The 2012 Horizon Report identifies mobile devices and tablet computing as technologies expected to enter mainstream use in education within one year or less. The mobility of these devices, their almost instant accessibility, the ease with which the touch screens promote interaction and the huge range of educational apps available for very reasonable prices appeal to both teachers and students. Research has found that the use of iPads and other mobile devices in the classroom improves engagement, supports multiple ways to access the curriculum and enhances assessment practices (Government of Alberta, 3 October 2011).
The flexibility of mobile devices is undeniable. They have been successfully rolled out in 1-1 programmes, where students have 24/7 access to the devices, and have equally been found to be powerful learning tools when used in a one to many scenario. In fact, Kristin Redington Bennett says in her recent article, Less Than a Class Set , that having fewer iPads not only challenged teachers to be more creative and innovative in the way they designed learning opportunities, but also that having a small number of iPads in a classroom facilitated individualized and tailored instruction, as a class set of the devices may encourage more traditional whole class instruction.
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This scenario, of having one iPad shared among multiple users is likely to be far more common that the 1-1 scenario in most schools, as the technology is still relatively new, and education budgets grow increasingly tight. Often, it is the school library which manages the mobile devices, loaning them out to teachers and classes on a needs basis.
Sharing iPads among whole classes and small groups can still lead to effective learning. As Bennett suggests, the teacher may use one iPad with the whole class as a moveable digital display, moving around the classroom with it, or having the students pass the tablet around. It may also be the focus of a small group challenge, or as a part of a learning centre. They can be used by individual students for extension, or provide engaging practise for students who are struggling with specific concepts. Apps such as Futaba, which allow multiple students to play together on the iPad are also terrific options, and the list of these multiplayer apps is growing.
Apple in particular has had massive success in the education market; with sales data in the United States finding that in the most recent quarter, iPads even outsold Personal Computers in the K-12 Market. Despite this success, and the enthusiastic take up by teachers and students, the iPad’s design remains that of a personal device.
This provides a range of challenges to educators who are using the device as a shared technology between multiple users.
In May 2012, Apple Insider reported that the lack of multi-user support on iPad is a ‘known issue,’ which was ‘being investigated’ by Apple. While there are apps that allow multiple users to access different accounts such as Facebook or cloud based document libraries, there is no way for multiple users to have their own personalised profile in the way that users can log into a shared PC. This would be useful in situations where teachers and students share the device, as the teacher could have a profile that allows them to access their emails, class and assessment data, teaching apps etc, while students could log into a generic ‘student’ account, which provides access to educational apps and a student email for exporting from apps.
Deploying multiple iPads to a generic user base is one of the most challenging aspects of their introduction to schools. The initial set up of multiple devices can be extremely time-consuming. There are ways to deliver email access, wireless network and other functions over the air, strategies which are detailed in Apple’s business solutions package, however the establishment of the Apple ID required for each device takes some time, particularly entering in the numerous details required by Apple’s strict security. The Apple Configurator app goes some way to simplify the process also (although this requires a Mac computer), however all of these options require not only an administrator with a fairly good basic set of IT skills, but also a robust WiFi network or the time needed to plug each device into a central (Mac) computer.
None of this should (or indeed does) dissuade schools from adopting these mobile devices; however they are good things to be aware of for any school looking to move into the mobile device area; deployment takes time and skills.
Managing iPads in a one to one setting is much simpler, as each student is able to manage the download of the apps they require. In situations where the device is shared, the process is a little more complex.
It was with great joy that Australian educators received the news that we finally had access to the Volume purchasing program for apps that had been available in the United States for several years. This makes purchasing large numbers of apps and installing them far more manageable.
Previously, to abide by licensing requirements, apps had to be purchased individually for each device, and then installed in this manner. The volume purchasing program, although somewhat tedious to set up, allows for the purchase of multiple apps with one credit card (although sadly, not with an iTunes card, which is how schools commonly manage the financial aspect of purchasing). A distribution code is then made available, which is then used on each device to download the app from the iTunes store. While this makes management easier, the code must still be physically entered on each individual device – which may take some time for 60 devices. Students can easily do this process, but for younger users, teachers may prefer to manage this process themselves. Not every app is a part of this program; app creators must nominate for their app to be included. For those apps which are not available through volume purchasing, individual purchases are still required.
Syncing and/or charging multiple devices is possible through the use of a professionally created solution, however for those with limited budgets, ideas on home-made docking stations are available.
Mobile devices continue to grow in their influence in education. As time passes, they are becoming easier to manage on a school basis, and hopefully these improvements will continue to develop. In the meantime, schools looking at managing multiple devices should be aware of the time this requires, and plan strategically in order to get the best out of their investment.