Shared iPad for the kids still in school

When it was announced that schools in England would close as a response to the COVID-19 crisis, it was also announced that schools would remain open for vulnerable children and children of ‘critical workers’ (i.e. doctors/nurses/delivery drivers etc). So as well as thinking about how we would keep learning going for children at home, we also needed to consider those who would be staying in school too.

In terms of the educational provision to be provided for the children remaining in schools, the guidance from the government was as follows:

Schools have flexibility to provide support, activities and education in the way they see fit at this time. No school will be penalised if they are unable to offer a broad and balanced curriculum during this period.

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-school-closures/guidance-for-schools-about-temporarily-closing#practicalities

As we are delivering all our home learning via Showbie, we decided that we would provide time during the school day for children to log on and access this learning whilst at school. But on what devices?

We are a 1:1 iPad school, so it would surely be easiest to just let students use their existing iPad? In theory, yes. But this was compounded with a few difficulties:

  1. The list of possible ‘critical worker’ children vs. the children who would actually turn up each day was quite different. We would end up with a large pile of potential iPads that staff would have to hunt through each day.
  2. Our school is across two sites with the second site now entirely closed during the pandemic, so getting hold of the iPads for those children is a little more tricky.
  3. Whatever solution we decided upon would need to keep on working without any on-site tech support.

In light of all this, I decided that we should give Shared iPad a try!

Shared iPad mode allows for devices to be logged into by multiple users, with all of their data stored in the cloud and synced to the device upon login. It makes use of Managed Apple IDs, both to store all the data in iCloud and to organise the classes that students belong to.

We already had Managed Apple IDs in place for Y1-6 students, so it was a case of making some new ‘classes’ in Apple School Manager containing the various children who potentially might still be attending school. I then had to set up a set of spare iPads in Shared iPad mode, which involved sorting some settings in our MDM. We then installed all of the required apps and restriction profiles and then assigned those devices to the new classes that were synced from Apple School Manager.

The upshot of all this was that we had a set of iPads that any of the students could pick up, tap their name from the list and then log in with their passcode. Handy!

It also nicely coincided with the release of iPadOS 13.4, which added in a ‘guest’ button on Shared iPad. This means that a user who is not on the list on the Shared iPad can still log in and use the device – once they log out, all the temporary data is removed. This means that Nursery and Reception children can still use the devices to play games etc. without the need for a Managed Apple ID.

Going 1:1 using Shared iPad

So, back in 2016 Apple released iOS 9.3 with a slew of features for education. One of these included ‘Shared iPad’ mode, which allowed a single iPad to have multiple logins, giving a personalised experience to using the iPad without having to actually have an iPad each. It worked with a combination of Managed Apple IDs created in Apple School Manager and a sympathetic MDM, as well as requiring iPad Air 2/iPad Mini 4 or better with at least 32GB of storage.

Now, I’m not really sure how many schools actually use Shared iPad. At its inception, the iPad specs were quite high (our 16GB iPad mini 4s don’t have enough storage) and it needed an MDM that actually supported it. It was a year before we had enough newer iPads to even try it out, let alone deploy using it across the school.

Fast forward a couple of years, we were looking at extending our 1:1 programme and I was thinking about how to actually manage and setup the devices. With KS2 classes, we were able to get children to set them up themselves, putting in usernames and passwords as well as Managed Apple IDs. The thought of getting 5-year-olds to type all that in, or to do it for them, wasn’t appealing in the slightest.

Enter Shared iPad. I then had the thought that maybe we could use Shared iPad mode, but with each device only ‘shared’ with one student. The advantages would be:

  1. Easier to set up. Because all the accounts are made in Apple School Manager and then assigned to the iPad using MDM, the initial login process literally involves tapping on the child’s name on the iPad. This signs the child into the iPad with their Managed Apple ID without having to type the whole thing in.
  2. Easier to manage. With our KS2 classes, some students enjoy changing their iPad passcodes and then promptly forgetting what it is. If they then enter the wrong one too many times and then turn the device on and off again, the iPad will not connect to wifi until the correct passcode is entered. Because of this, any MDM command to reset the passcode just won’t get through to the device and so the iPad has to be wiped and re-setup again…which is annoying! With Shared iPad, the passcode is the Managed Apple ID password (which can be set to four digits) and can be reset at any point by the teacher using Apple Classroom.
  3. Harder to break. When an iPad is in Shared iPad mode, there are all sorts of options in Settings that are no longer available. This gives less options for students to accidentally (or on purpose) break things. It also doesn’t let the student log out of their Managed Apple ID, meaning all their data is always going to be synced to iCloud successfully.

So, a month or so in, how’s it going? Here are a few reflections:

  • Initial setup really is easy! Once the devices are all organised and set up in your MDM properly, getting kids started with the devices literally involves tapping on their name, putting in the temporary passcode and then choosing a new one. Compared with setting up iPads normally, this is hugely easier.
  • You really must make sure you wipe the device properly before you begin. iPads these days come with all sorts of apps installed already (such as the Apple Store, GarageBand etc). We found that we couldn’t use our MDM to remove these apps on a Shared iPad device, so it’s important to completely restore devices before you roll them out.
  • You only get so much storage for apps. According to the Education Deployment Guide, a Shared iPad partitions up the space in a fix manner, which you need to be aware of. With a 32GB iPad, for example, 10GB is allocated for the system, 8Gb for apps and then the remaining is split between the number of users that you decide you want cached on the device. As we are only using the devices with one user, this gives 14GB for the user’s documents and data. However, 8GB for apps doesn’t go a long way, particularly if you want GarageBand on the devices.
  • Updating the OS isn’t entirely straightforward. To update to a newer version of iOS, this cannot be done by the user on the device but instead must be done via MDM command. There must be enough space in the ‘apps’ partition for the iOS update installer, and the current user has to be logged out too. Once we had figure this out, updates were a bit easier.
  • Replacing a device is easy. Because Shared iPad mode has the idea of users logging in and out, swapping out a device is as easy as changing a few things in MDM for the replacement iPad and then logging the user back in. All the data for the user is saved to iCloud and so is immediately available for the user.
  • Make sure you turn on ‘Shared iPad’ mode for apps. Some apps need settings turned on in MDM in order to fully work with Shared iPad mode. Follow the links to find out more information about turning this on for Book Creator and Explain Everything.

All in all, I’m glad we’ve given it a go with our KS1 students. I’m still in two minds about whether to extend it to KS2 in a future roll-out: probably the 8GB app limit will be a show-stopper…