Disruptive Student Owned Technology

USB drives
USB sticks
USB keys

These handy devices have become an indispensable tool for students at my school and until now the teachers have relied on the willingness of students to bring their own USB drives to and from the classroom to complete much of the digital work set in assignments. I know that it is almost impossible to get all of the tasks I set done within our limited computing room time and laptop access, and motivated students use their USB drives to continue work on slideshows, documents and other digital projects. But as these devices have jumped in capacity and power, and dived in price, other complicating issues have emerged.

With the ability to run executable programs directly from the USB drive, students are using their device to store portable applications, run flash games, store sizeable music collections and maintain personal libraries of images and videos. But what is stored is not always suitable for the school environment - songs with questionable lyrics and even more questionable LimeWire based origins, violent or politically incorrect games and video content and the increased likelihood of viruses and trojans being released onto the school network via some of the "fun" applications.

Anyway, my school has been working on a possible solution that still permits the use of USB drives in our school environment. It is not fair to expect that kids use their personal devices for school purposes so we will be supplying a smaller capacity drive (1GB) for purchase at a low price complete with school logo specifically for use between home and school. I'd personally like to give them away but tight budgets and Government tax requirements make that a difficult proposition. Now I am not naïve enough to believe that this will eliminate all potential for the problems described above but it gives the eLearning Committee here the power to prescribe the use of USB drives in our Technology Users Agreement for our students.

Now what I'm also interested in is how other schools have tackled the issue of student USB drives within the school environment. Has there been any risks or problems identified? How have you resolved these issues? Any advice or any holes in our strategy as outlined above?

Image: 'flash-drive' www.flickr.com/photos/76613417@N00/111901487

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16 thoughts on “Disruptive Student Owned Technology

  1. Sue Waters

    What the? You have me. Would never have considered a school or organsiation preventing students from using their own USB drives. My son is at high school and every year it is a requirement for him to bring his own USB drives.

    Similarly our TAFE doesn’t restrict the use of personal USB drives. If they had security concerns I can assure you they wouldn’t allow them.

  2. Russel Montgomery

    Hi Graham

    I can;t remember the name of the company now but…

    There was a company (British based, I think) trialling a comprehensive IT security system that included tracking usb drives.

    I know our school was involved in the trail last year, but given tight budgets we probably won’t go ahead with a contract.

    But anyway, if this company can do it, then it is possible to track the traffic on and off usb drives used in the system.


  3. Mike

    Last year we trialed USB sticks with 5th grade. I managed to convice them on high that they should be considered as office supplies like books and paper, so were supplied free to the children (yes, we were a fee paying international school). The experiment went well, and, though I’m not at that school any more, I believe that more grades have been supplied this year.
    I liked the fact that the sticks remained school property, which gave us a little more perceived control over how they were used.
    The biggest flaw in this plan was accountability – the sticks are pretty easy for a 5th grader to “get stolen”, and the children didn’t have the ownership they may have if their parents had bought them.

  4. Bryan McDonald

    Shhhhhhhhh…our tech guy hasn’t thought of that yet…if he does the school will likely ban the use of them by students. I’m not an IT buff…but can’t the system admin block programs not installed on student computers?

  5. Suzanne Shanks

    My district “sort of” allows USB sticks. Some of the machines read them with no issues. Others will not read the drive unless I turn off ALL the security on the system. I’m not sure how that is good policy, but that’s what they told me to do. Once in a while we get a machine that won’t take any flash drive at all unless and admin is logged in.

    I really like how your school handled the issue. I’m going to share the idea. Thank you.

  6. TFT

    We don’t restrict the use of USB Drives at our College. So far as the Virus and Malware threat goes that should be covered by your current controls in place on your network.

    Our Teachers’ are very good at monitoring use, and the students know (as it is part of our Policy) that any suspect drives can be confiscated for the purposes of an Audit. When students are sharing information from drive to drive it becomes fairly apparent and these items are brought to the ICT Services department for inspection.

    The use of these devices to play flash based games is, at times an issue, but as our labs are laid out with the Computers around the walls, it is easy for teachers to patrol the middle of the room and see what all students are doing. In our Laptop class we have the ability to monitor student machines using a program called HeuCampus by Heulab (a Singapore based company with an office and support available in Australia http://www.heulab.com).

    There was some discussion about this on the Managing IT In Education forum (http://www,mitie.com.au) and a program was mentioned by a company called Leyton Technologies in the US. I havent actually used it by have a look at http://www.laytontechnology.com/pages/deviceshield.asp for more details on this one.

