26 March 2016

Getting Started with iPads for Teaching

iOS Devices for Learning

I've been working with iPads in schools since they first burst onto the pedagogical scene all the way back in 2010. Needless to say a lot has changed since then, and while where I work has scaled up from 50 to more like 500 now, and with it a fancy wireless management system, I'm conscious that many, if not most schools our there are still working out the basics, if that's the case, then this post is for you... 

There are several critical steps to get right, but one thing to be considered right at the start is how you plan to to store the iPads… The solution that we have opted for is to purchase an iPad cart for each class set, most iPad carts contain anywhere between 24 and 48 iPads. The reason why this is important is that you will need a way to be able to simultaneously keep the iPads safe, secure, synchronised with a master computer, and synchronise charging of all the devices.

The only problem is that the price of these carts can tend towards the absolutely ridiculous (try US$4000 for one Bedford cart) we are currently getting some iPad cards manufactured in Singapore for 500 Singapore dollars per cart which aren't as fancy as the ones I mentioned, but do the job.

So here's the critical elements in a nutshell: 
  • iPad storage 
  • App purchasing and updating on a 'mother computer'
  • creation of a master iPad 
  • Careful consideration of settings (and restrictions) on the Master iPad
  • cloning (imaging) of the master iPad onto each of the other iPads (using iTunes and the 'mother' computer)
  • a system for keeping the iPads charged that does not make the mistake of "cooking" them.

The creation of a Master iPad is critical to get right, as once you have cloned it onto 20—200 other iPads (this could easily take at least half an hour to one hour per iPad) you don't want to have to do that again too soon. Once a year would be an ideal goal although it is common to have to reclone all the iPads two or three times a year (to update Apps, and add Apps that are 'essential')… 

Now I can obviously help you with establishing a decent master iPad, to that end, here is a link to a photo gallery of screenshots that show clearly how a master iPad is organised.

Master iPad Considerations 

Some important rules of thumb to consider when creating the master iPad are:
  • Consider very carefully what the folders are that you will use to organise the Apps 
  • Give folders short, simple, but meaningful names, 
  • Consider very carefully how many content apps you choose to include (if any) as without any doubt the most powerful use of the iPad is not content/consumption apps but creation Apps—Apps that require students to work from a blank screen and create their own content that demonstrates their learning/understanding (learning through making/doing) rather than Apps that require students to pop balloons and pick objects in games that are nothing more than passive, glorified multiple-choice quizzes (with annoying music).

Content vs Creation

In the web album that I linked above, arguably the most essential folders are the folders called: create, explain, story, write, draw & paint, and mind map (in order of essentiality).

I would seriously consider completely avoiding content Apps completely for the first year and then introduce them in the second (or third) year when you know that students and teachers have made effective use of the creation apps. 

Once you place content apps on the iPad, they are like a drug, very hard to stop teachers and students from being distracted by them, and relying on them as an "easy option" but that provide learning that is far from transformative and is often nothing more than redundant... You have been warned! Don't get me wrong, they have their place (otherwise I would not include any on our Master iPad image) but that it is exactly where they need to be put, 'in their place'—they need to support not dominate iPad use.

There is more that you will need to know later on, especially relating to the actual mechanics of how to do the cloning using iTunes etc, (not to mention how to actual use and teach with them) but I think this should be enough to get you started!

iOS Device practice and protocols

iPads, iPod touches, iPhones, collectively known as iDevices or iOS devices. We are all going to be using these more and more, so it makes sense to have a good idea about what you should and should not do with them...

Just because you can doesn't mean you have to... 

Not everything that students create on the iOS devices needs to be saved/exported/captured, often it is enough for it to be what it is and maybe shared with a peer, much liked working on a mini whiteboard. We have awesome learning moments/conversations/experiences with students that are rarely captured, this doesn’t make them less important, it just is what it is. That said ...

If you use the Reflection App on your Mac you can easily share student outcomes directly from any iOS device to a projector via a connected computer. That is often all you need to do.

The Reflection App—Wireless Awesomeness

As far as possible allocate devices to students so you can find lost work or know who to blame if there are problems.

While they can be used for reward/free play - (much like a pencil or paper) this is not their primary purpose, as far as possible you should have a specific app(s) and activity in mind.

Just like the Mac, use SPOTLIGHT to locate apps quickly and easily.

Use the folders when you want students to explore a range of apps within a specific focus, eg spelling, maths drills, etc.

A longer term activity can be saved, to be continued at a later time, but only do this if you know the student will be able to use the exact same device later.

Sharing iPad Content

IF you need to capture/export media from an iOS device here are some guidelines:

Most apps will export directly to the photo app, including video outcomes. Media which is smaller in size, ie less than 1 MB like text and images can be easily emailed to any email address (usually the student or teacher) from the device. Once an email address has been used once, the device will 'remember' the email address for ease of use in the future. It will also 'remember' mistakes, so for this reason it is a good idea to supervise students the first time they email from the device.

