Enterprise-level BYOD and the quest for freedom: York County, Virginia

Enterprise-level BYOD and the quest for freedom: York County, Virginia

Summary: Yorktown, Virginia is on the leading edge of technology with their secondary school's "Bring Your Own Technology" program and policy.


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."

You can learn more about their technology and policies by checking the YCS BYOT FAQs page and the YCS BYOT Policy page.

Their school also offers an excellent PowerPoint movie explaining their BYOT program in detail.

York County School BYOT Informational PowerPoint

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.

Topics: Servers, Hardware, iPad, Virtualization, VMware


Kenneth 'Ken' Hess is a full-time Windows and Linux system administrator with 20 years of experience with Mac, Linux, UNIX, and Windows systems in large multi-data center environments.

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  • BYOD or not?

    I question if virtualization is really BYOD. Using Citrix / VDI your device is basically a dumb terminal to likely a Windows PC. It doens't work that great on smartphones and is just lately becoming useful on tablets. The downside of using these solutions are the native functionality of any device is negated. There is also the cost of these infrastructures, luckily this school already had an investment but I'm guessing the majority of schools do not.<br><br>I also question how they will enforce no use of 3G? Unless they are blocking the signal campus wide (which raises safety concerns) it's impossible to determine how any given device is connected, let alone the FAQ states teachers will be monitoring this, like they have time to be BYOD police.<br><br>The lack of charging will be an issue as anywhere you go you see Apple users sucking power any chance they get (walk through any airport etc).<br><br>Reality is these students like workers want to use their devices for nothing related to school / work. They wish to be on Facebook, twitter and play games which the typical school or work devices block.
    • re: BYOD or Not?

      @MobileAdmin <br>Your take on the article is slightly askew. The XEN and virtualization piece has very little to do with the BYOT initiative. Students are encouraged to bring their own tablets, cells, iPads, iPod Touch, etc for access to recommended apps and wireless Internet. Devices are required to use the schools wireless access points while on campus and it is monitored. Devices are stowed during test times. While anything can be abused, the VAST Majority of students follow the guidelines and IT SHOWS. Those that misuse the privilege have appropriate actions taken. <br><br>Also collaborative tools like elluminate sessions are used at school and after hours so instructors can sharpen students' skill in their respective subjects. Some classes are completely online.. <br><br>While I may not agree with everything York County Schools does, they definitely got the BYOT piece "spot on" right.<br><br>FWIW, I have a child in York County Schools and BYOT is a very positive aspect of the picture..
    • You have a very pessimistic outlook on human behaviour


      Regarding your statement - Reality is these students, like workers, want to use their devices for nothing related to school/work. They wish to be on Facebook, Twitter and play games which the typical school or work devices block.

      Although this school system controls their own WiFi network and could block those sites you listed, I'm sure a savvy student could find a "back door" or cellular network in order to gain access to those blocked sites.

      But that is not the point.

      You must have an EXTREMELY low opinion on how teachers are able to control or monitor what goes on in their classrooms. I doubt seriously that a student could play a computer game while a teacher was twenty feet away without being detected.

      But that's not the point either.

      All those activities that you mention - plus student smoking in the rest rooms, which you didn't - WILL occur at this particular school highlighted in Ken's blog. They won't occur 100 percent of the time. But they will occur.

      The point is: So what?!

      A good teacher and a competent staff will always insure that the vast majority, if not all, of their students will receive all the necessary motivation to succeed and learn while under their care. Parents can always check their children's report card grades, as in the past. A failing or underachieving student's performance will easily be detected and usually traditional parent/teacher actions will be implemented to address those shortcomings.

      Your point of contention is that "unproductive" activity by the students will grow completely out of control because of our human nature's predisposition towards "really screwing things up".

      Is that truly your philosophy on life? Is that truly your life experience regarding school systems? Regarding all tech savvy employees in the work place?

      I'm sorry, but I have not experienced your reality regarding the comments you posted.
  • RE: Enterprise-level BYOD and the quest for freedom: York County, Virginia

    @Ken Hess

    I was enjoying this article when I got to this line: <i>"Most school districts still sweat it out with standard desktop computers that rarely work..." </i>.

    You have to be kidding me. What evidence do you have that most school districts utilize standard desktop computers and that those computers rarely work? None? Oh, right. Because this BYOD topic is your little pet project, you cease being a journalist and start to insert your own biases in your work with no supporting evidence. Come on, can't you guys be better than this?
  • RE: Enterprise-level BYOD and the quest for freedom: York County, Virginia

    Hi Ken:

    Thanks for writing this article, it left me impressed, there is certainly a role for progressive school administration leadership that will elevate student learning to the 21st century, which we must do if we want our country to remain at the top of global competitiveness tables. The York County School District deserves congratulations!

    One of the by-products of BYOD certainly is increased productivity, and even happiness with students and staff, as they can utilize their own devices, and conduct their work remotely. The other by-product, though, is security risk to the information that is being transmitted, and to the data networks of the school district. This might be a great follow-up article for you, including the way such districts can manage the risks developing from BYOD.
  • BYOD / PacketFence


    Lots of schools, especially in the US, are actually using the PacketFence (www.packetfence.org) solution to answer the growing demand (if not tsunami!) of BYOD.

    PacketFence is Free and Open Source, supports well over 25 network equipment vendors, features many self-registration options (SMS, email, sponsored, credit card, etc.), integrates with IDS/IPS tools for increased security and much more.

    While many commercial solutions (Cisco ISE, ForeScout CounterACT, Aruba ClearPass, etc.), especially for large-scale networks, cost in the six figures, PacketFence has no licensing fees and the effort to deploy it is similar if not less than any other solutions - while not sacrificing the available feature and over quality of the solution.

    Check it out!
    Extra Fu