As the halls and classrooms of Randolph School fall silent for summer break, the Director of Information Services (aka CTO 'Chief Technology Officer') Deborah Brink is ramping up her teams efforts to make the “magic” of I.T. happen in just 60 days. Despite the extreme pressure and the short timeline she has been given, Mrs. Brink was kind enough to grant me an interview so Methodical Mac readers could peer into how Macs, iPads, and even PCs are being used in school environments today.
(I prepared five questions for Mrs. Brink)
“Thank you Mrs. Brink for letting me interview you.”
“You’re welcome Justin.”
“The first question that I would like to ask is”
(1) As the Director of Information Systems what do think of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) and where will it take school IT departments in the future?
Mrs. Brink sat back in her chair, paused for just a moment and then stated that, “From an IT perspective, it actually changes the definition of our role. Traditionally, IT whether it is in an Enterprise or Educational environment, has always been about control and standardization. BYOD completely changes that. We still have the responsibility of making sure the environment is safe and that we’re following all of the laws of understanding what’s on our network.”
A slight pause filled the room.
“At the same time, you’re providing a lot of flexibility for your students and teachers in terms of the tasks they can complete."
“I also think that the idea that BYOD saves you money and time is a myth, because you shift money away from some resources to others; We may not be buying hardware but we are buying subscriptions and services."
"So, for those in the Educational or business realm, BYOD isn’t bad at all but the idea that it will save you any kind of money in the long run, may be a pipe dream.” I quickly said while jotting notes down.
“That’s correct.” she stated while giving a slight nod.
(2) As Apple gains market share do you think Macs will be targeted more or less often than they are now?”
Again, Mrs. Brink pauses for a moment, “Are they going to get attacked more often? Absolutely. The intention behind any sort of malware now is to make money.”
“So, as the number of Mac targets increase, so will the number of attacks. In fact, we’re seeing it already.”
(Now this may be surprising to some Mac users because they may think that Macs are inherently more secure than their PC counterparts. This simply just isn’t true anymore. I refer you to my Does My Mac Need Antivirus? on why your Mac is now in the sights of malware.)
To continue on, Mrs. Brink wanted Mac users to know that their beautiful machines, “…still go to The Internet where there are numerous phishing attacks…and with kids, they are installing whatever games are free; they are taking advantage of bit torrents and playing networked games.”
She emphasized, "They are opening up their computers to unknown sources and inviting them in. Many of them are clueless that this is happening.”
This leads to the term "Digital Natives”, which is a phrase that Mrs. Brink finds frustrating if not upsetting. She adds, “There is a huge difference between a child using a device for entertainment and a child really understanding how that device works. They are excellent consumers of technology, but they are not necessarily excellent users of technology.”
I think that the old adage “There is no such thing as a free lunch.” is fitting here. All of these presumably “free” applications are most likely littered with things that you don’t want on your Mac. While most of the malware may be targeted for the greater PC population, your Mac can still carry these malicious things around to infect your Microsoft friends. To reiterate what Mrs. Brink said, your kids are doing things (not all of them bad) that are making them less secure, so keep a watchful eye out and settings locked down.
(3) What do you think of tablets being used in schools?
“It is hit or miss. I think that it really depends on the device and the age level. So, I think that iPads are very well suited for lower level or elementary students, but not so much for daily business tasks.” Mrs. Brink also noted, “There is a rich app market (for the iPad) that is beneficial to teachers and schools.”
“Tools on the iPads like Guided Access are very easy for the teachers to learn and use.”
In a nutshell Mrs. Brink thinks that iPads are great additions to the teachers tool belt, especially since a very large and rich app market is in play. However, iPads aren't quite ready for upper (7-8th grade) students who need more business functionality out of it. This problem may be solved with the yet to be seen iPad Pro, but time will only tell.
(4) What do you think students, teachers, and parents can do to protect their mobile devices and information?
Immediately Mrs. Brink leaned forward and smiled, “Keep them up-to-date.” We paused for a moment as a knock at the door stole her next statement. A firewall was being delivered because the old one had run its course.
“Right. Where were we?”
She jumped back into her last thought, “Smartphones are always going. So, turning network services off when not in use is very smart. Also, they should be aware of what is going on with their phones at all times. Https isn’t foolproof, so run antivirus if available.”
She sat back into her chair, “Always go with reputable vendors when you can. A lot of startup companies are in this market and can pose a risk.”
(5) It used to be that companies wanted to create virtual machines for their workers, in hopes to cut cost and equipment. Do you think that virtual machines are still relevant?
Mrs. Brink nodded her head, “Desktops and laptops are so inexpensive now that it wouldn’t be beneficial if the size of the company was small. You can have a server running on the cloud, but it would cost a lot of money.”
"So, it most likely wouldn’t really be worth the effort for even a modest size school like Randolph?" I replied.
She quickly added, “No not really. The redundancy needed, people, developers. It would be expensive.”
“Thank you so much Mrs. Brink for allowing me to pick your brain. I know my readers will be happy to soak in all this information.”
Just as we ended, the Database Manager knocked at the door wanting to go over very important documentation. She gracefully turned back towards me with a smile, “You’re welcome Justin."
Side note: There was so much more information that I would have loved to put in this article (I tried cramming it in actually) but it made the length seem like a college thesis paper instead of a blog article. I hope to get a podcast going soon, so that you, my dear readers, can enjoy full length interviews like this one while you’re running on the treadmill.
Alright, that's it Methodical Mac readers. I hope to conduct more interviews in the coming months, so keep an eye out.
Tidbit about Randolph School
Randolph School is an American independent private kindergarten-through-12th-grade college preparatory school chartered in 1959 in Huntsville, Madison County, Alabama.
Notable Alumni: Link
(Yep. Cofounder of Wikipedia Jimmy Wales)