iOS 6 update bonuses for education ( not for tech heads)

iOS 6 has finally arrived and all the tech press will be ranting and raving about Siri improvements, Passbook, Apple’s new maps and whatever Android has that Apple hasn’t done yet. I’m more interested in improvements that have gone largely unnoticed that mean a better experience in a school environment, especially one like mine where we are using iPads in a shared device situation.
This is what I like so far.

Browser photo uploads.
Finally, we can upload photos and videos from the camera roll on the iPad onto websites. This will make publishing blogs and websites a reality on the iPad. Previously this has been a real drawback at school. Students would create some great work in iMovie, Comic Life, SonicPics etc. or take/download some photos then have to go through the time consuming process of transferring them to a a desktop or laptop computer before uploading their creations to their blog or website. now, through an updated Safari, they can add their work straight from the photo library as they would on a computer. Sadly, you can only upload photos and videos. You still can’t upload documents, but it is a big improvement in the workflow.

iWork apps and transferring elsewhere
For as long as I have used an iPad or iPhone, I’ve been able to transfer or save most document based work created on my iOS devices to Dropbox, Evernote, PDF apps or even the school network through the Open in…. Function of iOS. Bizarrely, and damned annoyingly, the one exception to this rule was Apple’s own iWork apps – Pages, Numbers and Keynote. Apple’s stubbornness in making iTunes Sharing, iCloud or ( along with email and WebDAV) the only options made working in a PC centric environment difficult with its otherwise superior apps ( compared to other Office compatible apps). Well, Alleluia, Praise The Lord, Cupertino’s engineers have finally added Open in Another App as an option. Combined with DropBox, Google Drive, Box, or Filebrowser ( for school network connections) we can now easily save our Pages/Numbers/Keynote Documents to other apps or locations so that we don’t have to rely on using the same shared iPad all the time. It also means we have backups elsewhere in case other users accidentally delete the file on the iPad. Would be nice if they could next add the same feature to GarageBand and iMovie so we can back those files up as well.

Improved Open in…. Functionality
While I loved using the open in function to transfer or save my files to other apps or locations, I was still sometimes frustrated when I could select my preferred app or network. Previously, the list of options was limited to 10 apps and sometimes the random order of the function meant even though I wanted to save to Dropbox, the list would have other compatible apps for a PDF or document listed in the ten and Dropbox would be inaccessible. Apple has finally fixed this ridiculous limitation by allowing for unlimited options in the open in menu. They have changed the look of the selection box and allowed for a swipe action to take you to a second panel of options. Now I can be confident of always being able to select my preferred choice for transferring from one app or location to another.

Updating without passwords
As the tech admin in charge of keeping the iPads up to date ( I was the holder of the school account password) it was very time consuming and frustrating to be solely responsible for updating apps on the school iPads and iPods. I know I could run updates by syncing the iPads To iTunes on the computer but that just seemed unnecessary and a waste of time ( wireless syncing seem to be a problem on our network – possibly a proxy problem). Now that updating apps no longer need passwords, I can rely on the other teachers to do the updates themselves.

Improved ( but still not completely fixed ) proxy bypassing or access.
This is not a problem for everyone but it certainly has been for us. Early iOS iterations would not allow any apps requiring Internet connection ( most notably Dropbox and Evernote ) to function over a proxy server. More recent updates have allowed downloading from Dropbox to access files but not uploading. Same with Evernote – syncing didn’t work. Dragon Dictation wouldn’t work either because it needed to connect to a server. With iOS 6, I can finally sync Evernote at school, which is good news for teachers would have been using Evernote for assessment records but being annoyed by the fail to sync messages at school. Unfortunately uploading to Dropbox is still not working. I haven’t tested Dragon Dictation today – will update with answer tomorrow. We switch to a new proxy system in the next couple of weeks which is supposed to fix the issue but no guarantees. In the meantime, at least Evernote is working and maybe an updated Dropbox app might fix the problem by taking advantage of iOS 6s new, supposed global proxy connection.

UPDATE:Guided Access

read this article that explains tbe benefits of Guided Access for special needs students like those with autism and also to prevent cheating. 

