Teacher, I can’t forget my password.

Solving the password problem for our schools


Photo credit: Anton from http://artof2photography.com

Perhaps I’ve mentioned it before, but most of the user base for One Education (where I work) are children under 13.

A really large chunk of that are under 7, boys and girls in equal measure.

A majority percentage of that lot are terrible at remembering passwords.

Essentially, this means that nearly 50% of the user base our team designs for are young, well meaning individuals, who have difficulty either remembering or holding on to the importance of passwords.

Most of the time this isn’t something we need to consider — most of what we develop is password free… but uh, what if we were building something to tie our ecosystem together? What if we were building an ID system to be used by students as well as teachers? What if we had to ensure that the student using a particular device, was a particular student?

Damn.

The initial thought is “Oh well, they’re just going to have to deal with it.” Despite recent movements to eliminate text-based passwords from the planet Earth, they’re still rather prevalent. Nothing to be done about it, right?

The longer we thought about it though, the more important the problem seemed. We recalled the multitude of times during in-school testing that we’d seen teachers enter passwords over and over again for students. Many schools simply maintained lists of student usernames and passwords that were taped at the front of the class, simple, effective, but not secure. Something needed to be done.

What could we do that enabled a greater level of security for users of our ID system, while keeping things simple for both student and teacher? It turns out that the teacher / student relationship was the key. The classroom is a relatively unique environment, the children rely on the teacher to provide structure for almost every aspect of their time in the classroom.

If the students can rely on the teacher, so can we.

We can also rely on every child in the class to have their own laptop, after all, that’s what we do at One Education.

With these two elements (a benevolent dictator and tech ubiquity), a unique system could be created for a unique environment.

Here’s how it works:

  1. The teacher creates a class list.
  2. Students select their teacher.
  3. Students select themselves (from the list created before.)
  4. The teacher physically verifies that a particular student on the list, is in possession of the laptop they wish to login on.
  5. Boom! The student is logged in.

Given that XO devices are designated to students on a one-to-one basis (generally with their names written on a tag) this login process should only occur very occasionally. Once logged into the ID app, any other app or website that makes use of it (like our apps and a couple of partners to start) will automatically log the student in at the touch of a button.

By using the simplest security measure of all (physical verification) we have been able to solve something that every school we’ve visited has struggled with. Currently receiving design tweaks and testing, development of the ID system is about 90% complete at time of writing.

We can’t wait to see it in the hands of our users, and hopefully our students won’t be forgetting any more passwords until they’re old enough to understand why they shouldn’t be forgetting them.


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