There is no end to the uses of the iPad in education. I’ve discussed that ad nauseum on this blog. As a learning tool, it has the potential to make a great positive change to learning. The only problem is Apple designed it for individual use. Schools are designed for ( or budgeted for) shared use. Conventional wisdom is for iPad use to occur in a 1:1 or BYOD Environment. In the best case scenario, I wholeheartedly agree. Unfortunately, financial realities will often dictate that sharing is the only viable option if we want our students to enjoy the benefits of the iPad. It can be done effectively – I’ve shared my thoughts early in the year about the pros and cons of shared iPads – but doesn’t happen without some time consuming workarounds. What follows is my take on the pains (and remedies) of sharing iPads in a rather large Primary (elementary) school.
If you have your own iPad, privacy, safety and security boils down to deciding to use a passcode to lock your iPad screen and, if required, being connected to your school’s network filtering system. In a shared iPad environment there is a truckload more of procedures, policies and effort involved.
In our situation, the iPads are mainly for the students but I have assigned each of the iPads to a teacher for overnight borrowing. This allows them the opportunity to explore the preinstalled apps and experiment with how they can use the iPad in their classes. With the iPads being shared with students from Prep to Grade 6,though, we need to be careful with what teachers leave accessible on the tablet. Because of this, we had to adopt a borrowing agreement for teachers to sign. It covered accountability for damage, stipulations that all work done on the iPad be removed, limits on sites visited on the browsers, and most importantly, returning it the next day so the students can access them. The restrictions have limited the borrowing by teachers during the year, especially the need to clear them of all work. Getting teachers onto options like Dropbox, which is accessible through most of the apps we use would alleviate the pain, especially now that it is finally working at school, but that’s another PD program in itself.
Our school has had issues with using a proxy server with iPads since we’ve had them. With multiple users trying to log on to the internet using their own secure username and password, we had issues with Safari staying connected to accounts and apps randomly trying to connect to the internet via repeating login screens. We have recently switched over to ZSCALER which not only has solved the proxy conflict with most apps, most notably Dropbox and Evernote, but has also made accessing the internet with multiple users more secure. Each time a user has log on since ZSCALER, there has been no issue with Safari staying connected to a particular user’s account.
However, a new issue has arisen, albeit with a solution already worked out. ZSCALER works with an initial log on via a designated username and password per computer. This works well on computers that allow for individual user accounts. The problem with the iPad is that there is a single user set up , not logins. This means that whoever logs in to ZSCALER on the iPad first stays connected to their ZSCALER permissions. Even though each additional user can log onto their personal internet account, their access is dictated by the permissions of the first user. This is fraught with danger if the first user is a teacher with full access and then a Prep student gets it and no sites are blocked!!
The intial workaround is to go into Safari settings and clear the History and Cookies. This resets ZSCALER and allows for a new login. The problem with this solution is that we don’t want the students messing around with settings. What we’ve decided to do is create a single student user account that contains all the permissions appropriate for students and login into all the iPads with that as a one off. Then they can be left alone. Teachers will have to live with the restrictions.
One successful remedy we have working consistently well is accessing the school network. Using the iPad app FileBrowser, which I outline in this post, everyone can log on to the network and access their files, which can be opened on the iPad if a compatible app exists. With most apps accessing FileBrowser through the Open in… function, users can also save their work back to the school network. The added bonus of FileBrowser is that it can access the iPad camera roll so any image or movie saved by apps there can be copied to the network through the app. The only issue is making sure everyone logs out of the network when they finish using Filebrowser ( this involves a simple click on an electric plug icon). This is one success story with sharing iPads without any lasting issues.
The most obvious problem with sharing iPads, and yes I know it has been discussed at length on countless iPad flavoured blogs, is the lack of file system and autosave/store within app functionality of the iPad. It’s great for its original purpose of easy access for the intended individual use scenario. For shared environments, it creates a mountain of files stored by potentially hundreds of users. Will other users delete/ overwrite or edit the file? Will we run out of storage space because of the number of photos, movies, animations, comic strips, documents, drawings, ebooks etc floating around all those apps waiting to be completed?
Again, all of this can be dealt with through a number of file sharing or transferring methods. I’ve already mentioned the successful use of FileBrowser. Dropbox or Google Drive access is another good option, emailing files is often used by those less adept at using newer methods. The biggest issue is consistent adoption of these methods. Often students and teachers save their work to one of the above options but still leave the original copy on the iPad. This leads to a build up of files that no one is certain are safe to be deleted. It will take time for everyone at school to get into the routine of transfer then delete, but it is a workable solution.
Funnily enough, for many at school, the biggest issue of sharing has nothing to do with the limitations of the technical side of the iPad. It’s simply the access to them. At present, they are stored centrally in one place in a set of carry trays. For some, and it is a reasonable complaint, it is difficult to carry them across the expanses of our rather large property to their class rooms, especially the juniors who can’t rely on the little ones to help carry them. On top of that, some still find it a technical chore to use the online borrowing system I have devised. And of course, 35 iPads for 760 students ‘aint’ exactly 1:1!
Having brought up all these issues, though, doesn’t downplay the successful use of iPads that have taken place this year. Many videos, ebooks, slideshows, digital stories, audio recordings and comics would not have been made without their introduction. Junior grades without the widespread access to other technology enjoyed by the senior grades have been given greater opportunities with ICT as a result of the iPads. Engagement in learning has undoubtedly been enhanced. With plans for more, access will become less problematic. With our proxy server issues over, we can set up cloud options for transferring files and continue to improve in our use of FileBrowser and deleting files when finished with them. We will always be a shared iPad environment. We will make it work.
What stories do you have of your shared iPad experiences. Please leave a comment to let us know. Join the conversation.