They’re the main improvements I’ve noticed so far – it’s only been a day. It’s good to see a native Clock app that can be used as a timer, stopwatch, alarm and world clock – all useful tools in a school. Saves spending 99 cents an iPad for a fully functional alternative. You can also import songs from itunes straight into Garageband and then into iMovie – good for adding soundtracks to videos.

One drawback with iOS 6 on iPads is the (probably temporary) disappearance of a native YouTube app – iPhone/iPad app is available from App Store and Google but not for iPad yet. 3D maps are a nice improvement in the new Map apps for exploring different cities in class, too.

Have I missed anything else useful for school situations? Drop a comment if you have noticed something else. I’ll continue looking in the meantime.

My iPad – the “nearly a PC” for teaching


Clearly from reading my blog, you can work out I love my iPad. Hopefully, you can also tell from reading my blog that I am also not a slavish “Apple Fanboy” who never finds fault with the product. Over the last year, I have been experimenting with the iPad extensively ( some would say obsessively) to see if I can completely do away with needing a laptop and relying exclusively on my ‘magical tablet’. As a teacher with ‘many hats to wear’, I rely on access to many computer dependent tools to complete my day to day responsibilities. What I have concluded is that if I was completely independent in carrying out my teaching, I would be almost laptop -free. Because I have to work within the constraints of a shared school environment, though, the iPad still had a little ways to go before it can completely replace my trusty MacBook Pro.

Because of its portability and multimedia functionality, the iPad is a great tool for assessment that has streamlined the data collection process in many ways. As a busy teacher and parent, the iPad has given me mo opportunities to access and input data wherever I am ( even during my son’s weekly basketball training )I can take written, audio and photo notes within the same program, whether Notability, Evernote, TagPad or any other similar note taking app and have access to a range of data on a given student. Using ShowMe, Educreations, Explain Everything or ScreenChomp, I can get a student to visually show their thinking in a recorded format and keep that for later analysis. I can use the assessment tools on Edmodo‘s iPad app to mark Student’s submitted work and do text based annotations through the assignments annotation tools. I can record, sort and analyse assessment data on spreadsheets using Numbers or Office2 HD. I can access the school’s shared Google Docs Online Assessment tool and record comments and scores for students I teach. So using just my iPad I can function very effectively in terms of assessing students, however…………

The actual user experience of Google Docs spreadsheets on iPads is a pain and most teachers at my school would not put up with the glitchy workarounds I use to make the assessment spreadsheet we use on laptops workable on the iPad. Proprietary software like school reporting programs and on demand testing programs generally won’t work on an iPad without mirroring from another computer (which obviously means still needing the computer!). Spreadsheet apps have limitations that don’t recognize high end functions on Excel which means some spreadsheets become unusable if originally created on a Windows/Mac computer. Therefore, in terms of individualized assessment procedures that collect really useful data, the iPad can be a standalone tool. Sharing school resources? Not so much.

Accessing and saving Files at school
Proxy server issues with certain apps like Dropbox and Evernote aside, which apparently will disappear when a new system is commissioned next term, accessing, updating and saving files has not been an issue. I very rarely use my laptop to read, edit or create documents anymore, unless they were created with a program incompatible with iPads. The teachers I work with use a combination of Google Docs, Dropbox, Edmodo and our school network to save their documents, all of which are accessible through my iPad through the Internet, their own iPad app or through Filebrowser for network and photo library access. All the apps I use can access these options either through the Open in… function, syncing options or in the case of Apple’s iWork apps, through Dropbox/Googledocs access via Otixo’s webDAV service. The only app that is problematic is GarageBand, which I still have to use iTunes file sharing with. ( Email is a poor option as is YouTube or Facebook for primary school setting). While sometimes I have to perform digital gymnastics to access some files via two or three apps like Goodreader and Filebrowser, it works for me. I’m going to do a post soon on Filebrowser specifically, partly as a lesson for my staff but also to share its features. There is also the option of using sendtodropbox service for apps that only use email for exporting. I really like it. Therefore, in my experience in terms of accessing compatible files, I can virtually put my laptop away and rely on my iPad.

