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Integrating iPads into an Enterprise Environment (Spring 2012 Feature)

Excerpt included in Spring 2012 OnCUE Journal. The entire feature is below:

           

 

Integrating iPads into an Enterprise Environment

By Tim Landeck

tim_landeck@pvusd.net

 

iPads are becoming a common device on K-12 campuses, in the hands of administrators, teachers, and students. These devices are useful for daily educational activities, but what goes into the management of these tools?


The “i” in all of Apple’s i-devices stands for individual (not Internet as many have thought) and this is clear when it comes to integrating an iPad into an enterprise environment such as a medium-sized school district that employs global settings, network management tools, and standardized applications and unified processes to help minimize technical support requirements, and to enhance the end user’s computing experience. The iPad is designed for one person to use and customize to their liking, and therefore does not easily integrate into the established procedures of large enterprise environments.

Early on, professional uses of an iPad for an administrator were easily identifiable: documentation of classroom walkthroughs (cue.tc/profdevobs), access to documents stored in the cloud (www.docs.google.com), and general business-related items that one might otherwise accomplish on a laptop either at work or in the home. Teachers acquired iPads to use at home and in the classroom. Recently we have seen more iPads purchased for student use. Most student iPads are stored in a cart and distributed to students as they enter the classroom. However, the most exciting (and enterprise-integration challenging) use of student iPads is when they are provided to students to use on a 24/7 basis throughout the school year within a one-to-one initiative.


Challenges that accompany iPads in the enterprise integration process include professional development, curriculum, file storage, security, synchronization, iOS updating, and purchasing/installing software. While professional development and training for students and curriculum are important, they are not the emphasis of this article; I will focus on the other “back-end” items.

 

File Storage
Depending on how the iPad will be used, setup and maintenance of each iPad may be different. However, in all situations, users should have either a Dropbox account (www.dropbox.com) for 2GB of free storage or a box.net account (www.box.net) for 50GB of iOS accessible free storage. This will eliminate many of the issues associated with multiple users sharing one device or users losing data when a device dies or is synchronized.


iOS Updates
Once an iPad is updated to iOS version 5, future updates can happen wirelessly. This greatly reduces the technical support needs for each device because the end user can download and install iOS updates without the need to attach the device to the computer that may reside at school or in the tech department.


Security
Many school districts have users complete and sign a Technology Loan Agreement for any district-owned technology that is loaned to an employee. We recently developed a student iPad loan agreement handbook/form, which we will be putting to the test in the near future as we roll out a 24/7 one-to-one iPad pilot with Algebra textbooks ( See FUSE Textbooks or more information:  cue.tc/FUSEalg. Both of the above resources can be found at cue.tc/pvusd. Apple includes a great app on the iPad called “Find My iPad.” You can enable this feature on each iPad and if one is lost, chances are you can locate the device the next time it is on the Internet with the assistance of this app. You can also look into other free and pay services that will do this for you, such as the free PreyProject.com (www.preyproject.com).


We looked into purchasing loss/damage insurance for the iPads that we sent home with students. The cost was around $50 per device annually. We decided to “self-insure” the devices and anticipate that we may need to replace a few of them each year, which would be less expensive than paying the annual cost for the insurance plan. Each school and district will need to determine the most economically viable for their situation.


Synchronizing iPads
When distributing iPads to a group of students, for an hour or a 24/7 initiative, it is very useful to have all devices set up with the same applications and consistent settings. This requires utilizing one or more tools to help with synchronizing all iPads to one master iPad image. It was hoped that the latest iOS would permit this synchronization to happen wirelessly or “through the air.” However, our experimentation and discussions with Apple have returned us to hard wired synchronization via a synchronizing cart (such as the Bretford cart (cue.tc/synccart) or just with a synchronizing unit (no cart) and cables, such as the items available from Datamation (cue.tc/syncunit). The hard wired solution permits simultaneous synchronization of 15 to 20 iPads, whereas the wireless solution bogs down after three to five iPads are synchronized at once. Wireless continues to be more convenient yet less adaptable to large scale and enterprise solutions.


One very useful tool for the iPad in the enterprise environment is Apple’s free iPhone Configuration Utility (cue.tc/phoneconfig) which will assist you in the creation, maintenance, and installation of configuration profiles. You can also track and install applications and capture device information. There are other excellent tools to assist with iPad imaging and synchronization, which can be viewed in more detail by visiting cue.tc/iPadsynch.


Purchasing Software
One of the largest challenges that we are faced with in managing iPads is the various ways to purchase and manage apps.  Apps need to be:

 1.synchronized (as described above) to an iPad or

 2. downloaded via iTunes to a computer (then loaded onto the iPad) or

 3. brought in wirelessly and directly from the Apple App Store onto the iPad.

If all iPads are to be configured the same and not customized by an administrator or teacher or student user, then there is not much difficulty managing the apps on the iPad via synchronization. But as soon as an iPad is to be customized so an individual can install their own apps, then that person must use their own iTunes account to download apps. If district funds are used to purchase an app either via Apple vouchers (cue.tc/iTunesed), a district credit card, or reimbursement to the user, but are downloaded via an employee’s personal iTunes account, then that app belongs to that iTunes account, not the district or device. If that person leaves the district or no longer is involved with the iPad, they “take their apps with them,” leaving the iPad with only the free apps which are available to everyone. With iPads, the app belongs to the account, not to the device.


This dilemma is yet to be fully resolved. Apple recommends creating a “generic” iTunes account for each classroom, cart, or individual iPad, which brings some obvious unrealistic management requirements. In a small, one-school district, it may be possible. But in a large enterprise environment, it is unrealistic. At this point we have used Apple vouchers to purchase expensive programs (such as special education apps) or when purchasing a large number of the same app for a cart of iPads, due to the volume discount often available with the Apple voucher process. We have site principals manage the apps purchased, and purchase them with a generic account for each iPad cart. We work with Apple iTunes cards for $25 or less for applications, but this does not provide us good tracking of apps and does not guarantee that the apps will stay within the district. In essence, we have not come up with a long-term viable approach to purchasing apps. We are hopeful that Apple will address this in the near future.


Although the iPad has some challenges when trying to integrate it into an enterprise environment, it is a great tool for education, especially in the hands of students—which makes the effort well worth it. If you have additional enterprise integration solutions, please send them my way for possible inclusion in future articles.

 

Tim Landeck is Director of Technology Services of the Pajaro Valley Unified School District in Watsonville, CA, a national conference presenter, and a consultant with various school districts nationwide.