For larger Media, ie, larger than 1 MB, like video outcomes, it is generally easier to use an iOS Device cable to transfer the media to a computer. Although there are a range of wireless ways to do this, Google Photos, DropBox, SendAnywhere, iCloud Photo sharing, it's hard to beat the reliability and simplicity of a cable.

Some (not many) apps use a slightly more convoluted method to export media, which is why it always important that you trial an app before using it with an entire class...

If you use the Reflection App on your Mac you can also capture this content (screen capture) using the reflection app on the mac, which will save it as a video file. This can also be another useful way to get content off an iOS device.

Once the media has been exported please encourage students to erase the contents from the iPad, especially deleting recorded images and video from the photo app.

Confused about sizes? See this post.

Some top tips:

Tapping and double tapping are common techniques on an iOS device, but also remember the tap and hold technique, which usually behaves in a very similar way to the right click on a mouse.

Double clicking the home button (or swiping 4 fingers up) will bring up the multitasking menu allowing you to easily switch between apps that are running. For example between Safari and a Pages document.

4 fingers swipes to the left and right allows you to quickly switch between apps.

From the multitasking menu you can quit apps that are running. IMPORTANT: You do NOT need to close apps that are running in the background, this is a common myth. But this is a useful way to quit apps that may have hung/frozen. But is probably easier to just shut the device down and start it up again.

You do not need to shutdown an iOS device very often, just pressing the power button (top right corner) to send it to sleep is enough.

Be vigilant and discourage students from changing the settings, a common one is to invert the screen making it pretty much useless for anyone else to use. This is another good reason for assigning specific iOS devices to specific students.

Always always always remind students to LOG OUT of any app they have logged in to, eg Popplet, Google Apps, etc. otherwise the next student who uses the iPad will be able to access their account directly. Remember these devices were not designed with multiple users in mind - we are repurposing them for an educational context.

You to do not need to leave an iOS device charging, this will only shorten battery life, it is better to only plug them in for one overnight charge when they are below 50 % in battery life. Avoid leaving them charging (cooking) over weekends and holidays.

Screen shots are a great way to quickly capture a moment. Just hold the power and home buttons at the same time. The photo will be added to the camera roll.

iOS device Email accounts

I have created email accounts for each grade, this is if you or a specialist would rather not use your own email account to receive media from students. These are already saved onto every iOS device so just typing in for example 'g1' in the to field of an email will automatically fill in the grade 1 account email address. Then you or a TA/helper can login to that account at a computer to access and download the media. Specialists find these accounts particularly useful.

Remote Device Management

If you have reliable wifi support, then this is something you really need to consider. Basically it's a way to control all the iPads wirelessly, once you've set up (enrolled) each iPad into the system you are using, there a few competing solution out there, such as Casper and Filewave—we went with the latter, but if you have a lot of iPads it gets expensive, like easily $7 USD per device expensive... but the gains in terms of hours of manually managing every single device may make it worth it. The good news, if you're only managing a small number of iPads (ie less than 100) is there a free solutions out there, like Cisco's Meraki, a colleague of mine uses this system in her school in Australia, and has this to say:

"...so far Meraki seems really user friendly. You can easily add and remove apps from a series of iPads with the click of a mouse."

There is one big con to this management method, but so many pros that it makes up for it.


  • Cost: unless you have less that 100 iPads, it is expensive.
  • No folders: all apps will be pushed over the air, and arrive on the iPads strewn all over the place. We've always found being able to organise apps on the iPads in carefully named folders to be really useful (see screen shots above, from before we switched to a device management system). That said it is possible to arrange apps in folders on individual devices, but this has to be done device by device, not centrally. Kids will need to learn to use Spotlight to search for apps by name, generally all they will need is the first letter... 
  • Payment: involves finding ways to circumnavigate Apple's payment systems, cloning devices is technically only legit for 5 devices, once you go over that you are in dodgy territory, paying for an app once and pushing it to 50 iPads is not really appropriate practice! Another more legitimate way around this is to purchase a load to iTunes gift certificates, and use those to purchase the apps on different devices... 


  • Time savings: all those hours spent waiting to clone every single device (restoring from a master backup) are but a memory. 
  • Control: this will vary dependent on the system you choose, but you will be able to pretty much control every enrolled device from one computer.
  • App sharing: Now you can easily move apps from one set of devices to another, especially useful for expensive apps... 
  • Flexibility: someone desperately needs an app? With the manual system, someone would have had to install the app on every single iPad, with remote management, it's a few clicks of a mouse.
  • Payment: now you can use Apple's VPP (assuming your country's App store supports it) to purchase apps in bulk and at reduced prices for education, then push those to any device you want. 

Welcome to the wonderful world of iPads in the classroom, they are a hassle to setup and manage, but they are so powerful for learning, it is well worth it!

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