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.


2 thoughts on “Can we share iPads?

  1. We shared iPads and while it is clunky, it can be done. We used Printopia to print final drafts as pdfs to DropBox, used Google docs, (somewhat limited) and also shared via a url on browser on the ‘master’ computer. I didn’t run into the issue of kids messing with other’s kids stuff but I can see that happening. We had 2 kids assigned to one iPad. The way I worked it was one day one of the pair did assignments based on working on the iPad, while the other student in the pair did assignments that they could use their iPods or didn’t need as much internet access…ie. iPad group, blogged response to teacher prompt, worked on draft of writing, fiddled with whatever multimedia project we were doing, and researched for science project. non-iPad group-planning sheet on writing, worked with other partner to revise edit, first draft of writing (printed out), did review of iPod apps (paper pencil to start–then entered on class blog on teacher computer), practiced on some math apps, did some math worksheet type stuff…anyway you get the idea. (I know that we are still ‘printing’ to edit, but it was the only way I could see to make a viable sharing process that was organized and allowed the kids to know what to expect from day to day.)

  2. Thanks, Dana. I can see that working as a solution – assigning students to specific iPads. Even if there was 3-4 children per iPad, at least you would have some control over whose work was on there, maybe have some sort of agreement between the small group about leaving each others work alone. Could even have a shared Dropbox folder between the 4 of them so you wouldn’t have to login/logout all the time. Good to hear Printopia being used. It’s a good printing solution. In our situation, with access to so many other computers, I can see this working. Thanks for the contribution. Hope I can help you out with iPad issues one day.

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