Deploying iPads in schools

Anthony Caruana
2 June, 2012
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Discussions about technology in just about every school eventually turn to whether the iPad is a worthwhile device to deploy to students. Reactions will vary widely from gushing to … whatever the extreme opposite of gushing is.

Critics point to the walled garden of the App Store and iBook Store, a lack of USB ports and a pathological dislike for anything stamped with ‘Designed by Apple in California’ on the back. Then there’s how to deploy the devices, managing the apps that are loaded, distributing documents to them and a raft of other questions.

As well as working as a journalist, I have the privilege of being the IT manager at a middle-sized independent school in Melbourne. The school takes children from three-year-old kindergarten all the way to Year 12. Students come from a wide variety of cultural back- grounds with a significant intake of overseas students.

Last year, we started the process of evaluating a number of different computing platforms and types of hardware as part of a review into the school’s technology strategy.

One of the results of that review was to trial iPads with a small cohort of students in the last year of their primary education. That trial has since expanded to include all students in the last two years of primary school and the first year of secondary education.

Any school contemplating the deployment of iPads, or any other new technology, needs to start by asking one question: What problem are we trying to solve?

On its own, the iPad may be a solution to any number of issues but those need to be articulated, discussed and understood. It’s critical to understand that the iPad, in itself, does not deliver educational outcomes. Schools can’t wash the pedagogical baby with technical bathwater.

The successful introduction of any new technology relies on a whole- school approach. Management need to understand the benefits so that they can communicate them clearly with the broader school community, teachers need to be given time to learn about the new technology and adapt their teaching materials, and students require guidance so that they can use the equipment wisely.

So, what were our goals and what benefits did we expect? One of the big-ticket items for us was the iPad’s instant-on capability. Not having to wait for computers to log in at the start of a class is a huge benefit. Also, students can get through a full day without needing to find power.

Apps, iBooks, fast internet access, the ability to quickly take notes, record audio and shoot photos – all of these can have a huge impact on classroom delivery.


There are two ways iPads can be deployed in schools; as a shared resource or as personal devices.

When iPads are deployed as shared devices, they’re loaded with whatever apps everyone might need and then booked out for use at specific times.

This can work well, particularly with younger classes where handing out personal devices doesn’t work well. It also means that the apps and books that are loaded are consistent and that the devices aren’t customised – something that can be very helpful when troubleshooting.

In our case, as we were starting with older students, the decision was taken to give each student their own device. This meant students could use the devices for email and load their own apps, as well as any required for school.

This also brought some challenges but it also delivered a less tangible benefits. Students were given personal responsibility for the iPad.


How do you hand out hundreds of iPads in a very short time and get them all correctly configured? Without automation this can be a very laborious task. Fortunately, Apple assists by providing lots of resources.

We developed a self-service website using information from Apple. This allowed us to deploy profiles for email access, wireless network and other functions over the air.

Students received their iPads still shrink-wrapped. We pre-allocated each iPad to the students, assigned them an asset number (for our own tracking) and recorded the serial number. Students then connected to an internal website that created all of the required security certificates and profiles so that they could connect to the wireless LAN, and access email and other resources on the network.

Deploying apps to devices is a non-issue as we don’t do it. When students need an application, they log into the App Store and download it. The main reason for this approach was two-fold. Firstly, there’s no easy way to license applications in large multiples as there’s no Volume Purchasing Program. Also, although there are some good tools for managing large numbers of iOS devices on a network, all require separate, annual costs.


For a device that offers great opportunities for education, the Apple ID and App Store experience is nothing short of broken.

For a start, Apple’s Terms and Conditions say that Apple IDs are only available to individuals over the age of 13. Although we understand this is a safety issue, there’s no easy way around this unless families share the password for their Apple ID. In turn, this can be an issue if they choose to keep credit card information in their Apple account.

Our other complaint is that there’s no way for Australian schools to access volume pricing. That means that buying 50 copies of one application requires 50 separate transactions. It also means that there’s no option to site-license an app or book for a class.

For example, if all the students in Year 6 are using an app but it’s not needed the next year, there’s no way to move that app to the next group of students; it has to be purchased by an individual and not the school.

Apple operates a Volume Purchasing Program but only in the US. There’s no indication of when, or if, it will be offered in Australia.

Our approach was to ask parents to either share their home account or create a new Apple ID using their child’s email address. For either option, we suggested not storing credit card details with the account and then using iTunes gift cards for purchases. The school provides gift cards for school-required purchases.

With gift cards, the cheapest way to do this was to shop for cards when they were on sale. On one occasion we were able to source cards on a buy one, get one free deal.


This is a question that IT departments need to sort out in consultation with the finance manager as part of the broader question of ownership.

If the school buys and maintains ownership of the iPads then it needs to provide initial funding for the purchase and then depreciate the devices’ value over a time period.

Determining that time period is tricky. We saw two drivers. First, we considered Apple’s release cycle and history with new product lines.

