The Big Redeployment

We are currently two weeks away from opening. This summer, we decided to redeploy our devices from scratch. Same 115 iPad 1s but it was time to reset everything.

I made a big mistake last summer that started to cause some trouble as the year wore on: I didn't reset the devices to zero. The result was that kids were running out of storage space on their devices by February. One child, for example, had created 5GB of paintings in Brushes alone. Our kids create a LOT of things on their iPads (and they don't even have a camera yet!).

Before the summer, I had hoped to be able to move towards a deployment where the students have their own Apple IDs and we would be able to deploy apps to them directly. Unfortunately, we still don't have access to the Volume Purchase Program in the UK yet so that plan has had to be shelved for another year. There's no way you can re-work your deployment approach in the middle of a school year, so we'll move to individual IDs when we refresh our devices next summer. That is, assuming VPP access has arrived by then!

Before the end of term, we had the students email any work the teachers wanted to keep to their Basecamp portfolio. That the new Basecamp provides the ability to upload files by email is a huge win for this.

My approach to redeployment was basically this:

Firstly, I reset one device and completed the iOS setup wizard. I skipped the part where you create or supply an AppleID, since we're not really going to be using iCloud this year. I then captured a backup of this device using Apple Configurator - this "Master" backup being nothing more than an activated iOS 5.1.1 device. There's no point in adding configuration profiles at this time as they won't be restored to other devices anyway.

Next, I connected each device to Apple Configurator to update them all to iOS 5.1.1. Apple Configurator is the only tool that can parallelise iOS installations on devices, so this was a big time saver. After the erase-install, I restored the Master backup to every device and set the name to "iPad". I also installed our base configuration profile, which contained settings for:

  • App Store age restrictions
  • WiFi password
  • A web clip for Wikipedia
  • Calendar subscription to our school calendar
  • CardDAV account for our shared address book

One of the problems I ran into was that I wanted to also enrol all the devices in our MDM server at the same time. Enrolling in an MDM server requires WiFi access to complete the hand-shake between client and server. Unfortunately, I couldn't figure out how to convey to Apple Configurator that there was an ordering dependency between the 'core' profile and the MDM enrolment profile: the core profile needs to be on first to set up the WiFi so the MDM profile could install.

The workaround was to put the MDM profile in iPhone Configuration Utility and install it there manually after Configurator was done. Ugly, but it works. At this point I have 105 iPads all activated and enrolled in MDM with no apps on them. Time to set that up.

Each classroom in the school has an iMac which acts as the 'sync' station for the iPads in that class. The first thing I did was to log into that iMac and trash the existing iTunes library. We still have access to the apps we bought, but I want each teacher to pick the apps that they would like for their class. This will save space on the devices and allow a more customised approach per class, even without individual Apple IDs.

I wanted to make sure install was working though so, in each classroom, I downloaded iBooks and iTunes U to the computer, then synced each iPad. The iPads were already activated but I still had to give them a name, configure the syncing, and provide a password to encrypt the backup files. I also re-labelled the devices at this time because I'm not necessarily giving each pupil back the exact device they handed in. I also took this time to create a new device allocation spreadsheet so that we know which pupil has which serial number.

Start-to-finish, this took me a day and a half to do for 105 devices. What remains is for each teacher to come in before school starts, pick the apps they want their kids to have and sync their class set once.

Next week is all about my own teaching preparation, then teachers come back the next week and we're doing some intense preparation work on iTunes U.

iTunes U Enrolment and Apple IDs

As I mentioned in my last post, there are some new arrangements for iTunes U courses, specifically the ability to distribute an "enrolment code" and have students sign up to the course in the iTunes U app using their Apple ID.

This seems like the obvious way to do things but in many school deployments, students are not in control of the Apple ID that their device uses. Sometimes that's because the devices are shared (in which case, using iTunes U is going to be difficult anyway) but more often it's because the school is in a country that doesn't have a Volume Purchase Program yet. That most countries still don't is another grumpy discussion for another time.