  7. Brihs521

    Is it possible to make the school machines request admin access to add programs? It seems to me that most files would be .ppt, .pdf, .doc and others of the like (including .docx, etc.), so only those files would need to be accessible through the computer being used at the school. This is probably not as easy as I think it is, but it could be as easy as limiting what is accessible from the key on the school machine.

  8. David Alexander

    Hi Graham,
    The question you pose is a key pain that we’ve found a number of educators & institutions are thinking through. In addition to the challenge of the thumbdrive, easily enabling collaboration in a learning environment (student-to-student; student-to-teacher; teacher-to-teacher)can be difficult to say the least.

    While I don’t recall you mentioning any specific online solutions to help with the problem, there are a number of them out there that may prove to be a reliable remedy. The one I personally work on is Microsoft Office Live Workspace (http://workspace.officelive.com/).

    It allows anyone to create an online workspace where they can store and access more than 1000+ documents. They can also share individual workspaces or documents with friends, classmates, or teachers to get feedback, edits, all merged into the same document. The best part is, you don’t even have to have Office installed on your machine to view the docs. See this link for an example version of how a teacher might use Office Live Workspace to share information with their students: http://tinyurl.com/brz65h

    Would be happy to discuss with you over email if you had any questions, or wanted to chat further. Thanks!

    David Alexander
    Senior Product Manager
    Microsoft Office Live

  9. Peter Ruwoldt

    Google Docs may be another option for online sharing without needing to have MS Office.

    The downside of these online solutions is that these things are not within the DECS VPN and so all data transfers incur a cost.

  10. Rhondda

    This is an issue for many schools, Graham. As a notebook school all students are required to have a memory stick and use external devices for backup purposes. Teachers are expected to be alert to the use of USB sticks in their classrooms, and, although it doesn’t always work, I believe if we make our lessons authentic, and interesting to students, it goes along way to them staying on task. I am very interested in seeing what others are doing in this area. Thanks for the discussion.

  11. Trevor

    My school district has no restrictions on usb in the school. My colleges and I encourage our students to bring save all their important files on usb drives for back-up and general ease of use. We do not provide our students with these drives and it is completely up to the student to provide this flash drive. Those students that have them tend to keep track or them without much issue.

    Another suggestion for those students who are not able to use USB drives, and wish to save their work to complete at home is to set up an email account and saving the work as an attachement. This is what I have my 8th graders do. This is the best of both worlds, they can save their work and the excuse I lost my drive never comes up…the internet cannot be lost. They like it and it they are always able to access their files from any computer that has internet capablitiy. You might want to try that out.

  12. Geoff Lubich

    Hi Graham
    As both a TAFE lecturer in WA and a developer of online learning systems i still find it difficult to comprehend the sheer ignorance that exists in the antiquated mindsets of IT and education management.
    I think it is 2009, I think there is technology that our students use that we are only able to dream about having the use of,I know there is the most incredible learning resource that has ever been created just outside the door.
    You cant hide from this stuff, if our students have computers at home on which they under pressure from society do most of their learning, then we as educators and education institutions have an obligation are provide for that.
    Cant afford USB sticks what a load of crap, you can buy USB devices in bulk at about $4.00 each, OH thats right they have to buy through a stupid public sector purchasing system, which pumps the price up to a ridiculous level.
    They should be bought in bulk and given to the students.
    Makes me realize how lucky i am to work in a instition with open web access and an open attitude about the use of devices. I have worked at this TAFE since IT systems were first installed and i cant recall a single instance where the student network has been compromised by student data or storage hardware.
    And yes we have had students spend to long on the web go to some questionable sites. But these are student management issues and should be managed as such, not by saying it is too hard so we will deny access to everything
    I would be lost as an automotive lecturer if i didn’t have access to the in excess of 30000 auto training videos on you tube.
    How as an educator can a lecturer or teacher possibly be expected to provide fully current high quality flexible learning without access to all the best free resources that exist on the most important training resource ever created.
    Must have something to do with the forest of BS that higher level are forced to work behind, you know the one that stops them seeing the wood

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  14. garyb

    part of the issue is security

    for institutions with a competant team of IT support the security is tight, and can be met proactively if breached.

    (australian) high schools typically have 2/3 technicians but not necessarily equipped with the skills to combat the latest attacks which can arrive on a thumb drive

    primary(elementary) schools …well maybe the students can be trusted or bluffed(bullied) to not experimenting with the network.

    most computers in larger secondary school do not have CD/DVD rives because the computerr can be attacked and control taken from the network

    a pain…but also a reality

    this is a constant problem in industry, usually the system is locked very tightly

    security is never turned off, nor accessible to users

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