The most similar product was the iPhone. Apple refreshed it every year for the first three versions, then released the iPhone 4S about 18 months after the iPhone 4.

So, we figured that a new iPad would hit the market every year or so, in about March/April.

We also considered how the devices would be used. With notebook computers, the usage frequency and type of use meant that we could confidently keep a device running for three years before maintenance became an issue.

Also, most notebook and desktop computers can be bought with three- year warranties for schools.

AppleCare can be bought for the iPad but it only lasts two years. Also, the nature of iPad use – frequent, carried in a school bag, occasionally treated with a lack of care – led us to seeing a two-year life as appropriate.


Despite the announcements made in January about deals with textbook publishers and the release of iBooks Author, Australian schools are still waiting for textbook publishers to get on board. In our view, these publishers are desperately clinging to their old business models and the world is moving on.

There are so many apps that can replace either chapters or entire textbooks. The NASA app, The Elements, Google Earth – each of these not only replaces part of a text book but offers students a far richer learning experience that books simply can’t match.

Most textbooks come with a PDF version on an bundled CD but you can’t buy the CD, at a reduced price, without the book. Some publishers are promising interactive, online versions but if they use Flash they’re unlikely to gain much traction.


iPads need to be considered quite differently to desktop and notebook systems. Even when the iPad is asleep, it remains connected to the network. If you deploy 500 iPads then you need a wireless LAN that can handle all of them being connected simultaneously.

Most commercial-grade wireless access points (WAPs) are designed for up to around 50 concurrent device connections. That means that you may need to add more WAPs.

There’s also the question of power. With a fleet of iPads comes a potential fleet of flat batteries. Plan to provide some extra power points.

One thing that we suggest testing is the capacity for your computer fleet to charge iPads. Some PCs don’t deliver enough power through USB ports to charge an iPad – particularly the new model.

We’d also suggest budgeting for speaker docks and video connectors so that iPads can be easily connected to classroom multimedia equipment.


In most schools, there is a tension between technology and teaching. This is a healthy tension that can be used in a positive way.

The introduction of new tech can be seen as a way to force teachers to change what has been successful for them. This isn’t the case when tech is introduced in a way that allows teachers to use it where it adds benefit to students and their learning. That can take time as teachers adjust their methods and develop new classroom materials that can use the technology.

If you’re in a school that is considering introducing iPads the best thing you can do is to visit other schools that have them and look at what works and doesn’t work for them. Then take that back and evaluate it in your own context. What works in one school may not work in yours, and vice versa.

Once you deploy iPads, ensure that you schedule a time to evaluate the progress of the program so that teachers can share what does and doesn’t work, the new resources they’ve found or developed and other tips and tricks.

Deploying iPads, or any new tool, is not a technology project. It’s a teaching project that technology supports.


6 people were compelled to have their say. We encourage you to do the same..

  1. Tim Holt says:

    Thank you. Well written.
    We are deploying over 7400 iPads in our schools this fall..

  2. Robert Richmond says:

    “That means that buying 50 copies of one application requires 50 separate transactions”

    This is not the case. You are actually able to purchase multiple copies in one sitting. We purchase 16 at a time. You need to enter the email addressees, separated by comas, one after another. It will then add up the cost of the multiple purchase and provide you with this cost.

    Free apps are totally different!

  3. Susan says:

    Regarding ipad deployment in schools, there’s an app you should try: Nearpod. It’s free and works fine. You can launch interactive presentations and share them with students, on each of their ipads. It also has assessment tools, really cool. Quick link:

  4. Tyrone McGillick says:

    This is a great piece. I would also suggest the Mac/PC app Reflection. Its great in a classroom where the iPad user wants to mirror their display up onto a data projector that’s connected to a computer running Reflection. The 2 devices just need to be on the same Wi-Fi network.

  5. Ryan Critchett says:

    There’s pros and cons it seems. That stinks with the Apple ID thing! Single purchases. :\ – Other than that, I’m psyched about iPads in education. It’s the logical next step and makes a lot of sense. It’ll be interesting to see where this goes in the future (all schools having them, it becoming status quo, etc).

  6. Richard says:

    Sorry, but this tool is not enterprise class…and enterprise class is where schools need to be looking….the licensing model or lack of is a major issue, let alone the realities of proper device management….
    I am very critical of decision makers who push this device without really understanding what it is they require, or what it is they do in a classroom or even need to do…

    I still think the MacBook or Win Laptop is the best tool in most situations…in my view the IPAD and other tablets are at best an auxillary device….my feelings are that IPADs stifle creativity in a lot of contexts….
    Schools really need something a little more well rounded in capabilities, and not something that can lead to dead ends for student work.

    not sure where or how nearpod = deployment….I am thinking nearpod is a lot like netcontrol..a form of monitoring tool with extra stuff….

    Also, I have an IPAD, and it is really useful, and I really like it….but I know what its limitations are….

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