Anyway, at first glance it seems that you absolutely need individual Apple IDs to enrol students in a course now. I've always been keen on handing over as much IT autonomy to the student as possible, and that's where I think we should all be aiming, but changing your AppleID structures is a once-a-year thing to do and no small matter. Is there a workaround in the meantime?

It turns out that there is: to create a course that students can subscribe to without entering AppleID credentials, you have to:

  • Create the course in Course Manager - this creates a private course with an enrolment roster.

  • Submit the course to the person who controls your institution's iTunes U Public Site Manager

  • Have them 'hide' the course in PSM.

This creates a course which has a direct URL for subscription (it's referred to as the 'Audit URL' in iTunes U) but which does not require Apple ID credentials to subscribe to.

This isn't an ideal solution as it requires coordination between all the course authors at an institution and the person running the Public Site Manager. Still, it works for now and the future is ever more clearly heading towards individual Apple IDs for individual students. That's where I'm recommending all new 1:1s start their thinking but, still, always the two stumbling blocks of no Volume Purchase and COPPA's lower limit of 13-years-old for an iTunes account. I hope we can get these things ironed out soon.

What's New in iTunes U

As you know, I'm a fan of the new iTunes U app and course management service. Apple just released an update to both the app and the service that brings a few new and important features.

You might want to review my previous article on iTunes U if you're not familiar with it.

The iTunes U App

The iTunes U app was updated to version 1.2 today and contains a couple of cool features.

Firstly, you can now search across all your subscribed courses or within a course. The search encompasses materials, notes and posts. If you can't find how to search across all your courses, the magnifying glass is tucked up underneath the 'top shelf' - pull the bookshelves down to find it.

There are enhancements to note taking. The first iteration of the app would allow you to create two kinds of notes: Course Notes, which were plain text notes typed into iTunes U, and Book Notes which were annotated book highlights synced from iBooks. Until now, it's been pretty difficult to take notes on a video you're watching because, well, you were already using the screen to watch the video (unless you had an AppleTV!).

In iTunes U 1.2, there's now a split-screen mode for taking notes on a video while you watch it. Each note is timecoded to the video and you see markers in the video track for the related notes. As you watch the video later - say, for review - the notes will scroll into place as the playback head passes their timecode. These notes created from audio or video resources also now have their own section in the Notes tab in iTunes U.

Here's a little screenshot I posted earlier to Twitter, showing the new in-video note taking UI:

iTunes U Course Manager

Course Manager is the part of iTunes U that an individual teacher uses on a daily basis to run their course. It has previously been possible to create a 'private' course (i.e. a course that is not listed on the iTunes U Catalogue). The latest Course Manager update introduces a Roster feature that provides true private courses, with control of who can subscribe to the course.

Previously, the only way to share a course was by sharing a URL. Beyond the assumption that the obscure URL wouldn't be guessable, there was really no way for a teacher to know who had subscribed to the course.

Now, you can share an invitation code with students that they can use to enrol in your course. There is an "Enrol" button at the bottom of the iTunes U Catalogue in the new course. When a student enters a code here, they are asked to provide their Apple ID password and agree to their details (name and email address) being shared with the course creator. As before, you can generate a link which has the enrol code embedded in it for easy enrolment via email.

As far as I can tell, all enrolment requests require approval by the course creator. It is possible to close a course to new enrolment requests, as well as blocking certain individuals and regenerating the course enrolment code if it has become too widely known. There appears to be no feature to pre-load a course with an approved roster.

Finally, there's another feature in Course Manager that I've wanted for a while: draft posts. When you create an in-session course (that is, a course that's built up as teaching progresses), you add content in the form of materials attached to posts. Previously, when you created a post, it immediately went live. Now, we have an option to save a post as a draft and send it out to students only when you click "Post".