Creating and Presenting Content
Despite protests from some in the anti iPad blogosphere, the iPad is indeed a fine content creation tool. I get the complaints about the keyboard ( personal preference and typing skill dependent) and the switching between screen issues ( I admit this bugs me) but that aside I think the complaints come down to what field of content creation you are in and how text typing dependent it is.
For me I can create everything I need to support my teaching on my iPad.
Attractive multimedia heavy documents and presentations are easily created through publishing apps like Pages, Keynote, ComicLife, Strip Designer, SonicPics, iDraw, Explain Everything et al, iMovie, GarageBand .. The list goes on.
PDF annotation of texts for class note taking can take place using PDF apps like GoodReader or iBooks on an interactive whiteboard or projector/TV. Books for sharing can be created using Book Creator or Creative Book Builder. Lesson content and collaboration can be covered with the Edmodo app or Coveritlive.

The biggest omission on the surface is the lack of compatibility with interactive whiteboard software such as ActiveInspire on Promethean Whiteboards. A plugged in iPad does not interact with the boards like laptops do because the touch based driver doesn’t support iPads ( any chance in future Promethean et al?). If I want to create flip charts, I still need my laptop to run ActiveInspire, however….

There are iPad based options with and without laptop. AppleTV is one solution. No computer required, but an expensive option if you need one for each whiteboard in your school. A relatively recent and cheap solution is the use of AirPlay compatible software that turns your Mac or PC into an AppleTV solution. Reflection and AirServer (PC and Mac) allow flexible projection of iPad screens onto the whiteboard through a connected laptop, including audio, all wirelessly. OS 10.8 for Mac ( Mountain Lion) will have the feature built in. With this feature, all the functionality of all the apps on the iPad appear on the whiteboard’s screen, giving it far more interactive possibilities
than a pen that has to touch the screen. Multiple iPad screens can be projected side by side for student sharing of their iPads. This could cut the cost of buying interactive whiteboards altogether and replace them with iPads and cheaper projectors and screens. The other option is using Splashtop Whiteboard (price has gone up since I bought it) to control the laptop screen through the iPad.

Of course the other elephant in the room in terms of sharing content with the iPad is the whole Flash issue. It’s not going away yet and I have covered this issue in an earlier blogpost this year. You can read that here to get my view on that. At this stage, yes I still need laptop access for some flash based web tools ( but I can use the school’s computers for that and leave mine home. )

In finishing, the question remains – How close to replacing a laptop with my iPad in my work environment am I ? ( I stress my environment because it is not feasible for all ). Not completely yet. And some of the workarounds I pull out to make some of the above possible is too much of a pain for less resourceful people. There are many days, though, that my laptop does remain in my bag untouched for the whole day. If I get AirServer installed on our school laptops connected to the whiteboards (at the moment I rely on my own ) , my laptop will barely see the light of day at school.
I’m not abandoning the Mac platform. There are tasks I would always prefer to do on my Macs. I just want to carry less around at school and if the iPad can be relied upon all day until I get home to my Macs, I’ll be happy. It’s close to fruition.

Obviously the solution is not for everyone and I would be interested to hear from others about their iPad experiences. Join the conversation.

Continue reading

Planning for a new year in ICT – Can growth and change happen?

"It's about the teaching, not the technology" link

I love this comic. It sums up so succinctly the general state of technology in schools today. Over my 25 year teaching career, I have seen millions poured into resourcing schools with banks of computers, glittering new computer labs, trolleys of laptops, digital cameras, color laser printers, iPods and iPads, after hours presentations by technology companies, cupboards full of CD-ROMS and subscriptions /licenses for every imaginable whizz bang software solution.

The result of all this money can sometimes be a printed sheet of paper with Word Art heading and a colourful clip art image at the bottom – the 1990s version of a handwritten story with a stencil guided title and drawing from the 1950s. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve also seen wonderfully innovative teachers use these tools to develop real 21st Century skills in schools. Creative videos, 3D models, interactive slideshows, collaborative online forums, stop motion animations – they’ve all been done and done brilliantly. But they’ve been one offs, part of a technology unit or the result of the ICT or classroom teacher’s enthusiasm for the latest tool from a PD day she attended. Too often when the dust settles, and the student’s excitement levels wane, we all slip back into the routine of typing stories and making yet another PowerPoint presentation with those annoying transitions and text effects. And yes, I’ve been guilty of it as much as anyone in the past so don’t stress.

