The Power of Absolute Device Groups in Education

By: Alana Bennett | 9/1/2021 | 6 min read

Throughout 2020 and 2021, school districts around the country expanded their device fleets by hundreds or even thousands, in many cases introducing new operating systems to the mix or extending the lifetime of aging machines. The scramble to stand up 1:1 programs meant that standard asset management procedures were sometimes overlooked, with the resulting lack of visibility placing challenges on already taxed education IT teams, such as ensuring that students and teachers have access to the tools best able to help them achieve academic success. These include tools that protect student and staff data privacy, ensure safe usage of technology, and help comply with government regulations. 

With many students returning to the classroom this year, some districts faced having to organize two years’ worth of devices that had been sent home. So, with a large inventory of mixed devices, it’s important for IT administrators to have full visibility and control of their devices in addition to organizing and classifying them so that they can improve efficiency.

When accountability matters

Furthermore, districts that used federal funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) or American Rescue Plan (ARP) Acts are accountable to report to the state and their respective school district board on financial management, security, and compliance posture, as well as the effectiveness of technology and programs. Audits are, in general, tedious and manual tasks, and the huge increase in device volume makes the process even more challenging.

Given their limited resources, administrators need to manage a scattered fleet and keep on top of security updates without physical access to the machines. And with many students still learning from home, schools need ways to monitor how students are spending their time online and to monitor the adoption of online learning tools. This expansion of responsibilities leads to several challenges that education IT teams everywhere need to overcome in order to successfully manage their inventory. Some of these include, but are not limited to:

  • The need to locate, track, and manage all devices by class, school, and district
  • Creating integrated reporting to respond to questions about inventory, remote web usage, device usage, and ad-hoc audit requests
  • The ability to see which devices’ security posture have been impeded
  • Ensuring that students and teachers have access to tools to achieve academic success
  • Protecting student and staff data privacy, ensuring safe usage of technology, and complying with government regulations
  • Reporting to school or school district board on financial management, security, and compliance posture, as well as the effectiveness of technology and programs

The value of Device Groups

Device Groups enable education IT teams to organize their devices into logical groupings that reflect the needs of their school district or school. Devices can, for example, be organized by state, location, funding sources, districts’ school structures, user types, etc. With Device Groups, IT teams can view and manage devices that are out of warranty, need to be retired and unenrolled, are not expected to be returned, belong to senior students and other individuals leaving, or are outdated systems that need to be recalled and replaced.

Organizing devices into groups means that deeper insights can be gathered about their health, location, and security posture. Furthermore, groups can be used to target devices with actions via the Absolute Console. Subsequently, IT can use Device Groups on these targeted devices to filter hardware and software data, analyze device and web usage, create policies, and execute actions through the Absolute Console, like Device Freeze, Absolute Reach scripts, updates, end user messages, and more. This helps to improve the operational efficiency of resource-strapped IT teams, who are managing larger fleets than ever before. In short, Absolute Device Groups help IT find devices based on specific criteria and then take bulk action.

Gaining insight and control

One common example is establishing Device Groups by class/school/district so that IT can tag and track unreturned devices. This allows the team to take action to prevent student device loss, report on devices that have not checked into Absolute in the last 30 days so that users can be contacted, and the device can be investigated. Having unreturned devices in one easy view enables IT teams to take bulk actions, like sending a reminder to the student to return their devices by using End User Messaging.

Education IT teams also use Device Groups to compare device utilization rates between groups. For example, IT practitioners can use the device analytics report to visually compare how students at school A are using their devices in comparison with those at school B at a high level, then zoom in to better understand usage rates within group A or B. This information can then be reported to the curriculum designer, superintendent, or school board for audits and further fact-finding.

Device Groups help IT teams gain deeper insight and control of their devices. They can use Device Groups to identify a group of devices that may pose a security risk and set up policies and execute actions for scripts, updates and alerts. Say, for example, that admin devices need to be encrypted to protect sensitive data in accordance with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. In those cases, IT teams can create a Device Group with user policies that respond when encryption is tampered with, sending an alert and repairing encryption. Setting up policies this way enables IT practitioners to:

  • Send a set of commands to a specific group of devices
  • View status of critical updates
  • Push updates at scale, facilitating remote remediation

Accurate reporting

Another common challenge faced by school IT teams is the need to demonstrate the effectiveness of technology and programs funded by CARES and ARPA. Device Groups enable IT to filter detailed usage and device analytics to monitor and compare usage and performance across specific Device Groups. As mentioned, Device Groups help IT teams monitor the usage of devices during a given time period and compare usage between device groups (e.g., different schools in a district). This information is important for school districts that have received federal funding, as they will need to accurately report on funding sources such as CARES/ARPA, online technology usage, and geolocation tracking of student and teacher/staff devices. With Device Groups, they can understand aggregated data on devices and application usage to show where budget was spent and where applications are providing the most value, as well as showing comparisons between groups.

As the 2022 school year is just beginning, now is a great time for education IT teams to pro-actively prepare for upcoming audits by setting up Device Groups for devices and web tools funded by CARES and ARP.

Device Groups can be accessed by all customers, independent of their Absolute subscription level. These groups can easily be created and customized in the Absolute Console, under Assets.

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