This following article is the conclusion to a technical report I was involved in writing in association with Biddenham International School and Cambridge University. It represents an overview of the technical issues that we addressed during the Tablet Research Project at Biddenham in 2012 and from my experience of setting up the newly opened Great Denham Primary School.
This information is from a primarily technical perspective, and any conclusions should be seen against the background of the teaching and learning outcomes outlined elsewhere in the project.
I’m posting this in more manageable pieces — the full report is heavy reading — to reflect on the journey we’ve taken with iPads and iPad management since it was written. Hopefully you will find something of use here.
iPad Research Project Technical Conclusion
iPad is a consumer device forced into the enterprise environment. It’s very clear that this technology is not yet mature enough to meet the standards of security and scalability demanded of its use. Many management and security features that we have come to expect as standard on networked devices are not present or are easily bypassed by the end user.
In education we’re used to pooling our ICT resources, and we do this most effectively by putting in place systems which allows us to differentiate one user from another on an individual computer. As a result of this the immediate reaction to using mobile technology is to follow this trend and purchase centrally located pools of tablets to distribute as a teacher or student requires access. However, user differentiation on iPad is done on a per device basis rather than per user account. From a security, technical, and accessibility point of view, this type of setup fails to leverage the main benefit of mobile technology for students and introduces significant data protection concerns.
In our experience, implementing iPads in this type of multi-user configuration is unscalable and leads to significant data protection issues and user frustration. Our conclusion is that iPads are best used as “one-to-one” devices. A single user with a single, personal device.
Supporting Teachers and Students With iPad
[pullquote]….we must be careful not to let that passion overly influence ICT spending and direction without solid data and experience[/pullquote]
Tablets, and iPads in particular, generate a passion in teaching staff for ICT which is extremely positive. This is something which needs to be harnessed and used to promote increased ICT usage in areas of school which are traditionally reticent of technology. However, we must be careful not to let that passion overly influence ICT spending and direction without solid data and experience to back up the advantages to teaching and learning.
We must also be aware that use of consumer grade technology may also have negative effects on the expectations of student use in the classroom. It may not always be appropriate for a student to use the same device in class that they use in their leisure time.
This project exists for teachers to experiment and find new ways of using mobile technology in the classroom. Something which became very apparent for IT Services during this time was that teachers and students were very passionate about the accessibility of tablet computers but still required guidance in basic operating systems functions.
Data protection has always been a concern for schools, and the use of personal devices and access to cloud services has only increased this concern.
Our experience has demonstrated that a concerted effort has to be made to educate staff at all levels of the organisation to understand data protection and data management issues. A solid Data Protection policy is essential in ensuring that staff understand their responsibility towards data management, and just as important is strong support from Senior Management to enforce that policy.
Managing Multiple Platforms
While being aware of the teaching and learning benefits, and to a large degree the administrative benefits, of using a single platform we need to be aware that most students, while using mobile technology widely, will not be doing so on Apple hardware, with Apple Apps, or Apple services — our wireless usage already demonstrates this.
At the time of writing, Google’s Android holds 56% of the tablet device market share, and this is expected to continue to rise. Apple currently stands at around 39%. The overall mobile device market shows an even more stark difference with Android at 70%.
While we are still in the infancy of the mobile market, we can predict that Apple’s perceived dominance of the market will continue to reduce, the company’s current business model and historical evidence in the industry makes it inevitable, and it is important that we at least make some attempt to reflect this in the way students are using technology in the classroom.
It also significantly more likely that a software vendor (Google, Microsoft, Amazon, or a third-party) releases a version of an operating system more suited to an educational environment than it is for Apple do the same with iOS.
[pullquote]…we also must make sure that we are not inadvertently locking students and staff into an ecosystem that restricts portability of information across platforms, requires expensive devices to access, potentially stunts long term innovation, and to which access is artificially limited.[/pullquote]
Clearly we can’t ignore the dominance of mindshare that Apple currently holds, but we also must make sure that we are not inadvertently locking students and staff into an ecosystem that restricts portability of information across platforms, requires expensive devices to access, potentially stunts long term innovation, and to which access is artificially limited.
But this raises a further issue. Without a single platform on which to build teaching resources how do we ensure consistency across a classroom using multiple operating systems? I suggest the following two solutions:
Implement a software procurement policy to ensure any applications required internally for use are both available as native applications on the most widely used operating systems and via a web browser.
Encourage a policy of “Bring Your Own Apps.” In which teaching tasks are set and students allowed to choose the software to best accomplish them.
The ideal situation is for the end device to be inconsequential to the services that a student or teacher uses. The iOS ecosystem is not best placed to promote this.
An iPad App or iBook is only going to be accessible to a minority of students outside the classroom. It is not acceptable for schools to expect or require students to purchase and own a specific piece of hardware, from a specific manufacturer, and purchase software that runs only on that platform. This is against many of the fundamental principles that IT has been built on.
Long-Term Considerations Managing iPad in Schools
In the ICT classroom we have traditionally emulated the “office”, the most likely place a student would use technology with purpose. Schools, as a result, replicated industry where 95%+ of machines run Windows and Microsoft applications, and the environment is very formal and ordered.
With the consumerisation of technology we are now attempting to replicate how students and staff use technology in their own time. If a student can pick up a fast accessible device from their sofa or pocket to quickly find a piece of information or access a service at home they should rightly expect to be able to do the same thing in school.
We no longer have the luxury of waiting to see long term trends in the market. Technology in ICT for the foreseeable future will be pushed by students and teachers as much as by IT departments. We can either meet their expectations or they will provide their own personal and potentially unsafe systems to access the services they want via the devices they want.
In the coming years mobile devices will become a standard tool in teaching, pushed primarily by students. The low cost and disposability of devices now being released makes this inevitable.
It is likely that the consumer mobile device market will fluctuate in terms of operating system and manufacturer market share. In fact, we may never again see the type of operating system monopoly that Microsoft has held for the last twenty years. Taking this into account, and the immaturity of the mobile device market, I am convinced that any rigid structures we put in place in terms of network services, management systems, and educational resources should be done in a way that provides the greatest portability between platforms and does not tie in teachers or students to specific platforms or devices.
An app can only be used on a specific operating system, a service can be used across many. Computing devices should be seen as a window onto educational services and resources rather than as a requirement of those services. Whether a student has an iPad, an Android tablet, a Windows desktop, a Macbook, a Kindle, or a smartphone they should expect to be able to access the same educational resources as their peers.