School iPad Program – not as easy as I thought!

One term into the official launch of our iPad program, I thought it would be opportune to reflect on the successes, failures and everything in between. I have to admit, as a self professed, but not certified, iPad/Mac “expert” and ‘All Things Apple’ zealot, things haven’t gone as smoothly as I’d hoped. I would like to blame it all on our proxy server, but I suspect Apple has something to do with it too.


I set up our iPads before Apple’s Configurator software for managing iPads came out. Regardless, the initial set up was pretty smooth. I set up the base iPad configuration on a targeted iPad and backed it up to my dedicated Mac Mini iPad machine. (Last year, when we trialled a small set of iPads with teachers, I was stuck using an Acer PC Laptop. Windows + iTunes + iPad ≠ smooth management. I strongly argued for a lone Mac to maintain my sanity in dealing with our iPad setup this year.) I set up all the apps in designated purpose built folders, created the school network connection, connected to iCloud, configured the network app FileBrowser to connect to our school network so we could access files and thought everything was ready to go.

In the main it was fine. I set up each of the remaining 34 iPads from the backed up iPad configuration using a 7 port USB hub. I know you can sync more than that with the Mac, but the 7 port hub was bought last year to work with the Windows ‘solution’ ( I was lucky to get 3 connected at one time!) and I never got around to buying a bigger one for this year. In the end, the delay in waiting for the Restores to finish before I could start the next installation meant having 16 plugged in would have meant a lot of waiting anyway. The whole set up took about 2 days to finish and was pretty painless; I had one error on one iPad that I had to reinstall but other than that each iPad’s installation went flawlessly if not a little long in duration but that was because I installed too many apps (more on that later). About a week later, Apple’s Configurator was released. ( missed it by that much!)

The hassles came in the weeks to follow. Due to a lack of forward thinking on my own behalf, there were several configuration set ups I didn’t think to do on the base iPad “image”. It was only when the iPads started being used and teachers and students wanted to email documents that I realised that I had not set up an email account on the iPads. Orginally I hadn’t considered it because of the perceived hassle of everyone wanting to use their own email on a shared iPad. That wasn’t going to work. However, we still needed a system to email work in apps that didn’t support other solutions. In the end, I set up a dedicated account in our school internet-based mail system just for the iPad ( with my account as the forwarding address in case inappropriate mail was being received) so that anyone could SEND emails to their own accounts to be opened on other computers. I also soon realised that I had inadvertently set up the FileBrowser app’s network access and the Edmodo app under my name so that any user on any iPad was logged in as me! All these settings had to be individually changed to fix that obvious security hole. Fortunately, I solved this quickly through the use of my newly appointed Student ICT Leadership team who spent an hour with me changing all the settings. Before you worry about the handing over of responsibility to students, none of this required providing sensitive information to them. I actually recommend training up a small group of students to help with non-critical management that doesn’t need passwords or the like – they’re easier to train than most adults as long as they are trustworthy, which mine are under supervision. They have also helped me with setting up numbered wallpapers for better identification, folder creation and maintenance and other simple management tasks.


The next issue to arise is the updating and installing of new apps and system updates. Originally, I had set up the iPads to sync and update wirelessly so that I wouldn’t have to manage that constantly. Unfortunately, I found this too be less than ideal for a number of reasons.

I’m not sure if it was because of our proxy server being mean to iTunes, the wifi being overloaded and inconsistent or a combination of both but I could never get the iPads to consistently sync. Some iPads would end up with newly purchased apps automatically installed while others wouldn’t. Some iPads would backup and update apps while others would deliver error messages to iTunes. Often, someone would open up an iPad to use an app they had previously used to find it in a longstanding waiting to update state, rendering it unusable. Then the emails from the Office complaining about the bills for exceeding our monthly downloads started coming. So I went back to physically connecting the iPads to iTunes and manually syncing for app updates and loading of new apps. This has proved to be less problematic and allowed me to keep all the iPads consistent in setup.

Having said that, with the number of apps I have loaded on iTunes , the download limit for the school is still being exceeded and I’ve resorted to taking an iPad home and updating there with my unlimited iTunes download account and then syncing the updated apps back to the Mac Mini at school. This is clearly not a viable long term solution as I won’t be around at the school forever and my home account can be relied upon as a management system. My ICT leader just informed me this week that the download cap issue is being fixed so that is one problem solved for us but is still a consideration for others to deal with .