These reflections have come about as I begin the 2012 year as a newly ordained member of the Leadership Team. At our first meeting we were asked to go away and plan for what we wanted to achieve in our specific area of expertise which we will then present to our team by the end of the term. I’ll be working with out ICT leader on our hopes and dreams for Technology in school. We share the same concerns with the pace of integration and adoption of ICT in education today . We share the same vision of how Technology can impact on Contemporary Teaching and Learning. So in preparation for the upcoming meetings, I give you my hopes and dreams for ICT in schools ( in no particular order of priority or level of reality!)

Collaborative, ‘always on’ staff communication
I dream of a time when;

  • All staff can equally share their ideas for others to read, reflect and comment on at any time, before, during, after and between meetings
  • All staff have access to a shared calendar so that we can keep up to date on what is happening in our school community and plan events without fear of timetable clashes without waiting for the next memo to be emailed/printed or school website update
  • All staff have an opportunity to share newly discovered research, websites, Web tools, information and so on through an easily accessible, always up to date, collaborative environment.

In short, I dream of school system wide adoption of Edmodo, GoogleDocs, Dropbox and Diigo.

Diigo V5: Collect and Highlight, Then Remember! from diigobuzz on Vimeo.

We have the hardware, let’s ALL use it
I dream of a time when;

  • Every classroom has students standing in front of the interactive whiteboards and teachers sitting in front of them
  • Students have control of the use and creation of content on the whiteboard, not the teachers ( and not just when they are presenting their projects)
  • We have to rip the iPads, iPods and laptops out of the hands of teachers and students when we collect them for updates/upgrades because they are always being used.
  • The AV Resource cupboard is ALWAYS empty and ALL teachers AND leadership are waiting to use what is no longer available.
  • The computer lab is NEVER vacant
  • All staff meetings involve using ICT tools ( not just for presentations to watch and listen to ) and this is seen as an opportunity for ICT PD, not just the content of the meeting.
  • Leadership and teachers are seen utilizing ICT tools in as many ways as the students are.
  • All teachers are seeking advice on how to skill up in ICT long after the initial introductory PD

In short, PD has to be regular, consistent, continuous, collaborative, hands on and purposeful (linked to teaching and learning practice)

Student-led ICT development and  improvement
I dream of a time when;

  • Students are free to explore web tools, PC/Mac software, iOS apps and ICT hardware, evaluate its usefulness and present their findings to students and staff
  • Students run workshops in using these tools for interested staff and students
  • Students become the source of information about and for our school and communities beyond through the use of blogs, podcasts and videos
  • Students have a voice in discussions about appropriate use policies at school and are held as equally responsible for how students use and abuse ICT as teachers and parents are

In short, establish an energising, active and supportive Student ICT Leadership team dedicated to the ongoing adoption and growth of ICT in our school

These are my hopes and dreams. Many are way beyond reality for 2012. But without hopes and dreams, nothing is accomplished. Hopefully, this year can start to make some real change around the world in Technology and Education Integration. If we don’t, the above cartoon, redrawn in 2061, will just be a teacher in an even shorter dress going Blah Blah in front of a holographic image being ignored by kids wearing Virtual Reality helmets!

What are your hopes and dreams? Are they getting closer to reality? If so, how did you make it happen? Join the conversation.


Are iPads cybersafe enough for school?

As Internet use has exploded over the last decade, the biggest issue for education has been how to protect our children from the evils of the Web. And for the most part it has been well meaning and justified. We’ve always battled with bullying issues at school but it’s been taken to a new level with the Facebook/SMS generation and their out of hours cyber bullying. Stranger Danger and neighborhood safe houses can’t protect Emily from her online ‘friend’ who later turns out to be Bill, a 50 year old pervert with a pigtail fetish. We used to send the kids to bed when their was an “interesting foreign film” on TV. Now they can see far worse on any website with more Xs in their title than XeroX! Protecting the innocent is a lot harder than when I started teaching pre-Internet.

