Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Hey Apple!

Good Stuff
I like Mac's as much as I like PC's, each have their strengths and I use both on a daily basis. When it comes to tablets however, my personal preference is still the iPad. I am not going to get all Apple fanatical about it, but there are many reasons I feel they are great devices. However one area of frustration I have had with the iPad is syncing multiple iPads in my school district. We have 18 Bretford Powersync carts that hold 30 iPads each and allow charging and syncing to all 30 iPads simultaneously. The carts are used at 4 elementary and one jr. high school and after a year of use, I needed to reflect and come up with a better plan for the new school year.

Go iPads
The carts are primarily used in the K-3 classrooms and shared between rooms, which opens up the way each school has decided to manage them. The positive of not bringing in the devices and trying to dictate how the devices can be checked out or rotated has allowed each school to be creative with their plans. Initial training with Tony Vincent was a great introduction for teachers to see how the devices can be used for creation and not just as a "station" in the classroom. Our Special Education department has also used the iPads and a variety of specific communication apps to open up opportunities for a number of students. I feel we are in the early stages of realizing what the devices can do and look forward to seeing how our teachers use them again this year in their classrooms.

Train Wreck
Moving from 10 iPads as a pilot to 13 carts in one year brought a number of challenges. The Bretford carts worked great, but at the time there wasn't a way to efficiently sync 30 iPads at once without mass confusion, and the only option through Apple was iTunes. I thought it would be a no brainer to sync all the carts using one MacBook and one Apple ID. Let's just say that if you can do this and your are successful, you are a genius and my hat is off to you. For me, it was a gigantic train wreck that I will spare you the details, but iTunes was created for the individual and not the classroom, so I understand.  The question when reflecting on the situation was how could a more efficient approach allow the teachers freedom to still download apps that they decide are right for their students/curriculum and not have it become a giant mess? It also has to be a solution that can be managed by the teachers and not rely on tech services.

Let's Try It
After many hours of talking with peers, co-workers, Apple, etc., we have decided to use Apple Configurator. Turns out I wasn't the only one banging my head against the wall trying to manage multiple iPads and Apple decided to try and create a solution that would possibly meet the needs of many in the same boat. We have bought MacBook Airs for each of our carts and I have managed to setup 5 new carts with Configurator, ready to roll them out and see how it goes. Each cart will now be shared by a grade level and the 4 teachers will have to colloborate on app management using Configurator after I provide basic training.

Share It
I will definitely make it a point to do a follow up once things are rolling and all 18 carts have been setup with their MacBook and Configurator. In the meantime, please feel free to share any helpful tricks and tips you may have found with multiple iPad syncing, the more collaboration the better!

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