Just as frustratingly problematic has been upgrading the iOS system software. As soon as I had set up all the iPads at the start of the year and rolled them out for use , the 5.1 update was released. Sometimes in schools, upgrade cycles are delayed because the benefits of upgrades are outweighed by the hassles of interrupting the workflow of others when dealing with a large scale deployment of devices. From personal experience, though, upgrading iOS was a walk in the park so I decided to do the upgrade straight away. Apple’s own upgraded apps wouldn’t work without the update anyway.

Well, again, not sure if it was proxy problems or trying to manage too many devices from a single computer but it wasn’t smooth sailing. Waiting for each iPad to install, load and restart before the next update cycle for the next iPad could begin meant a lot of wait time. iPad management is not my full time job so this was a time issue that could effect teachers in other schools who also become the iPad person. Occasionally updates would fail and you would have to start again. Once or twice, I’ve discovered one or two iPads in a set not up to date. For some reason, again possibly the proxy server problem, I couldn’t update wirelessly so I’ve just taken them home to run the update. As I mentioned earlier, I haven’t used Apple Configurator software yet because I haven’t had the chance to interrupt the workflow of iPad use to reconfigure the whole set up. Reading some reviews, it seems to be a good solution so will see how that goes at end of year when I reimage and set up for 2013.

Once all the setup hassles have been tackled, I can at least report the general day to day usage has run smoothly. In our case, all the iPads are centrally stored in one locked cupboard in my office. I set up a borrowing system on GoogleDocs that the teachers use to book out sets of iPads for timetabled sessions. We have five sets of 7 iPads in transportable kits. Instead of spending money on expensive sync carts, we decided to buy dish washing racks from the local hardware store and attached a powerboard to each rack. The iPads fit snugly in the racks and can be easily carried from office to classrooms. There are teachers who don’t like the hassle of “collect and return” but for charging, syncing and security reasons, we want all the iPads in a central locations at the end of the day. Each iPad is also assigned to an individual teacher so they can take one overnight or on weekends to explore. They have to sign an ipad agreement before this happens to ensure due care is taken. There have been occasional care issues with the return of the sets. It would be nice to see teachers take the extra 5 minutes to ensure the cables aren’t tangled or crossed over and the iPads are put neatly back in the racks.

There was a suggestion that the iPads should be available to only the junior grades since the senior grades had access to so much technology and the juniors didn’t but I pushed for a trial period of P-6 access. I didn’t want the situation of 35 iPads sitting idle waiting for the juniors to use them while the older children were hanging out for a chance to get their hands on them for valid reasons. As it stands, everyone is using them fairly consistently and there are still days when some sets don’t see the light of day. More training sessions are needed to showcase their potential use, Once that happens more frequently ( report writing time has delayed that in recent weeks ) I’m sure we’ll see empty cupboards.

After reading this you could either be doubting my supposed credentials as an iPad blogger or hesitating to tackle large scale deployment of iPads. Hopefully you won’t do either of those. Despite the hassles, the general experience has been a good one. My biggest mistake has been trying to do it all on my own. As a lifelong Apple user, I’m used to working out issues by myself but on a big scale you need support. Have a look at Configurator in the Mac App Store. Call Apple. Talk to others in the same situation.

Plan. Have a clear plan for what you want on each iPad. Make sure you know what you want in terms of network settings, mail settings, apps, restrictions and so on before you set up the iPad image you want to use. Think about how you are going to manage the upkeep long term and have an organized plan for that. Do your research. Make sure you have all infrastructure in place that can manage your plan effectively. Know what your school’s Internet usage is. Know how your security setting like proxies are and how they may affect your plan. ( ICT leader has just met with new Education Office expert who informs us that new system coming will solve the proxy problems we have – double Yay!!) Know your budget and for those outside USA, know that the Volume Purchasing Program is on its way and we will need to be stricter on our app purchasing and deployment.

I would love to hear from others their success stories and frustrations. This time two years ago the iPad was just a personal media device intended for individual use. In a very short time it has become a must have educational tool without a perfect system to make it happen. It’s no that simple yet.

30 thoughts on “School iPad Program – not as easy as I thought!

  1. You need transparent proxying for your iPads to work seamlessly over wifi – some Apple apps will work okay, but for 99 times out of 100, apps will not work correctly.

    • Yeah, that is what our new education systemwide solution is going to provide apparently in the near future. Thanks for the needs up!

  2. I just had my first experience with Configurator last night setting up 10 iPads (the system will eventually manage many more). Many of your challenges are solved in Configurator, others are created.

    iOS updates are a BREEZE with Configurator. Couldn’t be easier.

    We still faced the challenge of having to use an iTunes account with a credit card to authenticate the apps, whereas the Volume Purchase Plan iTunes account cannot be used; nor could a “free” iTunes account. This means that we still have to figure out what happens if that account owner “moves on” as they won’t leave their personal data behind. We’re also not sure how that is going to work with upgrades, but iOS 6 will no longer require a password for an upgrade–about time.