To combat this, schools had to resort to proxies, filters and monitoring software. It stopped the kids from seeing the bad stuff, wasting their time on the stupid stuff and allowed ICT co-ordinators like me to check whether Johnny was wasting valuable school bandwidth searching for shooting games to play during wet day programs.

Then along came the iPad. Completely new system designed for personal consumer usage. Through the power of coolness, the magic of Apple and that damned usability factor that made it so necessary, this truly personal tool has made its way into the multiuser, sharing world of the school. Does it play by the rules of what protective schools want? Without spending a fortune on new systems, can we trust the iPad to be a cybersafe computer?

I’ll be upfront here. In my previous posts, I’ve spoken with some authority as an expert iPad user and contemporary tech teacher of the 21st century. In this area, I’m asking as many questions as answering them. I’m asking for some help on this because I haven’t found all the answers ( and neither has our IT guy). So I’m just going to be bringing up what I see as issues, what I think about them, suggesting some ideas and sharing some possible solutions I’ve found with the little research I’ve done so far.

Proxy servers and iOS.
My great dilemma at the moment. As a former school Internet administrator, I get why we need a proxy server. Sites need blocking and monitoring. We need to protect the young kids from surprise viewing of inappropriate sites. We also need to stop older students from trying to find those same sites. Some educators and IT guys blogging on the net want to get rid of proxies. To makes life difficult sometimes. I’m not one of them. But it makes life with iPads a pain. Safari and Mail talk to proxies through iOS settings fine. Blocked sites are still blocked. Monitoring still work. Pre iOS 5, no apps worked with Internet. With iOS, most proxy issues were resolved – with one very major omission for us anyway. Dropbox. Download yes. Upload a big no. Importing into other apps yes. Exporting from other apps to Dropbox no. You get the picture. It makes for a half solution to the whole file management/sharing issue I’ve discussed earlier.

Now if you can live with that and find other solutions to Dropbox, life with iPads continue happily and you can skip this. If like a lot of schools I know, you want Dropbox, you have two options. Difficult workarounds that I’m not familiar with and would really like some help in ( HINT:really need the help if you have solved the Dropbox/proxy issue – PC server, not Mac unfortunately). The other solution is to bypass the proxy. Bypassing the proxy though, then opens up the Internet and disables all that monitoring/ filtering software that has made us feel comfortable with letting the students roam freely online all these years.

No proxy – what now?

Use the iPad but not the Internet.

Definitely an option. There’s a lot more to the iPad than internet browsing. If you focus on iPads in Junior Grades, use the wide range of reading, word study, story writing, or AV Recording apps and leave the Internet alone. Alternatively there are dedicated browser apps with built in web filtering designed to block sites that are deemed inappropriate. K9 Browser(Free) is a good solution if you want students to use the internet safely. You can disable Safari in the Restrictions settings and use K9 instead. It is however, too limiting for older students. There is also the problem of disabling mail links since they only work with Safari.

Teach responsible Digital Citizenship
You can look are the lack of internet security ( related to monitoring/blocking sites ) as a great teaching opportunity. There are many educators in the blogosphere that believe instead of blocking and limiting access to the Internet we should be developing an understanding of what is safe, responsible use of the internet. Often, the children are left unsupervised at home online, viewing anything they find, writing and uploading anything they want to on Facebook and YouTube. We may be the only resource available to them who can guide them to think about what is appropriate behavior. We can be there for them when they find something unacceptable and turn that into a teaching moment. We can show them better alternatives available to replace their unacceptable choices. So an unmonitored, unfiltered iPad isnt an issue in this world of openness and digital citizenship building. I agree with this in principle but am unconvinced everyone can handle the possible problems that arise.

iPad monitoring software is available
There are software options available that can replace the functions of the proxy server while still allowing the iPad to fully function with all Internet reliant apps. I haven’t used them but list them here for you to investigate yourself. The biggest issue for me is it becomes an extra cost and another program to monitor. In the end it just may not be worth the effort and price.

So where does this leave us?
If you are required to maintain a proxy server, are happy with using Safari and Mail for Internet based file sharing, , accept that some apps that sync with the Internet won’t be 100% functional and are more interested in the other uses of the iPad besides websurfing, then there is no real issue.

