Device Management: iPads might be brilliant teaching tools, but they also provide endless online temptations, are relatively fragile, and deliciously stealable. We look at how to keep them safe, in one piece, and your students on task.
The vulnerable, troublemaking iPad
The best teaching ideas in the world for your iPads will mean little if the devices themselves are no longer there, damaged, or giving ADHD to every student in the class. Unfortunately, the very traits that make iPad so versatile in a classroom can also conspire to make thievery, damage and mischief more likely than not.
iPads are expensive, they’re in demand, they’re portable, and they’re difficult to tell apart—a lip-smacking checklist for any thief.
They’re also light, are frequently carried around, and feature a glass screen—which means that if they fall butter-side down, there’s a very real risk that screen will break.
They’re also potentially the single greatest distraction device to have been allowed within light years of a classroom, and would likely have been banned outright in any other teaching era. Not only can they play games, and be used to communicate with other students, but they can show any movie ever made—it would be like a student of our generation having a stereo, a gameboy, a phone and a television set right there on the school desk.
All of this is outweighed by how monumentally useful they are, but there’s nothing useful about a stolen, damaged or out-of-control iPad. If you don’t intelligently put preventative measures in place though, you’ll regularly be dealing with all three.
Keeping them secure
With tablet computers being so easily to pilfer—it’s not like trying to steal a piano or a sports car—opportunity is not merely necessary to tempt thieves, but often sufficient. If iPads are around when nobody else seems to be, they’re likely to walk.
This means everyone involved in the program has to be fanatical about ensuring that an unattended classroom means locked-up-iPads. Every time, no exceptions. If your class is just quickly popping outside to look at the unusual cloud formation that you just spotted for your meteorology unit, the iPads should be secured first, or brought with the students.
Similarly, when students go out to lunch, or the class heads off for physical education, the iPads would be locked away again. And again at the end of the day. This policy of every time/no exceptions means limited opportunities—the only way for the devices to be stolen is if there’s a break in.
Of course, there’s nothing you can do to stop that, but there are things you can do to make it difficult for your burglar—who is presumably in a hurry—to find your iPads in the first place. Most teachers love labeling things, but what you don’t want is a cupboard with “iPads” written on it. (It’s like marking X on a treasure map for pirates). If you must label your iPad cupboard, try “junk” or “unusable/broken art supplies”—unless it’s an inside job, someone breaking into your classroom might just ignore that cupboard entirely.
To add an extra layer of security…
…consider installing an app like GadgetTrak. Not only will it use GPS or wifi-triangulation to locate exactly where a stolen iPad is, but—and this is serious-but-funny-at-the-same-time—can take a photo of whoever is currently using it, and then email it to you. You won’t need Poirot to solve this case.
“Branding” each iPad
Whether students are bringing their own iPads, or you just need to keep track of which student was assigned to which school-owned device, it’s important that you can quickly disambiguate ownership/custodianship over each device—not easy when all iPads look essentially the same.
One quick, free and effective way to do this is to set the wallpaper for each iPad to be immediately, self-evidently unique, like the world’s easiest spot-the-difference puzzle. That way Emily knows that hers is the one with the picture of the frog, Ramana has the rhinoceros, Jessie the camel.
Or—less imaginatively, but perhaps more usefully—you might simply have each wallpaper show a different number, displayed in large screen-filling font, so that you can see from a distance which one is which. When the time comes to store the iPads, each would go into its corresponding numbered slot; when they come out tomorrow, students know exactly which slot theirs is in.
Of course, the ultimate in instantly being able to tell which student belongs to which iPad is for the lock screen of each iPad to actually feature a photo of the student who owns that iPad—it makes it very easy to tell if a student is carrying someone else’s iPad.
How to do this?
Picture based branding: Load up Safari, find the image you want, click and hold on that image and select “Save Image” – the image will now be saved to your camera roll collection of photos.
Alternatively, you could simply take a photo with the iPad.
Either way, to turn that saved image into a wallpaper, load your camera app, find the image in your collection, click the right-pointing arrow icon at the top right of the screen and select “use as wallpaper”.
Choose “Set Both” when you’re then asked whether you want to set this for your Lock Screen or the Home Screen – that way you’ll see this wallpaper when students are using the iPad, and when it’s just been woken up.
Number or name Branding: Instead of trying to find the image you want, it’s often easier just to load up Pages, type a number or name in a huge font so it fills the screen, and then take a screenshot.
That screenshot is saved to your camera roll; from there setting the image as a Lock Screen and Home Screen background image is exactly as outlined above in Picture Based Branding.
Record the serial number
Of course, an enterprising thief could always change the home screen…that’s where the serial number provides the ultimate tool in matching iPads to legitimate owners.
The serial number is unique to each iPad, and can be found on the back, right down the bottom. It’s in a font that you almost need jeweler’s glasses to read, so it’s not a practical way to easily identify ownership, but it’s a useful failsafe if for disputes about whose unit is whose proves impossible to resolve any other way. If you’ve got a record of every serial number, and who they belong to, then you’ve got a FinalAuthority in the event of any misunderstandings.
Outside of theft, the next most likely disaster is physical damage, which is made vanishingly less likely if the iPad has a good cover. A lot of users think that the iPad looks so good that it just doesn’t need a case, but this is not about aesthetics, it’s about an extra line of defense between that glass screen and anything hard (ie. most of the world).
So what makes a “good” cover? You’ll see all sorts of options with magnets and auto-on opens and stands and shells, but for protection purposes, just make sure it actually covers front and back, and that when closed, doesn’t leave any edges or corners unprotected.
