Lessons Learned from Apple EdTech Deployments: Part 2

This multi-part blog series looks at how higher-ed and secondary-ed technology managers are accommodating faculty and student use of iPads, Apple TV, and other Apple devices in classrooms. The first installment included insights such as “Mobile devices typically connect around 100 times more often than a laptop” and “The Volume Purchase Program is a great way to deploy and to manage the purchasing of apps.”

In part 2, our panel of experts looks at durability, security, and what they’d like Apple to do to make their lives easier. Many thanks to George Saltsman, an Abilene Christian University professor who recommended the panelists.

In your experience, how well do iOS devices hold up in an academic environment? Does it make sense to structure the contract so that Apple or the reseller supplies a certain number of spares for free, such as up to X percent of the total contract value? What about theft?

Fraser Speirs, head of computing and IT at Cedars School of Excellence, the world’s first school to provide all students with an iPad:

We have had 115 iPads in our school for three years. That's 345 person-years of use. In that time, we had seven devices fail: had some kind of problem that was covered under warranty, or would have been except we didn't buy AppleCare. Seven devices were damaged to such an extent that they had to be replaced.

George Saltsman, whose college has supported iOS devices for the past five years:

Lori Campbell, vice president, Office of Vice President of Academic Affairs, Walters State Community College:

Sturdy cases are a must. In the two years we have used iPads in cases, we have not had significant amounts of repair due to drops or misuse.

We elected to not buy extended warranties. Instead, we have trained a member of our IT staff on how to replace screens and digitizers. Buying spare parts and repairing ourselves has greatly cut down on costs.

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

The system discontinued purchasing extended warranties [and] encouraged campuses to develop program to train students for repairing devices.

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

Don't underestimate the power of a good case. A neighboring district, who happened to be beginning an iPad program the same time we were, purchased less expensive and less protective cases than the ones we did. In less than 60 days, they had over 100 broken screens, and we had only had a handful. It was glaringly obvious the case made a difference.

Our district did not purchase the extended warranty. The cost of the extended warranty would have provided over 150 additional iPads in our situation. We were confident that our rate of loss would be much less than that, so we chose to save that money. We also charge an annual usage fee that provides funds for repair and other items the campus may need to support the program. We also have repair fees students must pay if the device is damaged.

Phil Komarny, Seton Hill University IT vice president:

Partner with an insurance company. We started with SafeWare [and] moved to Worth Ave. Group. Now we are partnered with a local group that does screen break/fix for the university. The students receive a reduced rate on the annual insurance cost: around $45/year.

Students and faculty often bring iPhones, iPads and Apple TVs to school because they have good experiences at home and want that in the classroom, too. Does that familiarity mean that your staff doesn't have to field a lot of support inquires? If not, what are the main things people need help with? AirPlay? Content protection? Something else?

Lori Campbell:

Yes, we have found faculty and students owning iDevices on their own greatly reduces the amount of support needed from our training and IT staff.

Our college [has] two levels of support for our faculty and staff. We have a help desk through our IT department and also an Instructional Design Team (IDT) that offers continuous training throughout the year.

Robbie Melton:

On the system level, (from a system-wide survey of campuses' needs 2012-12) all of the campuses noted the need for professional development and hands-on training in using the devices, upgrades, third-party accessories for the iPad such as projectors, AirPlay, AirServer, keyboards, etc.

On the system level, we created a Mobile App Education Resource Center to assist faculty, staff and students with locating appropriate mobile apps for their discipline and teaching level. To date, we have collected over 50,000 educational apps from Pre-K-Ph.D. and careers. [See] www.tbrmobile.org.

Arthur Brant, Abilene Christian University director of enterprise infrastructure:

I may be in the minority on this one, but I would contend that "home experience" actually results in more support calls. From an infrastructure perspective, a home network isn't comparable to enterprise Wi-Fi networks at many schools. So while a faculty or teacher has been able to do something at their home, this doesn't necessarily mean they'll be able to do it at the school.