If you don’t wan’t to compromise, take the risk of bypassing proxies or maybe stick with laptops. The iPad can’t do everything, wasn’t designed to do everything. What it does, it does brilliantly. As an Internet device in the consumer world it’s a winner (Flash limitations aside). As an Internet connected device in a school setting, it has its limitations. Decide what you want. Do you think the iPad is cybersafe enough? Have I over reacted? Are there solutions I’m unaware of? Does it really matter? Comments welcome.

Can you share iPads – the case for Yes.

PART TWO – the case FOR Sharing
In my last post, I sort of positioned myself in the “iPads can’t be shared” camp. When the boss first asked me about the possibility of getting iPads into our school, one of my first concerns was ‘ for sharing or individual use’. As teachers trialled them last year, they passed them among some eager students and came to the belief it was fine to share them with children who wanted to use them. Everyone has different opinions on the matter. Depends on how much you believe the kids could or should use the iPad. Reality in our situation though is that we are not going 1:1 so sharing is the only option. That being the case, we have to find solutions to the problems I discussed in the previous post.

This is the most obvious and best solution. For those who don’t know, Dropbox is a cloud based network with dedicated mobile and desktop apps that make saving files as simple as saving to a standard file folder. If you want more info, look it up.
With the Dropbox app installed on an iPad, children and teachers are able to save their work from many ( but far from all ) apps and if there is a compatible app on a computer, open it up there as well. Dropbox integration is available in most publishing apps (Pages, Numbers and Keynote being big exceptions) and a lot of other content creation and file sharing/reading apps. You can save attachments from your mail, the internet and other apps as well.

In some apps, like Notability, my favourite note taking app, even have automatic syncing to Dropbox. In my personal use, Dropbox has been a great way of accessing saved files. It is definitely a way of saving and opening files outside of the iPad file system.

However, there still are issues using Dropbox to support shared iPads. The hassle of having to login and log out of the Dropbox app every time a different user wants to access files could make it difficult for easy use. Some students and teachers may forget to do this and save their work in someone else’s folder. The fact that not all apps have Dropbox integration results in inconsistent access. The biggest problem at our school is that Dropbox doesn’t fully function over a proxy server setup that most schools in my system use. You can download your files but you can’t save to Dropbox. I’ve heard some schools have found workarounds to this but we haven’t solved it yet.

So is Dropbox a solution to sharing apps? Sort of – yes.

Another possibility for sharing is Googledocs. Many publishing apps have Googledocs integration so files can be accessed and saved in the same way as I described in the Dropbox explanation. Same problems arise as well. So again, Googledocs is a “sort of – yes” solution.

Network accessing apps
There are a number of apps that allow you to access the file structures of our computers or network servers. my favorite app, and the one I use successfully is called FileBrowser. It allows me to login to the school network and my computers at home and access any files that the iPad can open. With compatible apps, you can also copy files back into the file system. When it’s possible, it’s a good solution. However, like all of these options, not every app allows you to use Filebrowser to save back, although you can pretty much always open files already in FileBrowser in any app ( except Apple’s own apps like Pages.)

No. Least useful option. Good for syncing between personal iOS devices but that’s it. Apple has to do better here. At least integrate Dropbox with your apps. Feel free to disagree.

20120123-195115.jpgMost fiddly but most reliable sharing option. Every content creation app has an email option. As long as your school allows children to email, this will work. It’s just a lot of steps to get access to a file. Having said that, five years ago, it’s what we all did.

Not quite sharing but obviously a way to hand completed work to someone so you don’t have to keep the file on the iPad. Printing difficulty is another of the criticisms of the iPad which I’m not going to argue about now. It can be done. While there are ridiculously few AirPrint compatible printers currently in schools, my advice is get one Mac on the network ( if you’re getting iPads I strongly advise having a Mac a your syncing computer; Windows and iTunes have a testy relationship at best) and spend $20 bucks on installing Printopia ( click for info). I’ve used it at our school without any problems.

My final solution – don’t care.
Seriously, if you just want to share the iPads and not worry about who’s accessing what, then there is no problem to begin with. If you decide that the iPad will  not be the main content creation device at your school and will be used for specific purposes it best suits, then it’s not an issue. At our school, where the 5/6 students have access to about 100 laptops and desktop computers, the iPads can exist happily as a specific use device.

