Freedom vs. Efficacy

I think I’m still treating iPads like laptops and desktops. I see myself locking them down whilst commenting on how “they can’t be managed in the same manner as laptops and desktops have traditionally been managed at a board level” out the other side of my mouth, while covering the pin that restricts the installation of “apps”. Out of virtue of the current structure instructing schools to manage these devices at a school level, I’ve found myself more heavily immersed in the operational side of these devices in an attempt to respond to a clear need in the system for guidance, with the intent of course of ensuring that the entry-point for sound pedagogical use is clearly mapped out; that the devices don’t stagnate on shelves waiting for a champion; that they can be shared effectively across divisions; that they aren’t populated with the app store’s overwhelming number of digital blackline masters: fill in the blanks, rote math, low-level activities that don’t allow for higher order thinking skills; that they are used to enable students to become media creators.

“Grade 2 Stop Motion Animation Created using the iStopMotion and iMovie apps.”

I’m advocating for iPads a lot lately. They make all the right things easy. You can capture student work, and the process of students working, through audio, video, and still image. You can use the device like a document camera: connect it to a projector and use the Penultimate app to write all over the document you just captured (this might mean you can stop buying Smartboards and doc cams). You can film, produce and publish a movie, create a comic, or post an instructional screencast from start to finish. The things it does not do well are the kinds of tasks that don’t necessarily engage students: book reports and essays. I’m not dismissing the need for laptops and desktops within the classroom (I love what happens when students are engaged in discussions via blogging), but I think the iPad goes a long way towards replacing all of those other peripherals that we outfit our classrooms with: it’s a camera, a video camera, a microphone, a document camera, a listening station, and an interactive whiteboard (of sorts), with access at the point of learning to the rich resource materials the internet provides.

So I’ve gotten pretty good at prepping the device for battle. I’m following a process set out on Tony Vincent’s brilliant Learning in Hand blog. He sets our a process of creating a master iPad to rule them all. You can check it out here. To help those who are walking the path in HWDSB, here’s the process:

  1. Contact the help desk and get an email address set up (they will know the format), either tethered as an alias to someone’s email account, or to a conference in First Class if there is a need to share access to the password retrieval process, and the receipts from app purchases, with multiple users.
  2. Once the email address is set up, head over to iTunes on a desktop or laptop and find the App Store tab. Then find a free app and click to purchase (this is important, if you don’t pick a free one, you won’t be provided the option to create an account without first providing a credit card).
  3. You’ll be prompted to sign in or create an account; Create the account. When it gets to the Credit Card page, choose NONE.
  4. Once the account is created, take one of your iPads (if you purchased more than one), and set it up:
  • Take the gift card you bought and scroll to the bottom of the Featured page in the App Store on that iPad and redeem your card
  • Buy some apps (Here’s some suggestions)
  • Go into Settings>General>Accessability and turn Speak Selection on (this will allow you to have text read to you)
  • Go into Settings>General>Restrictions and…
  •     Turn off Ping (it drains the battery)
  •     The ability to delete apps
  •     Facetime (it doesn’t work with devices all activated on the same iTunes account. Use the free Skype app instead if you want to video conference, or the Adobe Connect app (also free) with your http://connect.hwdsb.on.ca account)
  •     Switch the Explicit Content on Music and Podcasts to “Clean”
  •     Require the Password Immediately (instead of after 15 minutes)
  •     Turn Game Center and Adding Friends off
  • Go into Settings>iCloud, and turn off most of the syncing capabilities: you are tethering multiple devices to a 5GB account, that’s going to fill up fast, and Contacts and Calendars probably don’t need to be shared across devices
  • Go into Settings>Store, and turn on Automatic Download for both Apps and Books (if you downloaded the iBooks app). This will ensure that Apps purchased on one device appear on all devices, and will make managing them MUCH EASIER
  • Once you are happy with how the ipad looks, click on Storage & Backup, turn iCloud Backup on, and then Click Back Up Now.

Once the backup is complete, you can restore the other iPads using the “Restore from iCloud” backup option, instead of setting up each device as a new iPad. Voila, your iPads have been imaged, and they all look exactly the same. You will need to go in and set the pin for the Restrictions on each unit (Settings>General>Restrictions), but beyond that you should be ready to go. This arduous process is necessary to get things going, but from here on out is where the personalization, and choice, and customization based on need come to the forefront. This is where it gets really messy…

Apple is brilliant in its ability to create an environment of continuous consumption. There is always a shiny new app that will do something vastly superior to the apps you already have in your stable. If left unchecked, I can see people downloading new apps every day in a bid to find the elusive swiss army knife of applications. If every department, and every subject specialist starts down this path, you will quickly spend more on apps than the device is worth, and confuse and crowd the interface with too many options. There is a core suite of apps that provide cross-curricular functionality that should probably be fully explored before diving into the deep pool of “it’s only 99 cents” justifications that can quickly add up. For this reason I think it makes a lot of sense to keep the password to the iTunes account private to a few key controllers, who moderate apps based on educational merit, and ensure that spending is curtailed to a reasonable level. All of these suggestions depend on the context in which the devices are being utilized though. As soon as the device is mine, and tethered to my space, I don’t necessarily want to go through an intermediary to download apps (am I a hypocrite to endorse keeping the password a secret, and wanting it if I was at the school?); but I certainly understand in a shared situation the issues with having Angry Birds downloaded for Grade 6s who are studying flight, and then having that accessible to Kindergarten students who you don’t necessarily want going home to report that they spent the day blowing up pigs (this is hypothetical, I’m not endorsing the edu-merit of flinging birds at pigs, unless you want to make the argument in the comments).

Therein lies the quandary. I want the freedom as a professional to chose the apps that will fit the context of my class, and yet I have seen countless instances where students drive the bus, and garbage apps end up on the devices. This is the true issue with these devices, not that they can’t be shared, but that from a user standpoint we instinctively don’t want to share. It comes back to the expenditure of money for resources in the classroom, and the shift to mobile devices. A Smartboard rig complete with projector and laptop costs approximately $3500. If my principal wanted to spend that kind of money in my classroom, a giant trackpad mounted to the wall isn’t the direction I would want to go. Buy me eight iPads instead, or six and a digital projector; but I want to depend on them being in my room everyday. They can’t be a novelty I share with 20 other staff members. They need to be available within my room so that I can rely on them. So that I can plan around them, and they can become embedded into the learning taking place in my room. As a professional I will ensure they are being used effectively. @heidisiwak blogged about this shift recently. The line between freedom, and freedom within boundaries is the mark of a good learning environment. It is incumbent upon us all to walk that path between the value of differentiation, and providing students freedom of choice, and ensuring those choices are informed, purposeful, and focused on learning.

How are you managing the iOS devices at your school? Are you at a point where you have settled on an “image” for the device, or have you been exploring the vast array of options?

One comment

  1. I should probaby offer up that we are walking a grey line of copyright infringement using this process. In the US, there are provisions for the bulk purchase of APPS. In Canada, no such program exists. Until this is rectified, I cannot fathom setting up a different Apple ID for every device in a bid to honour the work that iOS App developers put into the products we are sharing amongst devices. I trust that Apple will attempt to respond to this problem with a better process outside of the US to manage multiple devices. Until that time, I can’t see another way to do this effectively.

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