Back to School

Ah, September. The time of year when the school that everyone has so diligently and careful taken apart, sorted out and tidied away in July has to be put back together again in a matter of days because all of the children are starting school again.

The same applies with technology in schools. With our 1:1 iPad programme, September is when we have to setup new iPads for our students. Depending on the refresh cycle, this can be anything from three to six year groups that need doing. Thankfully, this year it was only Years 1-3, as we had just started a new lease with Key Stage 1 iPads and the Year 3s needed the iPads that Year 6 had finished with at the end of term.

This year, we (my technician and I) successful got all the iPads up and running by the end of day two of term…which I think was pretty good going! We managed the four classes in Year Three in one day, involving students setting up the iPads themselves, and got all eight Key Stage 1 classes ready, which we set up for the students in our bespoke Using Shared iPad Mode In The Wrong Way approach, in a day and a half.

Which I think is pretty good going! And much better than last year, which took three or four times as long.

So, what was different this year?

  • Having a technician again. For various reasons, the previous year I was left bereft of an IT technician, which makes a huge difference when it comes to deployment. Another pair of capable hands saves so much time.
  • Network upgrades. Our network has 802.11ac wireless access points and a 10gig fibre backbone but the actual cabling into some classrooms was shockingly old. In the last year we’ve rectified this with CAT 6a cabling upgrades. Which makes things much faster, or at least not noticeably slow!
  • Federated Managed Apple IDs. We’ve linked up our Microsoft accounts with the school Apple IDs, which means users have the same password that is used in other systems. Reducing complexity is always worth it.
  • Single sign on with Jamf Pro. We’ve turned on single sign on using Microsoft accounts with our MDM (Jamf Pro), which means that users are using the same account to authenticate with the MDM as they are with their Apple ID. One less thing to remember — “just type it all in again!”
  • Single sign on in other places too. We’ve also made use of student Microsoft accounts with logins for Showbie (our learning platform), Mathletics (for practising maths skills) and Sora (our digital lending library). It helps students become more familiar with their Microsoft account credentials and, I think, reduces complexity again.

When dealing with a school of iPads, making the effort to smooth out the speed bumps is always worth it in the long term. For technology to be an effective tool in the classroom, it’s got to ‘just work’ as much as possible, so it fades into the background and instead supports learning.

Books for kids

When the iPad first came out back in 2010, it also came with what was then called ‘iBooks’, Apple’s answer to the Amazon Kindle. You could buy and read digital books straight on your lovely new iPad…fantastic!

Some time after that, Apple brought out the Volume Purchase Programme, which allowed schools/businesses to buy copies of apps and books for their users. These came in the form of codes which would have to be redeemed against a user’s Apple ID. These codes could only be used once, which meant that if a user left your organisation you’d have to buy all their apps again, or recycle their Apple ID by changing the name and password.

Fast forward to 2013 and Apple brought out Managed Distribution, which allowed an institution (via MDM) to assign app and book licences directly to a user’s Apple ID. With apps, these licences could be recalled and distributed elsewhere if required, but with books the licence got ‘used up’ if assigned.

A few years later, Apple rolled out device-based app assignment, which allowed an app to be assigned to a specific iPad even if there wasn’t an Apple ID on the device.

Not so with books: these still needed to be assigned to an individual rather than a device.

In order to distribute copies of Apple’s coding or creativity resources to teachers, I was quite happy to assign those book licences to individuals because there were only so many teachers in the school. But when it came to our KS2 deployment, there wasn’t a way in Jamf Pro to easily make a list of all the 450 students and then assign them books.

However, in Jamf Pro 10.16, a new feature was released that allowed for the creation of smart user groups based on information imported from Apple School Manager. So this would allow me to make a smart group with just the students in a specific class or year group. Which I could then use to assign books. Added to this was the feature that allowed for the automatic registration of users with volume purchasing if they have a Managed Apple ID, which basically meant that the MDM could assign apps/books to the user without the user having to agree to the registration. Which is handy when working with a whole school 1:1 programme!