Sunday, 23 November 2014

Why we moved to specified apps and centralised iPad management

Back in 2012 when we introduced iPads to the school we wanted to give the teachers the freedom to experiment with the iPads and download apps they thought might be useful.  All our teachers got a $50 iTunes card, set up their own Apple IDs, and had their iPads configured so if they downloaded an app on one iPad it automatically downloaded it to the other three.

It became clear, however, that this system wasn't ideal.  For one thing, volume purchasing was introduced a bit later but we couldn't really take advantage of the discounts because we didn't know what apps teachers had already purchased.  I ended up doing an app stocktake and found that across our school iPads we had over 600 different apps!

Here are some of the other issues we had:

  • Teachers were forgetting their Apple ID passwords and security questions and because they'd been set up personally there wasn't much I could do to help them.  Sometimes iPads had been passed on to new teachers without getting the security question details - for a while you didn't need them for purchasing apps then all of a sudden you did.  That caught us out.
  • Teachers were not discussing apps and sharing ideas much.  The huge range of apps across the school meant that you might not find someone else using the same ones as you.
  • Some teachers complained that it was difficult to find out which apps were the best ones to use.  They didn't have time to download and compare multiple apps.
  • There was no vetting system to assess whether teachers' app choices fitted the school's educational aims.
  • By paying for only one app per four iPads we weren't obeying Apple's terms and conditions and paying the developers properly for their work.  Once volume purchasing became available in New Zealand we had no excuses not to.
  • Some of the more expensive apps aimed at students with special needs had to be bought for a different iPad every year as the student changed teachers.

For these reasons it was decided that we would move to using school Apple IDs, a specified set of apps and a centralised iPad management system.  We have an App Request Form teachers can use if they have an app they particularly want to use.

We visited a couple of schools using different mobile device management systems to see them in action.  One system cost $30 per iPad to have managed, the other was free.  Ironically it was the free system, Meraki, that seemed to have more functionality.  I'll post about the process involved with moving to Meraki later.

I think you do lose the ease of teachers being able to explore and try new apps by going to specified apps and a centralised iPad management system.  However, here are the many benefits:

  • Having one set of apps that all the teachers in each year level has means that teachers don't have to worry about which apps to select.
  • Teachers can share ideas and support each other more easily.
  • Professional development can focus on apps everyone has.  
  • We can save money by using volume purchasing.
  • If teachers change Year levels they can simply swap iPads rather than having to buy all new apps.
  • The App Request Form allows apps to be assessed for educational suitability by senior management and checked to see if they duplicate an app we are already using.  
  • If we do decide to add an app we can use Meraki to easily push it out to all the iPads that need it.
  • We can deploy the more expensive apps needed by some students with special needs and then pull them back and push them to another iPad as they go through the school.
  • Students will be able to learn how to use an app in one class and then they can carry that knowledge through in the following years as it will still be being used.

Finally, as we move to introducing BYOD next year it means we can use Meraki to easily (I hope!) push out our specified apps to students' devices.

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