A Workable Model for sub-1:1 iPad Use

The iPad is designed to be owned and not shared. It is a personal device. This isn't Apple screwing you over or ripping you off. It's just the way it was designed. If you want a multi-user operating system, Mac OS X will do a fantastic job for you.

I remain a strong advocate for 1:1 and I believe that it is transformational to the educational experience. Don't give up on 1:1 before you've tried. Still, schools want to use iPad in the classroom and not every school can get to 1:1. What are we to do?

What I want to do here is save sub-1:1 schools and teachers a lot of wasted time and heartache trying to pretend that iOS is a multi-user operating system when it isn't.

When looking at the iPad, it's important to break out of the old mindsets. Replacing a cart full of laptops with a cart full of iPads will deliver a worse solution than the laptops. Here's why:

Let's call this model "thin slicing", where each pupil gets to use an iPad for an hour or two a week. That's how we used to share desktop computers and, with desktops and their multi-user operating systems, that was easy because each user's files and settings were separated from every other user's files and settings by the login system.

iOS has no such clear distinction. When you hand an iPad from Pupil A to Pupil B, Pupil B is able to raise merry hell with Pupil A's files. Delete them, rename them, search and replace with rude words and so on. Think back to the miserable time you had with unmanaged Mac OS 8 machines in your classroom and that's what shared iOS devices looks like.

I'd like to propose a better model, that we can call "chunking". You get enough iPads for one class and each class gets the iPads for a substantial period of time - let's say 6-8 weeks at a stretch.

When you're deploying iPads to the same pupils for 8 weeks, it suddenly becomes a lot more feasible to reconfigure those devices for those pupils. You can't possibly reconfigure each device with personal settings on an hourly or daily basis but once a term? Possibly.

Using iPhone Configuration Utility, you can deploy personalised email and calendar settings to those iPads quite quickly. It might take an afternoon to reconfigure a class set - less if you have an MDM server, although if you don't have 1:1 you almost certainly don't have MDM, given the generally crazy cost of MDM server licenses.

What are the benefits? Well, it's all the benefits of 1:1 technology but only for part of the year. Teachers can plan a substantial body of work around the idea that technology will be continuously available. Pupils can get used to the device and invest in it. Work can be produced on the iPad and kept there for the term without having to move it off the device at the end of every lesson.

(I also secretly hope that this model will make the benefits of 1:1 so tangible and obvious that pressure for full-time 1:1 from pupils, parents and teachers will build up to an intolerable level. But don't tell anyone I said that.)

Most of the credit for this model of deployment is due to Eric Walters and the team at Marymount School in New York, where I first saw it in operation.