I had the pleasure of speaking to the administrators of York County, Virginia Schools a couple of weeks ago and learned that it's not only possible to go BYOD* in a large network; it's also possible to do it in a large multi-site school system. With 12,500 students and more than 2,000 staff members, the York County Schools (YCS) BYOD project is no elementary undertaking. As I told Doug Meade (IT Director), Eric Williams (Superintendent of Schools) and Kip Rogers (Director of Secondary Education) that day, "I'm impressed."
And, technologically speaking, it isn't easy to impress me.
Impressive is appropriate for a school system that supports approximately 90 virtual Xen hosts that host 40 virtual desktop each. This environment is in addition to the many Citrix Presentation Servers, database servers, file servers, utility servers and network equipment that the school system supports.
York County isn't your average school system, though. York County, founded in 1634, was one of the eight original "Shires" of the Virginia Colony. It is one of America's oldest counties and Yorktown, its county seat, is the Yorktown, of the famous Battle of Yorktown.
Yorktown is the site of another battle for freedom--the freedom to choose and use your own technology, in public schools of all places. That, like my story of the schools in Douglas, Wyoming that adopted iPads, again defeats the din of incessant whining about how public schools fail our children.
Being from Texas, I understand the significance and joy of walking outside and seeing where soldiers fought and won the battles for our freedom. Of course, the situation in Texas was a little different than in the Revolutionary War but no less pride-insipiring. This same pioneering spirit exists in the people of York County today. During a time of economic downturn, this school system realized that they're not educating students to work in today's economy, they're not investing in the short-term payoff and they're not holding back at a time when it would be easy to do so. They're going forward with what Superintendent Eric Williams calls, "Tranformative Learning."
Transformative Learning, he states, is not about the technology but it's the empowerment of our students to learn in a way that fits into their lifestyles. Part of this transformative learning revolution is York County's more than 60 virtual courses available to students.
The transition to a BYOD model was natural for YCS as they had already made a significant investment in Citrix Presentation Services and rich content delivery to classroom computers in a lightweight, non-local manner. As part of their BYOD project, the team created a large XenServer-based virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) to accommodate the need for secure desktop computer access for the students and staff.
Part of the overall transition includes allowing access to school network facilities from home (or anywhere) for staff and students. This enables students to have a consistent work environment to complete projects and homework assignments. It also makes desktop management easier for the school support staff. Their solution also saves money for the school district because of the centralized management capability and secured virtual desktops. Performing break/fix repairs, maintenance, hardware updates, software updates, technology refresh and theft recovery/replacement on thousands of desktop systems is a huge financial burden for school districts.
The York County School District is also different in the way its people approach technology for students. Their web site states their progressive outlook: "The York County School Division embraces the importance of technology in the personal and educational lives of students. Access to mobile technologies enables instant access to a wealth of information, references and collaborative resources on the web. These Internet resources can support the learning activities that are a part of daily classroom instruction."
Their school also offers an excellent PowerPoint movie explaining their BYOT program in detail.
YCS administrators created a unique technological experience for their fellow staff members and for their students. I want the YCS teachers and support staff to know that this is not common practice among school systems. Most school districts still sweat it out with standard desktop computers that rarely work and with outdated applications and games that the kids aren't interested in using.
From this former teacher, you have earned my sincerest admiration and congratulations, YCS, you get an A+ for your BYOT program and your dedication to your student's educations and to their futures.
* BYOD - Bring Your Own Device is the accepted terminology but YCS uses BYOT (Bring Your Own Technology). I use the two terms interchangeably for the purposes of this article.