A good example that we've observed at ACU is the desire to use AppleTVs in the classroom. While it works well on a home network, our Wi-Fi network is actually made up of 16 virtual local area networks (VLAN) or network segments. The Airplay sharing service that enables iPads to share their screens with AppleTV requires the AppleTV and iPad to be in the same network segment. The likelihood this occurs at ACU without special setups by the IT department is rare.

To enable AppleTVs in the classrooms, ACU has created unique Wi-Fi networks where the mobile device and the AppleTV can been in the same network segment. But again, this requires IT to assist in making sure the AppleTV is set up and attaches to the right WiFi network.

George Saltsman:

iOS devices are very easy to support. There’s not a lot of help desk calls. The other side of that is because it’s so easy to use in a consumer environment, people expect that same ease of use in the enterprise environment. Having thousands of iOS devices in a enterprise environment requires some special configuration to the network to allow those consumer-focused features to function fully on an enterprise network.

We ended up taking a lot of access points off of the ceiling and putting them down low. So the classroom might not have just one access point in the ceiling. It might have two access points a meter off of the ground: one on the right and one on the left. Then we use all of the bodies and tables and chairs to attenuate those signals so you have twice as much bandwidth without an overlap of signals.

What could/should Apple do to make your life easier?

Fraser Speirs:

My #1 request would be to double the storage on the iPad at each price point and, secondly, to offer free iCloud backup space to schools up to the capacity of the devices purchased.

Beyond that, I'd love Apple to solve the problem of reallocating ebooks to different students at the end of each year. Currently, if we were to adopt eBooks, we're looking at a minimum 8X cost increase because we'd have to buy new copies every year.

Kristy Strickland, Abilene Christian University technology trainer:

One of the toughest challenges we have is the fact that most of Apple's software now is purchased through their online store and requires individual Apple IDs. For universities, this means that we create one ACU-owned Apple ID and purchase licenses through it. When we have software to install, we log in under our ACU-owned Apple ID, download the software, then log out.

This process becomes problematic in two ways. The first is updating the software. When updates are available, our techs have to visit each machine separately to log in as ACU to update the software. Users can not do this for themselves. The second issue I have is tracking software that is downloaded. Once it is originally purchased, it stays in our list of purchased items, and we have to carefully keep track of licenses purchased and downloaded.

Lori Campbell:

Go even further in supporting enterprise environments. Apple has made great strides in making the Apple TV more enterprise- and educational-friendly, but they can certainly go further in other areas.

For many on our campus, the iPad is used for email and calendaring through our Exchange server. Apple would make many users' lives much easier by integrating shared calendars, global search in mail and other features.

Robbie Melton:

More educational features such as split screen. The ability to use more than one app at a time. Universal connectors. The ability to store information on the device. The ability to write on the screen and directly on apps without having to use an app for this purpose. The ability to use apps without being connected to the Internet. The ability to mirror and project from the device to a projector without having to connect through the internet or Wi-Fi network.

Troy Bagwell:

The preparation of devices and the purchasing of apps are both very cumbersome at this point. iOS devices are designed as single-user devices, and it seems whenever there is any management of these devices, you are going against the grain. Creating a better workflow to address both of these issues would help tremendously.

Also, Apple's new product announcements and iOS/Mac OS development timelines simply do not work well with school calendars. We know that iOS 7 will be coming sometime this fall. We know that after iOS 7 is released, there will be tons of app updates. The problem is that these things will happen after school begins and our students have their devices.

There is also not a way to prevent students, that we know of, from applying the iOS updates themselves. Additionally, there will be several other tweaks to the iOS experience as well when all is said and done. All of the things that Apple will be releasing will greatly benefit schools, but since they occur after school has begun there are very few options for systematically creating a workflow for an already distributed system.

So we will work through the new software update, deal with new app purchase options and then hopefully have some new mobile device management features throughout the school year. But what we don't know is if this same scenario will play out next summer and [if] this instability year after year is the new normal. I hope not.