    It also sounds like you were running 1 purchased app for all 34 iPads. That’s how free apps work with Configurator (not sure how it works with apps that are free for a while and then become paid apps), but paid apps require a legal purchase for each iPad. The good news is that Configurator opens those spreadsheets Apple sends with the VPP, making that part of app management a breeze.

    • Thanks for feedback. Our school has a credit card account so that isn’t an issue but I’d be annoyed if apps I managed to get for free in sale periods weren’t recognized as free apps. If our download cap disappears I’ll be happy with the no more password feature in iOS ( if I can get the updates done 😏)I understand the VPP requirements when it finally comes to Australia. This will impact on some app usage. I think Apple needs to make Configurator’s use clearer to the education community since they have made such a push into education.

  3. Im experiencing all the same headaches. I just spent THREE DAYS reimaging/updating 30 iPads for the this semester. I am so glad my school is going 1:1 with Airs and not iPads there is not enough being said about the many problems with iPads in the classroom. Apple has some serious work to do.

    • Apple made a play for education with the whole digital textbook push on iPads. They need to make some change to how iOS works for sharing re file systems because they can’t really expect schools to have personal iPads for everyone. Would love to see them release an official guide to management of large numbers of iPads.

  4. Thanks for the honest sharing. We are just starting the process. I wil be following you and this blog and may need advice.

    • No probs Anne. Hope I can help. I’m a trial and error teach myself sort of guy who can work out most of the problems but sometimes need some advice myself. It’s why I’m honest when I don’t have the answer v

  5. Hi, it is true that wifi and technical issues usually make the iPad experience less attractive, but as soon as those are solved I can assure you it’s great. Children get engaged immediately cause they associate technology with having fun and therefore they actually enjoy learning with ipads. Another issue to take into consideration is choosing the right app because sometimes it’s expensive or even boring for the kids. I’ve been using Nearpod… anyone tried it? It has worked fine and it is free. You can launch presentations with interactive activities and assess the students too. Here’s a nice video of it: I hope my comment helps you all!

  6. Great blog!
    I’ve just stumbled onto your blog via Diigo and found some great ideas. This year the teachers were each given an iPad for themselves to use in the classroom and I have had some success connecting it to the IWB and also using Evernote as an assessment tool. However I am finding it difficult not having multiple iPads (either 1:1 or enough for a small group) so that we can get the most out of it. Do you or anyone have any suggestions on how to best use a single iPad in the classroom? I want to use it more but it is hard to share around 1 iPad with a whole class…

    • Hi Evan
      One iPad is not ideal for whole grade work. Maybe teachers in a team could rotate a set of apps throughout the week by sharing teacher iPads. What are teachers using them for? Are they testing a range of apps or just using them as assessment recording tools?

      In a one iPad classroom, I would take advantage of the audiovisual capabilities and allow children to record class learning for later feedback. Finding good subject based apps that can be explored through iWB is a possible use as well. This is made easier if you have wireless connection to iWB through AppleTV or newly released airserver app on Mac or pc that connects iPad screen to computer then iWB. This way you can pass the iPad around class and students can share the input without getting up to use a tethered iPad.

      Hopefully your teacherss are testing out apps and finding a range of uses for the iPad do that more purchases can be justified. One iPad in a classroom is limited.

      • Thanks so much for your reply. I appreciate your thoughts on this dilemma. At the moment they are just being used for assessment but they don’t know how to do this effectively so I am going to train them on using Evernote. I am going to keep pushing to get more iPads…
        BTW thanks for putting me onto the literacy shed. Fantastic resource!
        Have you seen Class Dojo?

  7. What if an iPad is broken, lost or stolen? Are you doing the repairs yourself? Do you use AppleCare or have a protection plan? What do you think about iCellutions’ protection plan?

    • To be honest, Chris, it’s not something we’ve fully thought through. We did purchase AppleCare but that doesn’t cover self inflicted damage. Out tech guy had one of our test iPads stolen from his house and had problems with his insurance because of how we supplied him with a serial number and a shared purchase form. ( sounds confusing but it was last year and I can’t remember the exact circumstance – our ICT leader dealt with it ). I’ve read in forums that some Apple stores have replaced cracked iPads for free ( my own iPad had a broken camera and they replaced for free ) but our school iPads were purchased at local electronics store so not sure what they will do. I’m actually going to email them today and inquire. Just at end of term one of our iPads got a small crack in the very corner, not actual screen area. It’s another problem to consider though.