Aside from that, in elementary schools, a policy of iPads-locked-away during break times will make sure they’re not on the playground while students are.
Recommended rules of usage
Students will generally cherish their iPads, and would be horrified if theirs was damaged, so they’re motivated to take good care of them from the outset. This is even more the case if the iPad is demonstrably and enduringly theirs, rather than whatever they grabbed from the shelf today.
Still though it’s important to have clear guidelines as to what “careful with an iPad” means. Obviously you’ll need to tailor for the age group and needs of your own class, but here are some common candidates for iPad physical usage guidelines:
- Clean hands. Art sessions with lots of messy paint are great. iPads are great. The combination, not so great.
- Two hands when carrying. Probably not necessary for your Year 12 Economics class; definitely a good idea for your Year 1.
- Keep it out of extreme temperatures. The recommended operating temperatures for an iPad are actually not all that different from those of a human being. If the sun streaming through a window makes a place in the classroom too hot to sit in, it’s too hot to store an iPad.
- No other object placed on iPads. So it doesn’t end up being sat on by mistake, because nobody could see it; also avoids pressure on the screen from other heavy objects. This includes leaning on the closed iPad.
- No liquids. Water and electrical devices. ‘nuff said.
- Locked away when you’re not with it. See the notes earlier in this chapter about security.
- Soft, dry cloth only for screen cleaning. No cleansers of any type to be used.
- Don’t lend it to other students. The consequences for breakage/misuse fall on the student who owns the iPad; they need to be in control of its destiny.
- No stickers/engravings/etchings. Especially for students who are used to covering lunchboxes and exercise books with whatever. School iPads should always look like they’ve just come out of the box for the first time.
- No disassembly or attempted repairs. As a sealed all-in-one unit, there’s limited scope for do-it-yourself repairs, but if something gets lodged in the lightning port, you don’t want students attempting extraction with a compass-point.
Particularly if your classroom is wifi enabled, an iPad is a gateway to pretty much every form of entertainment ever created. It’s not just readily distractible students who can succumb to the siren’s call; unless you want your iPad program to descend into FaceTube anarchy, there are two measures that need to be in place:
First of all, there has to be meaningful consequences for breaches of whatever usage code you establish—the prospect of suddenly being the only student in the class who is not allowed to work with iPads any more is usually sufficiently daunting. Show them some pencils and paper—or better still, slide rules, quills and ink—and let them know this will be their iPad Substitute during any (painfully lengthy) lockout period. Just like the olden days, when we were at school.
I know. The horror.
Secondly, it requires effective monitoring—or at the very least, the universally held belief among students that there is effective monitoring. Students are less likely to goof on their iPads if they know that at any given instant you can see exactly what they’re looking at.
This combination of use-it-the-wrong-way-and-lose-it with I-can-always-see-whatever-you’re-looking-at means that suddenly the whole idea of just quickly popping into FaceTube fails a cost-benefit analysis. You’re going to get caught, and you’re going to lose your iPad.
So how do you see what they’re seeing?
A low-tech solution is to simply invert traditional teacher positioning in the classroom, and place yourself behind all your students, so that they can’t tell whether you’re looking at their screen right now or not. The constant possibility that you might be makes goofing an uncomfortably risky prospect.
Another tactic is the random “freeze”. All students, hands in the air; anyone who doesn’t comply instantly loses their iPad for the day. The teacher is then able to wander the class and see what’s on every screen. If they suspect a student may have been quick enough to switch away from whatever they were doing, a quick double tap on the home button will bring up a history of which apps they were using.
Again, it’s not the actual checks that have the impact here—it’s the constant and real possibility that a check might happen at any time.
But if you want to get serious about knowing exactly what’s going on at all times, then there’s a brilliant option in development from the team at NetSupport Schools. At the time of writing this edition of the book it was in beta only, but once released, the software will allow the teacher to see what’s on the screen of every iPad in the room—it actually will display every screen right there on the teacher’s own iPad. The teacher can zoom out for a bird’s eye view of all the screens, or zoom in to see individual screens up close…students will have no idea exactly when they’re being monitored like this, which is reason enough for the program to keep misuse in check.
You can also lock any student’s screen—or the class as a whole—to get their instant attention…
…all very exciting, but not here just yet. Keep an eye on netsupportschool.com for updates.
Bringing it all together: Licensing
The idea behind licensing is that students earn tiered access to iPads, by demonstrating that they’re responsible enough to be entrusted with each new level. Provide evidence to the contrary, and their license—and its attendant access privileges—can be downgraded.
There’s a number of parameters a license can target. One potent option is to use it to regulate access. So a student with a Level 1 license might have to surrender their iPad at the end of each school day; a Level 2 might be allowed to take theirs home on weekends; a Level 3 might be allowed to take it home every day.
Alternatively, the licenses might target ownership. So, for example, a Level 1 student might be required to share their iPad, a Level 2 might get an iPad to themselves, but only by “borrowing” one of the generic communal class iPads—it wouldn’t be theirs, and they might get an entirely different one next time; while a Level 3 student gets their own iPad, labelled with their name, and that’s permanently set aside for their own use.
You could also use a system like this to unlock access to additional apps. Students on Level 1 might just have access to a couple of very basic apps; students on Level 2 can choose 2 more; students on Level 3 can choose an additional 5, and so on.
The structure is up to you, but a tiered system like this is a powerful incentive to want to do the right thing—not everyone will end up with the top tier license, but the right students will.