Lessons Learned from Apple EdTech Deployments: Part 1

School districts have purchased more than 10 million iPads
so far, and colleges such as Abilene Christian University have been using iOS devices for five years or more. All of those deployments add up to plenty of opportunities for schools that haven’t deployed Apple gear to learn what to expect.

This multi-part series looks at some of the lessons learned in terms of security, support, costs and bandwidth. It’s based on interviews with education technology managers who have spent years not only implementing and supporting Apple products, but also often mentoring their peers at other schools.

The first set of questions: What advice would you give to a peer at a school that's about to add iOS devices? For example, what should they expect in terms of additional burden on the wireless LAN and the IT staff?

Robbie Melton, Tennessee Board of Regents associate vice chancellor for mobilization and emerging technologies:

• It is vital that a full analysis of the wireless network be performed. Even the most robust networks may find that they may need to double or triple their wireless access points.
• Create a strong support environment. Clearly delegate responsibilities of training, software support, hardware support and academic/classroom support.
• Implement the Volume Purchase Program as early as possible. [It’s] a great way to deploy and to manage the purchasing of apps.
• Learn from others. Do as much research as possible from other institutions that have carried out a similar deployment. We were mentored by Abilene Christian University.

Phil Komarny, Seton Hill University IT vice president:

• Consumerize your IT environment and management strategies.
• Re-think your domain strategies. No more login.
• Use NAC fingerprinting technologies to give users a better Wi-Fi experience.

Arthur Brant, Abilene Christian University director of enterprise infrastructure:

Whether a school is providing mobile devices or implementing a BYOD program with the intent to actively use the mobile devices, I would suggest the school to take a serious look at their wireless network. I recommend that schools consider how their Wi-Fi networks are designed for capacity, not just coverage. Capacity considers the amount of bandwidth each Wi-Fi radio can offer mobile devices. Often this can be handled through limiting the number of devices allowed to connect to the Wi-Fi radio.

As for additional burden on the Wi-Fi network, our experience at Abilene Christian University is that when classes are in session, we see between two to three devices per student, faculty and staff connecting to our Wi-Fi network on a daily basis. Even it they aren't actively using the mobile device, it can still be connecting to the Wi-Fi network.

ACU typically sees around 350,000 Wi-Fi connections a day when school is in session. Our research indicates that mobile devices typically connect around 100 times more often than a laptop. The amount of data transferred is much less than a laptop, and the connection duration is much less that a laptop, but nonetheless these mobile devices generate a lot of Wi-Fi connections.

Troy Bagwell, Decatur (Texas) Independent School District director of technology:

We have found that supporting iOS devices have been much less of an IT staff burden than laptops. In our school district, we provide each of our high school students a MacBook and each of our middle school students an iPad. The high school program requires a dedicated staff member that is Apple certified. We also have an entire location we call the Mac Shack, where the technician is located.

In the MacBook situation, we find ourselves replacing parts such as screens, keyboards, power ports, cracked cases, etc., and that requires more support. However, the iPad program at our middle school is supported through the campus library by paraprofessionals.

We have found there are basically only two support scenarios with iPads. Scenario 1 is when the student is having problem with software. The resolution for that is most often a reboot, reload or app reinstall. Scenario 2 is physical damage. Any physical damage to the device is sent away for repairs to a third party service.

You break it…who buys it?

The cost of physical damage – including who foots the bill – is a topic that comes up virtually every time a college or school district proposes buying iPads for students. The Los Angeles Unified School District – which will equip all of its 640,000-plus students with an iPad by next year – has a contract that provides free replacement machines for up to 5 percent of the value of the purchase. In next week’s blog, we’ll look at how iPads hold up, and tips for minimizing damage.

We’ll also look at security issues, where challenges and considerations aren’t limited to the devices themselves or the network.

“Some people in Chicago were worried about sending kids home with [iPads] – not because they were worried that they’d break them, but because they might get mugged on the ‘L’,” says George Saltsman, an Abilene Christian University professor who also works with Apple’s Distinguished Educator program. “What do you do to promote not just network safety and device safety, but [also] physical safety?”