I’ve come to a conclusion. If you really want to see the latest technology being tried out in a real-world environment with demanding users and IT people scrambling to find workarounds for technical and administrative problems, you need to visit a school.
Over the past few months, I’ve been working on a contract job as IT manager at an independent school. Within that role, I’ve had the opportunity to talk with teachers and IT people from a number of schools.
There are a number of steps to go through in order to successfully use the iPad in a classroom. The experience of teachers I’ve spoken to boils down to two specific implementation models.
First, there’s the class set, where you buy a bunch of iPads and use them as a shared resource that moves from class to class. Teachers we spoke to said that this worked well in primary-aged classes as they typically used the iPad as a consumption device. That’s a generalisation, but seems to hold true.
In secondary classes, students had an expectation that the iPad would be a personal device – one iPad per student seemed to be the best way to go.
Regardless of how iPads are deployed, iOS device management becomes an interesting issue. For starters, how does a school deal with the issue of students putting apps onto iPads? If the iPad is a shared resource, then having students install or remove apps can be a significant problem. Apple’s iOS deployment tools (developer.apple.com/library/ios) can help with locking down elements of the operating system and making it easy to push new apps onto devices using your wireless network.
Application licensing is also a concern. When an app is bought through the App Store it’s only licensed for one user. That means that the practice of setting up one reference iPad, backing it up and then restoring that installation onto multiple iPads will result in breaching the software licensing conditions.
Apple is addressing this with a volume licensing program in the United States. There’s no word on when that will be coming to Australia, however.
Where students are allocated an iPad for their own use, life gets a little easier. iOS apps can be added to the school booklist and students can be given iTunes Store vouchers in order to buy apps themselves and set the device up to suit themselves.
In fact, schools which have had great success with the iPad have found that students given responsibility for the iPads and permission to personalise them have looked after them and used them in ways the teachers never imagined. Students have even bought their own apps for completing tasks, enjoying the freedom from being spoon-fed by teachers.