However, if you are seriously considering iPads as replacements for shared computers and not value added devices, you will need to consider the issues I have raised. Can you share iPads? Sort of. It’s not my ideal setup but it’s something I’m going to have to come to terms with in my current situation (and get that Dropbox issue resolved!).

Again, I would like to hear from others who have successfully shared iPads in their school environment or others who have solved their sharing problems with solutions I have mentioned or ones I haven’t.


Can we share iPads?

We are picking up my daughter’s iPad tomorrow. Her secondary school has decided to go 1:1 with iPads. Big, big investment. And decision. Lucky enough to have been sitting on the big wad of funding from the government, the path they have gone down is handing unofficial ownership of the iPad over to the child and the parent under a 2 year contract. We basically get it for free with just a levy to help pay for resourcing. Insurance is optional but if it’s lost or damaged, it’s our responsibility. In return, they hand over a $50 iTunes card and a list of apps that are compulsory downloads and the rest is up to the students. For two years it’s theirs to have.

Of course, most schools can’t afford that kind of sweet deal ( and to be honest, I don’t know the school’s future plans to continue the program beyond the initial purchasing. $3 million government grants don’t appear every two years!) but it is the ideal scenario for using iPads. After all, it was created as a personal consumer device, not a shared, networked computer for classrooms. So this is where my greatest concern with committing to any extensive, long term iPad program for my school. You know by now that I can see massive benefits in the use of iPads in education. But being a practical thinking man first and Apple zealot second, the burning question still remains:

Can you truly share an iPad?

As always, let’s start with the problems first. Since the personal computer went mainstream, there has always been one consistent user interface we could rely on – Save. You finished your work, hoping you didn’t lose it to a crash, and then saved it to some place on your computer or later in life to a networked folder. If someone else came along to use the computer, they could open up the program and start typing without knowing where your work was. With individual logins, even more privacy is ensured.

With the birth of the iPad, the whole saving paradigm shifted to a personalised system. Pick it up, open the app, and there’s your document ready and waiting to continue. Even if the app has a file system, you can’t hide it from others. Everyone’s work is there to be seen and altered. This spells potential disaster and privacy mayhem in the shared classroom environment. Sure, we can set up protocols and trust licenses to encourage responsible use but can we really trust every kid (not to mention unprepared, tech fearing teachers I know) to only touch their work? I can’t. I taught a child two years ago who managed to delete half my class network folders because our system wasn’t secure enough.

In a typical traditional networked computer set up, it doesn’t matter what computer a student uses. As long as the work is saved on the network, they can continue where they left off on any available computer. In its native, right out of the box setup, the iPad is useless in this way. Once you start it on the iPad, it stays on the iPad. (Remember I’m talking just using what comes with the iPad. I’ll cover possible sharing solutions shortly.)

A lot of the programs are iPad only and have no PC/Mac equivalent to continue working on the computer. No, what you will be left with too often without third party solutions are students fighting over access to iPad number 16 because that’s where their Toontastic animated story is. Also, if a child is half way through using an educational game, chances are someone else will take over the next day and wipe out their progress.

Similar concerns are evident in using the Internet as well. Without a lot of training in using the web on the iPad, still opened websites are free for anyone to see as soon as you open Safari. If you’re one of those Internet users like me who likes to save passwords so you don’t have to keep typing them in all the time, well then you’re in trouble on the iPad. If you setup an app to access cloud based networks, then it is open to anyone who picks the iPad up to use.

It sounds like I’ve argued myself into a corner on this issue. Sharing an iPad is not easy. Unlike my daughter, who has personal access to an iPad for the next 3 years, this is not going to be the case. There’s no way we are going 1:1 at our school. We’ve spend enough on ICT already. Sharing a limited number of iPads is our only option. So we need solutions.

I’ll be back tomorrow with my attempted answer to the problem. I know about Dropbox and use it. Googledocs is another possibility. Individual apps have their own ways of dealing with the issue. Of course there is the old fashioned way – email. None of them though are the perfect solution. In the meantime I would love to hear from anyone who has dealt with sharing iPads at their schools. I need help on this one.