Tablet Computing | Feature Series

Prepping for a Fall iPad Rollout

Florida's "first iPad high school" is readying its IT infrastructure for the 2011-2012 school year in preparation for delivering the mobile devices to every student. Already plans are in flux with new developments on the technology front, including Apple's recent announcement of iCloud, which is expected to launch a month into the new school year.

In March, THE Journal reported on The Master's Academy and the challenges it was tackling on the way to becoming Florida's first iPad school. The private, interdenominational Christian institution in Oviedo has since made progress, according to Mitchell Salerno, principal, whose staff is now three months away from the day when all high school students will be handed a personal iPad.

With about 900 students in grades K4 through 12, the school will become the first in Florida to distribute the devices to all students in ninth through 12th grade. To get there, Salerno has been working through a few challenges, including the recent "iCloud" announcement from Apple, which is being touted as a new way to store and access materials via the Web.

With an expected September launch date, the new service will roll out right after The Master's Academy doles out the iPads to students. "It seems like as soon as we get a something solidified, a new development rears its head," Salerno lamented. "Now we have to look into iCloud and figure out how it affects what we're doing and whether it's applicable for 300 devices."

Network and Security Concerns
Salerno also has network requirements on the brain right now, knowing that when the 300 devices fire up in August, students will expect them to be able to seamlessly surf the Internet.

"Right now, we're trying to figure out if we should use our Internet provider's bandwidth and wireless network or try to beef up our own system," said Salerno. "Either way, by the fall we will have improved the wireless portion of our network, which currently isn't hearty enough to handle everything that will be coming its way."

Device security is another issue that's being addressed this summer, in anticipation of the fall rollout and the fact that students will be bringing their iPads home every night. Salerno said the school is considering several security options, including the use of device passcodes, "find my iPad" type applications and other options that would allow administrators to know where the tablets are at all times.

"We want to know where the devices are at all times, and to see if they're being used, or if they're broken, and so forth," Salerno explained. "We haven't decided yet how that's going to be handled."

Secure browsing is also a concern for the school, which could install browsers on the iPads that would provide Internet filters whether the device is on or off campus. "We're doing some research into that option ... to see if it's worth the cost," Salerno said. To use the browser, the school would have to purchase the application and then pay to become a member of the service.

iPad insurance will be handled by the individual families, who can pay a fee to an outside firm to cover the expenses associated with loss, accidental damage, or theft. "It's a good policy at a reasonable rate," Salerno said. "Families will not be required to insure the iPads, but if I were a parent with a student who was bringing an iPad home every night, I'd certainly want to make sure it was covered."

Students and Teachers
Students will be expected to charge their devices at home, as needed, and bring them back to school with full batteries that are ready to use. The school is not changing the electrical structure of its buildings, nor is it using carts or other classroom technology that would provide charging capabilities.

Salerno said the school's stance on charging the iPads should be accepted by students, most of whom are accustomed to regularly charging their cell phones, iPods, and other devices. "I've yet to see a student's phone run out of juice," said Salerno. "Plus, a fully charged iPad lasts a while and can easily handle a school day."

To prep teachers for the rollout, the school distributed iPad 2s to all of its high school teachers in hopes that they would familiarize themselves with the devices and learn how to navigate and use them. Over the next three weeks, Salerno said, he and his team will be selecting a mobile device management (MDM) solution-- a decision that's been set back slightly by Apple's iCloud announcement.

"All of sudden we're back at the drawing board," said Salerno, who added he expects to make the final decision on the mobile device management solution and also wrap up the school's wireless network update in July. Once the students are in their seats in August, the school will hold mandatory orientation meetings for the iPads, which will be put into use as soon as the school year starts.

Even with some decisions in flux, Salerno is confident in his team's ability to meet the initiative's fall rollout date. "We'll be constantly evaluating things like the iCloud, which rolls out at the worst possible time--a month after we start school," said Salerno. "Just when we think we've made all of our decisions, we have to sit down and evaluate a new option. It's just the nature of the game."
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