS360 solution allows Bancroft's IT team to remotely lock and wipe data if a device is lost or compromised. In addition, the school has trimmed the time required by the help desk to manage apps by at least two days a month.
Nash says that the ability to manage devices, app libraries and associated policies has been transformative. "It has allowed us to deliver far more advanced capabilities—including the use of cameras, streaming video and highly effective apps—without the risk of private or confidential data becoming compromised," she reports.
"We can easily provision and de-provision devices. And if we find out an iPad has been lost and it has pictures or student information on it, we can wipe it immediately. We also can track down devices if they are lost, stolen or misplaced."
Samuel Greengard, a contributing writer for CIO Insight, writes about business, technology and other topics. His forthcoming book, The Internet of Things (MIT Press), will be released in the spring of 2015.