In the summer of 2012, our excellent technician spent a happy few days installing a Unifi wifi system. We needed a decent wifi system in the school, but weren’t happy paying oodles of money for a super amazing controller managed system where each access point cost hundreds and then you had to buy a managed switch and then pay for extra licences when you want to extend the network. Instead, the Unifi system lets you use any old computer to ‘manage’ your network and you are free to add as many access point as your heart (and budget) desires (and allows). We found that it generally worked really well, particularly when you factor in that each access point was only about £80 +VAT. Joy! And they look pretty as you can stick them on ceiling tiles and power them via PoE.
The initial wifi deployment was initially designed for a low-density spread of iPads, with access points installed in every other classroom. Our first iPad deployment had sets of 6 iPads in some classrooms, and then just a couple of sets of 15 iPads used across the school. It even coped fine when we gave Year 6 a class set of iPad minis.
Come the new financial year and the purchase of another two more class sets of iPad minis and we started to have wifi issues. In my mind, the iPads minis were to be allocated so that each phase (e.g. Y1/2, Y3/4, Y5/6 etc.) had a class set to use as they wished. As these year groups were at different ends of the building, the load would be balanced and one access point would, at the most, have to cope with those devices. However, I had not anticipated the desire of the iPad to be used as a 1-to-1 device… As soon as I had set up the iPads and released them into the school, teachers started booking out all three sets at the same time for one year group, meaning that all of the iPads were trying to run off one or, at the best, two access points. This wasn’t pretty. “The Internet seems to be broken on these iPads…”
Thankfully, due to the easy expandability of the Unifi wifi system, we just had to buy some more access points so that each classroom could have its own access point. And then our trusty technician had to spend another happy summer installing them!
Hopefully, this should result in a much happier wifi time for everyone. And the moral of the story is you can never quite predict how iPads are going to be used by teachers.
Back in 2010, when we were considering getting some Macs in school, one option we considered was getting a set of MacBooks for use by kids. As we already had some PC laptops which connected to the server via wifi, I thought we could do the same with some Macs. However, our reseller strongly advised putting in wired network connections if you are binding a Mac to an Active Directory as performance would be poor on wifi. I didn’t think much further about this as we ended up getting lots of iMacs instead, which all ran off wired Ethernet connections.
However, I recently tried adding a MacBook Pro to our domain, running it just on wifi, and this cautionary advice all came flooding back. Because we’re a big school, we make a lot of use of shared drives for saving work on. Working on a document off of a network drive requires a constant connection, which can become a little tiresome on wifi (particularly if the access point has a couple dozen iPads on it as well!). Having had enough of the spinning beach ball of death, I found a long network cable and plugged myself in.
Running documents off a server does feel a bit like living in the dark ages though. Admittedly, it is handy to be able to log onto any computer in the school and have all your document just there, but you do pay for it with a performance hit. Storage read and write is the last great bottle neck, which is why Apple is aggressively moving towards flash storage (Flash? We love flash!) wherever it can. The iCloud document model also makes a lot of sense: your documents live on your iPad/Mac/iPhone, but any changes are pushed to your other devices so that the same document is ready and waiting when you get there. That way you get the speed (and non-reliance on a permanent network connection) of a local document with the convenience of network storage.
One of the horror stories I’ve heard about iPads in schools is when it comes to iOS updates. Our apple reseller warned it was a laborious process of plugging iPads into iTunes one by one and then waiting an hour per device. Not fun. So I was intrigued to know if iOS 6 would be able to update on the device or if it needed a wired connection to iTunes. The good news is that wireless updates work fine!
Our iPads are set up to work completely independently from iTunes; after an initial setup with Apple Configurator. Updating them just involved tapping ‘install update’ in Settings and then waiting a short while for it to install. The iPads even helpfully pre-downloaded the update when sitting charging on wifi.
The only slight annoyance is that the iPads seem to forget their Apple ID for the App Store after the update, but that’s not too much of an inconvenience to fix. It does mean that I can’t so easily just ask a teacher to do the updates on their iPads as the Apple IDs are all slightly obtuse iCloud accounts I have set up…
Yesterday I managed to finish setting up the iPads…yay! It was much less eventful and just involved setting the remaining iPads going during the day and then turning them all off for storage over the summer.
All that remains come September is to assemble the IKEA storage boxes, put the iPads in their cases and do some staff training.
In hindsight, it was pretty straightforward after all. I don’t imagine setting up 45 MacBooks or something would have only taken a day or so!