      • We’ve had several cracked screens. Apple has charged us $280 to replace the whole device. They don’t repair screens. If you find a better solution I’d love to hear it!

  8. I am supervising 40 iPads and started shortly after Apple Configurator came out. I am having many problems with VPP codes for purchased apps not being accepted by AC. It really needs a lot of work by Apple and I am hoping that the start of the new school year will lead to enough complaints that they will actually fix the problems. So far getting them to even answer a problem report is a PROBLEM. They also need to address the issue of putting ebooks on these machines. As far as I have been able to discover, there is no way to add ebooks (even free ones) to a supervised device. Epic Fail for iPads to be used in classrooms! I am thinking about going back to using iTunes for management but I have invested so much time into using Apple Configurator and it seems like it has too much potention to just give up on it.

    • I’m having the same issues. In fact, we just stopped buying paid apps and are going free apps only. There are so many problems with supervising the devices with paid app. I wonder if Apple is concerned that there are people out there like me that because of their deeply flawed Configurator are just not paying apps. There are about 6 paid apps times 30 devices that they’re missing out on because their system is so poor. Still waiting for Apple to get classroom management of iPads right.

  9. Hi

    I stumbled across your blog this evening whilst trying to find some answers to problems I’m having with Apple Configurator. We have just purchased 40 iPads and setting them up at the moment. We’re having a few teething issues, but like you, believe you need to try and test issues first of all. I think that the potential of using iPads in the class is huge, but there are a few hurdles to jump first. I look forward to following this blog closely in the future…thanks!

    • Hi Lindsay. What have your teething issues been? I’m planning to use Configurator when I reimage the iPads we have for next year. Any problems? I’m hoping the VPP codes relieves my responsibilities in adding apps and iOS 6 apparently gets rid of passwords for updates.

  10. Hi Mark

    The teething problems lie mainly with me rather than the technology (as well as an over enthusiastic approach!) and the whole process has been rather time consuming. I’m preparing the Pads on a mac mini, 2 at a time, and decided to start by pushing out some useful free apps so that our students could explore the technology. The problems began once I enrolled on the VPP and decided to update the supervised pads with paid apps. As far as I was aware, the update process would require the supervised pads to be connected to configurator and paid apps distributed via VPP codes…….apple configurator had other ideas however. Initially, I would receive error messages stating that ‘app not authorized’ or ‘cannot install app’ despite utilising the codes. Eventually configurator failed to recognise the connected pads altogether. Finally we had some success in that we managed to deploy pages to 16 pads without any issues. The rest of the devices have had to be ‘unsupervised’ and reprepared in order to sort the problem. I’m sure there’s a quicker way to do this, however, I’m just glad that the problem is (almost) solved. I’m looking forward to taking delivery of our new cart next week to charge and configure multiple devices. It will be a lot quicker than the two cables currently in use!

    • Thanks for comment Lindsay. What do you mean by unsupervised? And reprepared – did you completely wipe them and start again without any apps on them?

  11. At my school we’ere just beginning the process. We’ve set up 24 iPads manually, but another 15 have just arrived. Looking at setting up Apple Configurator as manual maintenance will be impossibly time consuming. I’m sure when we do go to Configurator we’ll also have to “completely wipe them and start again without any apps on them”.

    We do have a wireless network but found doing simple things like updating to iOS6 quite difficult on the network. Some iPads worked well, other had to be started using an iPhone as a hot spot and then completed on our wireless system, while others just had to be taken home and updated on the home wireless. In general installing apps manually using the wireless system has worked.

  12. OMG Thank goodness I found your blog. Today 40 ipads arrived and I have to set them up and I have never used and ipad. I also have a PC not a mac.
    Don’t have configurator but do have a new itunes account.
    Brought a great trolley sync thingy – but guess what! the company we bought the ipads from decided to change our ipad 3’s to ipad 4s’ at no cost to us, but the tower is for ipad 3’s OHHHH!!
    Anyway any ideas and suggestions for a smooth transition into ipads would be greatfully read.
    I love your blog and can’t wait to spend more time reading it.

    Mrs G

  13. Great blog. We are planning an iPad deployment in our institute for around 100+ devices. Based on the blog, it looks like these are the challenges i should brace for:

    1. Time intensive setup using Apple Configurator
    2. VPP
    3. Managing updates/configuration changes after distributing the devices. I need to know what i want before hand clearly.

    Anything else I should be ready for?


    • In the middle of my back to school Ipad setup now. Am drafting a post as I go along with my experience with setting up NEW iPads ( previous experience was with Ipads already set up ). Will be ready to publish in a couple of days.

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