#deploy2016

For years I have really wanted to do a 1:1 iPad deployment in my school. Ever since we started getting sets of iPads in our school, they always tended towards one-per-child, with teachers combining smaller sets so that every pupil in a class could have one. When the original iPad mini came out in 2012, I put a proposal to my headteacher for us to roll out iPads across the whole school, which (thankfully, in hind-sight) wasn’t accepted. This was back in the days when syncing to iTunes was still a thing and we still had a creaky and patched together wifi network. It might have worked at scale in a 3-4 form Primary school, but I do doubt it.

Since then, we’ve been slowly increasing the number of iPads in the school and gradually embedding them into everyday practice, bringing us to the point where ‘going 1:1’ just seemed like the obvious next step. We just needed more devices so that the iPad could be a tool for learning whenever it was needed, rather than having to negotiate an hour slot once a day. After all, you don’t have to book out a class set of pencils – everyone gets one, whenever you need it!

With this in mind, our proposal for going 1:1 in KS2 was agreed, with the rollout at the beginning of this term. Here’s the process we went through…

Picking the device

We’ve been using iPad minis with children in our school for 3 years, and it’s been working well. The devices are small and light enough for children to easily carry and use, as well as not taking up loads of space on a desk when not required, and they’re also that little bit cheaper than a ‘normal’ sized iPad. The question was then about storage size and model. For the money we had to spend on a lease, we could get 32GB iPad mini 2s over 3 years, 16GB iPad mini 4s over 3 years or 64GB iPad mini 4s over 4 years. Having that slower processor of the mini 2 at this point felt it would feel pretty tired and old after 3 years, as probably would the mini 4 after 4 years. Admittedly, 16GB is pretty scrimpy for doing a 1:1, but with iCloud storage and uploading finished projects to Showbie, I feel like we can make it work. Hopefully! It’s not entirely ideal, but the best of the options.

Broadband Upgrade

We get our broadband at school through London Grid for Learning, which has a pan-London network with pipes from Virgin Media. In return for us signing up for so many more years, they’ve doubled our broadband speed to 200 Mb. The upgrade wasn’t entirely pain free as the increased bandwidth required an enormous new router, which barely/didn’t fit into our existing cabinets. Putting in a new cabinet involved re-patching all the cables, with occasional one popping out because the little clip had snapped off, resulting in “aargh, why doesn’t our network work!” panics.

Having a bigger pipe coming into the school can only help, particularly we significantly increasing the number of devices in the school.

Caching Server

OSX Server has a featured called Caching Server, which basically keeps a copy of any and every app that is downloaded on the network for iOS and OSX and then serves it up the any device that then subsequently wants it. This dramatically speeds up app download speeds and reduces pressure on your broadband connection. Which is nice. It even works in weird networks like ours, where our school is buried deep within LGfL’s network.

However, we only had caching server on one machine, meaning one of our sites was cache-less and the other site had to share one cache with lots of devices. So we got Toucan Computing to install a couple of other Mac servers for good measure.

802.11ac WiFi

The iPad mini 4 comes with faster radios, supporting 802.11ac wifi. Our existing wifi installation was the 802.11N Unifi from Ubiquiti, which allows you to add as many access points as you want without additional licence fees for the controller, which can run on a Mac/PC/Linux box somewhere. They mount nicely on ceiling tiles or walls and can be powered via PoE (Power over Ethernet). They now have an ‘ac’ model, so we swapped in newer access points for the classrooms having 1:1 iPads. So far they seem to be managing perfectly fine with 30+ devices per access point, with faster download speeds as well.

Storage Cabinets

Because we’re not sending the devices home, we needed an easy and secure way to store and charge iPads. Three years ago, lots of people sold ridiculously expensive cabinets that could USB sync your iPads with iTunes. However, I wonderfully stumbled across these cabinets from Zioxi (formerly ISIS, who have since changed their name as the innocent river flowing through Oxford has inherited some other connotations). The trolleys are basically some shelves for each iPad with some power strips to plug in the USB power adaptors.

I’ve found that teachers are notoriously bad at remembering to lock up cabinets, so we opted for ones with digital code locks, making the locking process a lot easier. It seems to be helping!

Apple School Manager

The thought of manually creating 450 Apple IDs made me feel ill at the thought, so thankfully Apple have now released Apple School Manager where you can, amongst other things, create Apple IDs that are managed by the school. These accounts can be reset by the school, as well as inspected for their contents at any time. They also strip out anything to do with commerce on the account, which means no buying apps or in-app purchases. This might make you wonder what the use of them is, especially as apps can now be assigned to devices by the MDM. It’s basically for iCloud backup, plus the ability to accept distributed e-books and enroll on iTunes U courses (with a caveat – read carefully!).

Apple School Manager is an attempt to unify all of the different systems such as Volume Purchase and Device Enrollment. It does work, but still feels a bit like a work in progress.

The dream of Apple School Manager is that it will sync seamlessly with your student information system (SIS), automatically populating your MDM and iTunes U with classes, teachers, courses and the correct students. Our SIS isn’t supported, so we instead have to download 6 CSV templates, complete them with the relevant information and upload it back to Apple via an SFTP address. It was rather fiddly (not helped by the fact that LGFL blocked SFTP traffic to begin with) to set up, and requires some careful reading of their support information, but I got it working in the end. You are supposed to be able to set the passcode requirements (normal alphanumeric, 6-digit or 4-digit) from the CSV file, but that didn’t work for me so I had to manually reset all the account passwords after importing.

Once the Managed Apple IDs are created, you then print them out (either full page or many to a page) and give them to children to enter when setting up their ipads. They have a temporary password that the user then as to change during the setup process. One annoyance was that there was no way to filter or sort by class, only by year group, meaning I had to manually sort a big pile of login sheets into each of the four classes in year group. Hey ho.

Casper Suite

We moved from Meraki to Casper Suite as our MDM last year, and I do not think we could have done a 1:1 programme without it! Amongst its many benefits, it allows us to have our own internal ‘App Store’, through their Self Service app. Students can then browse and download the apps they they need from a pre-selected list without the need for an Apple ID or using the App Store.

Roll Out

With all of this planning and prep, and all the features that Apple released in iOS 9.3, we were able to roll out 15 classes of iPads in just 4 days, with children themselves tapping through the set up process and entering their Managed Apple IDs etc. It really was remarkably straightforward!

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Choosing the device

We’re considering going 1:1 iPad with our KS2 children from September, but the question is about which particular model to go for.  We’ve been using iPad mini with children for the last three years now, and it hit the sweet spot in terms of its size, price and weight. To go 1:1, we’ll be looking at an operational lease, but there is a bit of a tough choice to make about the exact model for the budget we have. Here’s a table to explain the problem…

iPad Model Storage Lease length Positives Negatives
iPad mini 2 32GB  3 years  + Good amount of storage  – Older hardware so will feel old at end of lease
iPad mini 4 16GB  3 years  + Fast hardware  – Storage space will fill up quickly
iPad mini 4 64GB  4 years  + Fast hardware
+ Great amount of storage
– Can hardware last four years?

Perhaps, when it’s presented like that, the solution is obvious?