#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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What’s New in Managing Apple Devices

If you manage iPads or Macs at any sort of scale, then do watch this video from WWDC: What’s New in Managing Apple Devices.

Here’s a summary of some of the cool stuff that made me particularly happy…

No Apple IDs to install apps

If an iPad is Supervised (set up with Apple Configurator or DEP), you will be able to push out apps via your MDM without the need for an Apple ID on the device.  Which is pretty cool!  The app gets assigned to the device rather than a person.  The installation, updating and management are all controlled by your MDM.

Push out iOS updates

In iOS9, you will be able to push out iOS updates.  This is good news for me, as I’m still trying to get teachers to update their iPads from iOS7!  Via an MDM, you will be able to schedule updates to happen, e.g. when the device is plugged in at night.

Fix wallpaper, passcode and device name

A new MDM restriction means you will be able to lock the wallpaper, prevent a user from adding a passcode and stop the device name being changed.  This is very handy for shared devices in a cart-based deployment.

New Apple Configurator 2

They’ve ditched having a database (that gets very big and is prone to corruption) and are instead keeping ‘tags’ stored on the devices themselves.  The demo looked quite nice and I can see it being handy for those synced-via-cable cart deployments.  Apparently, you can also enrol a device via DEP using Configurator too, meaning a lot less tapping on devices.

There were lots of other nice features, so do watch the video or read a summary here (Amsys) or here (Enterprise iOS).

I like the fact that Apple are no longer insisting that the best and only way to use iPads in a school is 1:1, but are rather accepting that having a shared cart of iPads might actually be ok and are providing tools to help manage iPads in that way.

It’s a shame I won’t get to play with this stuff until we’re substantially into the new academic year, but I guess that is the life of an educational technologist these days!

GarageBand Pricing

I love this time of year. Not only does the latest release of iOS mean that I have an oodle of iPads to get updated (which takes varying degrees of time depending on how much free space is required to install the update), but a month after the mega IPHONE announcement, Apple calmly release a slew of other updates for the Mac and iLife/iWork. Yay. Last year’s came with quite a few headaches (such as the way iWork didn’t play nicely at all with SMB shares) but hopefully they won’t repeat this year. I’ve already tried saving a file over SMB with newest iWork, and it seems to work fine. The ‘proper’ file format they have finally created I’m sure is to thank for that.

Last year, GarageBand threw in a bit of a curveball by being free but requiring an in-app purchase to unlock all of the functionality. This is a system admin’s worst nightmare, as there is no decent way to do this upgrade on a whole school’s worth of iPads and apps.

Thankfully, it seems that this year Apple have rescinded on the in-app upgrade option and have slapped a price on instead. For new devices, you get the app free and on existing apps you get a free upgrade.

A few questions though:

  • What happens with Apple Configurator? Do we have to have app codes to install the app? Or even just to sync existing iPads with Configurator?
  • If we now need app codes, can we still apply for free ones on iPads bought in the last year?
  • What about codes for Macs?
  • I hope to make some investigations this week to find out more…

Post iOS7

So, iOS7 is here.  Here’s a few reflections on how it’s been for us.

  • As I mentioned before, we were having some issues with charging our iPad minis.  After a summer of our reseller trying to figure out what was wrong and Apple finally acknowledging that it was an issue, it turned out that iOS7 had it fixed.  Which it has.  So that’s good!
  • Updating to iOS7 using Configurator I have found to be really quite reliable.  However, refreshing supervised iPads after this point as been a real mixed bag with me spending hours trying to convince iPads, one by one, to let apps be installed properly and so on.  Hopefully an update to Configurator will fix this.
  • Teachers have generally been ok with iOS7.  I can kinda tell which teachers use their iPads more by those who have upgraded and those who haven’t.  Teachers can actually be quite a conservative bunch, so not all have liked the change.  But the march of progress still progresses inexorably.
  • Automatic App Updates when using VPP apps held much promise but has failed to actually work.  What was worse was that the ‘Automatic Updates’ slider still tantalisingly appeared in the ‘App Store’ settings even when you weren’t signed in with an Apple ID.  But I could never get updates to actually update.  Oh well.  But I’ve not found a definitive answer on the Interweb, so maybe I’ll give it another go another time.
  • The promise of free iWork/iLife (minus Garageband) apps for new iOS devices apparently will work with the VPP programme.  At some point this autumn you will be able to request apps for those new iPads to be transferred to your VPP account and thus be distributed using Configurator.  Still waiting on that one though!  I think it’s all tied into the App Store licence management features which are still marked ‘coming soon’ on Apple’s website.