This is useful in all sorts of ways. I'm particularly looking forward to being able to get my Monday all set before I step into school that day. It will also be helpful in situations where a teacher is off sick - as long as they have the strength to log into Course Manager from their death-bed, they can still set the lesson work. As an enhancement, it would be nice to have the ability to schedule posts.

So, all in all, a nice update to both the app and the backend service that supports it.

The 2012 ADE Institute

I've spent the past week at the 2012 Apple Distinguished Educator Institute in Cork. It's been a great week. The best thing I can say about it is that the Institute was run to the same quality and attention to detail that WWDC is. I might add, though, that the lunches were substantially better than they are at Moscone!

About 270 educators from all over the world got together at Fota Island hotel in Cork to spend the week networking, socialising and working together on various projects. It was a delight to meet so many new friends. Personally, it was the most relaxing conference I've been to in a long time and I think most of us here would agree. We are all the "tech person" for our local institutes and communities and coming together in a group where everyone is working at that level is both relaxing and stimulating at the same time.

In conversations, I started to get the sense of two early and new trends that I think are interesting.

The first trend is that we, as a group, are starting to get into some of the second-order effects of 1:1 programs using iPad. Deciding to use iPad is an important step, as is going 1:1. However, there are a few of us who, having made that move successfully, are asking "now what?". We're all exploring different avenues to answer that question. For some, it's about redesigning the school building or the school day. Others are getting into extremely high-quality content creation. Some ADEs are doing outstanding work in accessibility and mainstream inclusion for children with additional needs.

Personally, I'm looking to iTunes U. My project for the next three years is to lead a transition to using iTunes U across the whole of our school. Initially, we will adopt it for assignments and content distribution. Next year, as the new National 4/5 exams come in, we will be redesigning our courses on the assumption that this kind of technology is available to us. Further down the road, I hope to use iTunes U to expand the range of courses available to our students and, once that model is proven, make those courses available to schools across Scotland.

The second trend I picked up on was the continuing shift towards total student autonomy in IT. The shift to mobile is eliminating the need for dedicated computer space in schools. The shift to iOS is eliminating the need for dedicated server hardware, home directory infrastructures and backup systems. On iOS pupils can genuinely administer their own devices in a secure and stable fashion, eliminating a broad range of tech support oversight functions.

The final step is to eliminate the network. I had several conversations about the difficulty of scaling school networks beyond the 300-400 device range into the multiple thousands of devices in larger schools. Several people observed to me that mobile networks are designed to scale to those numbers without issue. The shift towards LTE cellular networking - which is typically faster than the broadband in a school - is starting to look like an interesting option for schools that cannot provision or scale their networks to multiple thousands of devices.

Imagine, in 5-7 years having gone from the complexity of laying ethernet in fixed locations in schools, building broadband, deploying servers and switches all over the school to the simplicity handing out an iPad and a SIM card and getting on with the learning.

In the UK, we are well positioned to take advantage of this. We don't have LTE networks yet but that's certainly going to come. We already have pre-paid iPad data SIM cards commonly available, which isn't true in every country around the world. For £20, I can buy 3GB of data transfer from Three and, when it's done or the card has expired, I just go buy another one. It would be great if we could get to a point where we can buy non-expiring SIM cards. If you think we can't afford this, consider one conversation I had this week where I learned that a friend's school pays more than £200,000 per year for IT services. I think we can find some fat to trim.

This is what I mean by second-order effects of 1:1 deployment: you can't afford a 1:1 on top of everything you already do, but we are starting to learn that there are a lot of things you can stop doing when you become a - I hesitate to use the phrase - post-digital school.

It will take leadership and it will take courage. We'll need help from the mobile phone carriers. We'll need help from local planners to get masts built. We'll need far stronger leadership from politicians than we've seen to date, but I have seen the next steps to the future of school IT. It lives in the minds of the outstanding people I met this week, and the many others who were not able to be here. That's what I'm taking home from ADE 2012.