All the ways iOS 9.3 will impact school iPad rollouts

Apple’s latest overhaul will impact one-to-one and shared device rollouts

In March, Apple upgraded the iPad and iPhone operating system to iOS 9.3 (quickly followed by iOS 9.3.1, which tweaked a few bugs). The lead up to the release caught the eye of the K-12 community, which had been waiting for a few tweaks of their own that would help it better manage both shared and one-to-one iPad implementations. It’s only been a couple of weeks since the new operating system hit prime time, but the feedback is already coming in—and it’s largely positive.

New features in iOS 9.3, for example, make it easier for IT to set up and manage devices via a new managed home screen layout. This feature allows administrators to deploy iPads configured for students, and to select which applications will appear on their device home screens. It might be most useful in shared environments, where more than one student is using a device—but where not all of the apps are relevant for all of those users. Schools can also locate and recover stolen or lost devices via ongoing location tracking that doesn’t compromise student privacy.

Expanded capabilities

Carl Hooker, director of innovation and digital learning at Eanes Independent School District in Austin, Texas, says his 8,000-student district kicked off its one-to-one mobile device implementation in 2012. Devices at Eanes have been upgraded to iOS 9.3, and he’s already seeing positive impacts. The new Classroom app (the “teacher’s assistant”), for example, lets instructors quickly see what students are working on at any given moment. “We were able to do this before with our mobile device management platform,” said Hooker, “but it was never built into the iOS.”

With the new operating system, teachers can also use AirPlay to share a specific student’s work on a big screen using a projector and Apple TV. “We used to have to ask students to bring their iPads up to the front of the class to plug them in to be able to do this,” says Hooker. On the backend, he says administrators like how the device enrollment profile (DEP) allows districts to purchase devices and then “sync” the device serial numbers with Apple. “This capability has been around for about a year and a half,” says Hooker, “and it’s great because if someone steals the device, it will ask for school credentials when the [thief] tries to wipe the device clean and reboot it.”

What’s different now is that the DEP function is folded into the operating system’s volume purchase pricing (VPT) program on iOS 9.3. Through the program, schools save about 50 percent off mobile apps by purchasing them in bulk. “Apple turned it into a one-stop-shop that makes deployment faster,” said Hooker, “and also helps us save money.” The feature is particularly useful for schools whose one-to-one programs include students who are under 13 years of age. “It can take months to track down all of the parent approvals and get every single student’s ID set up,” says Hooker. “During that time—which could extend into October during the typical school year—pupils weren’t getting apps. I feel like that’s really going to be streamlined now.”

Next page: Supporting a shared environment

iOS 9.3 will also help schools using shared or hybrid one-to-one implementations better manage their devices and how they’re used. “The biggest problem it solves is the ability to share iPads, which were originally designed as personal devices that stored all the user’s personal preferences and data directly on the device itself,” said Sam Gliksman, the author of “iPad in Education for Dummies.” “That made it difficult to use a different device. The new update stores files and data in the cloud and users can access that information for any device. This allows schools to now share devices between students and classes.”

A classroom using iPads that are stored on a cart, for example, can assign a specific device to each student (e.g., Johnny always gets iPad No. 5). As students pick up their devices and log in, they’ll only see those apps that are available to them. And while all apps remain on the devices, a “show/hide” feature shields some of them from certain users. “If a third grader logs in,” said Hooker, “he or she will only see third grade apps.”

The new iOS release also addresses student privacy issues, according to Dean Hager, the CEO of JAMF Software, which makes MDM software for iPads. Hager said traditional methods of locating lost or stolen devices have created issues for the educational sector. For starters, students could easily turn off their device’s location services, thus disabling the tracking capabilities. With location services on, however, the school could find itself violating a student’s privacy (via 24/7 tracking during non-school hours).

“iOS 9.3 now does it right with ‘lost mode,’” Hager said. “If a student does lose a device, he or she can tell the IT department which, in turn, can instantly lock the device and put it in low-power mode.” And here’s the kicker:  if location services is turned off, this move on the IT department’s part turns it back on and allows it to track the device without violating any privacy rules. “I personally think this is a very important feature for education.”

Wish list for the next release

Asked about his “wish list” for future iOS releases, Hooker said he’s like to see the company offer even more device management tools and capabilities for K-12 teachers. “Apple has taken the steps to give teachers oversight over what their students are doing, but it could be doing more,” he said. For example, iTunes U’s usefulness for the deployment of documents and, to a degree, workflow, could be enhanced and combined with Classrooms.

“All of a sudden you’d have a cool, slick way to do wireless workflow,” said Hooker, “with the teacher being able to say, ‘Alright class, here’s the next assignment. I’m going to push it out to you.’ Then she can just hit a button and have the assignment sent out to all of the devices.” Once completed, the assignments could be submitted wirelessly using AirDrop. “I know all the parts and components are there, but [Apple] needs AirDrop, iTunes U, and Classrooms to sync together and form this really modern way of turning in work.”

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