What has your experience been?

Apple Configurator Tips and Tricks

Apple Configurator is the tool Apple supplies (for free) for managing large quantities of iPads. It relies on a wired USB connection and can sync with up to 30 iPads at one time (so long as you have the right USB hardware, like a a iPad charge and sync box).

The advantages of using it are:

  • You can update iOS on multiple iPads at the same time
  • You can use it to install VPP app (so long as the iPads are in ‘supervised’ mode), and have the facility to retrieve the app codes at a later date
  • It’s much faster than using iTunes
  • You can specify a bespoke lock screen on all your iPads, including putting the device name on it
  • It can name iPads sequentially (i.e. iPad 1, iPad 2 etc) by the order you plug them in when in ‘prepare’ mode
  • When a device is ‘supervised’, you get all sorts of extra restrictions available to you, such as the ability to turn off Game Centre and Messages
  • You can install enrolment profiles and configuration profiles easily

The disadvantages of it/things to bear in mind are:

  • It can be a bit crashy, especially when you’re plugging in a lot of devices
  • When a device is supervised, you cannot then plug it into iTunes or iPhoto on any computer.  This limits using the USB cable to move data on and off the device, except in Configurator.
  • VPP apps can only be installed with ‘supervised’ mode and have to updated via Configurator
  • It can sometimes come up with cryptic error messages if you’re not quite using it in the correct way

It’s important to understand how Configurator works before trying to use it.  Apple do a useful video, and Fraser Speirs and Bradley Chambers do a great couple of podcast episodes about Configurator.

However, here are a few of my tips and tricks:

  • Don’t try setting up 30 iPads at the same time.  When Configurator ‘supervises’ a device, it wipes iOS and reinstalls this. If you’re doing this with 30 iPads, I’ve found that Configurator crashes and quits.  About 8 seems to work fine.
  • Updating apps on multiple iPads seem to work fine.  Bradley Chambers has a great tip on easily finding those updated apps.
  • When installing enrolment profiles, make sure that you install a wifi profile first, otherwise it won’t work.  Then just check the iPad is awake and connected to wifi before installing that profile.
  • If you install a profile which restricts installing apps (thus removing the App Store off the iPads), you won’t be able install updates via Configurator.
  • Never ever have iTunes and Configurator open at the same time.  Otherwise you’ll end up with an iPad in recovery mode and will have to restore it in iTunes before using it in Configurator.

iPod Touches and Parasync

With great rejoicing, a set of 16 iPod touches arrived the other day, along with a clever Parasync case and docking system thingy.  The idea is for them to be used as digital still/video cameras with children, plus the use of apps such as Safari etc.  I have always been a bit snooty about syncing devices, being rather loathe to spend substantial amounts of money on a glorified USB hub in a box, but I think I am now convinced of their value, if only that 16 devices can all be charged using just one power lead.

Setting them up was a little bit more of a challenge, partly because I was trying to be too clever.  I initially tried using Apple Configurator to set them up, which would allow me to set a pretty lock screen with the iPod number on it.  However, this didn’t work so well, with several iPods refusing to accept the configuration profile.  They also then didn’t allow images to be downloaded to iPhoto or iMovie as the ‘Supervision Mode’ configuration profile essentially completely locks the device down.

I then tried the old-school but tried-and-tested approach of using iTunes (boo!).  Which worked really well! The steps were as follows:

  1. Disable automatic backups
  2. Download apps etc. on iTunes
  3. Plug in one iPod, sync across apps and set it up just how you want it (e.g. email accounts etc.)
  4. Backup that iPod to iTunes (right click on it in the left hand column and select ‘Backup now’), making sure that the backup is encrypted (this saves all the passwords etc.)
  5. Plug all the other iPods in and then restore from the initial backup
  6. Rename all the iPods to their correct names

I also used iPhone Configuration Utility to add a configuration profile for the Wifi and for Meraki on each device.

Definitely much quicker!

I showed the iPods to the staff team quickly at today’s staff meeting (after a few Q jokes as I open up a slightly formidable flight case) and people seemed enthusiastic.  Hopefully they will get used regularly across the school!