Mobile Learning | Feature

7 Tips for Effectively Managing Your iPad Classroom

The author of iPad in Education for Dummies offers solid advice for unlocking the possibilities of iPads in a classroom.

iPads are a great tool to encourage continual sharing and collaboration in the classroom, says education technology consultant Sam Gliksman. Gliksman runs iPads for Education, a Ning network that has drawn several thousand educators and other people interested in exploring the use of iPads in schools. He has captured much of what he's gleaned from working with schools and teachers on their iPad programs in a new book, iPad in Education for Dummies. Recently, he shared with THE Journal his best advice on what to do before a rollout and how to help an iPad classroom run as smoothly as possible to let teachers focus on the learning, not the technology.

iPad in Education for Dummies by Sam Gliksman

1. iPads Aren't Meant to be Shared

From its earliest days, the iPad was designed for personal--not "institutional"--use, Gliksman said. It caches the user's information, which means that the next time it's turned on, the user sees whatever was left by the person who used it previously. Also, neither the iPad nor "the vast majority" of apps have login procedures.

"In grades one, two, and three, you're probably fine with that. Nobody's putting anything too sensitive on there," he added. But as the students get older, work tends to be more personal and private and requires a higher level of security. "You can't have that by sharing iPads. There's no mechanism to distinguish one user from the next. Even in the case of those apps that have logins, you have to remember to log in and then log out, otherwise, you leave yourself open to the next person that comes on the iPad."

Gliksman's advice: If you're thinking about implementing a shared iPad program in a classroom fourth grade and above, "you're much better off with a one-to-one" that uses some other kind of device that will be more manageable.

2. Figure Out Workflow

According to Gliksman, what catches most schools up is that they buy iPads "and just assume that it's a different form of computer and they can handle them the same way--and they simply can't." After all, he points out, there's no USB drive, no login, no wired connection to a network, "none of the mechanisms that [people] are used to for keeping data safe and secure and backed up and private."

When schools look at deploying iPads, IT needs to examine the "infrastructure element." This involves a number of essential components. For example, iPads operate wirelessly and most schools recognize the importance of having a robust wireless infrastructure. A second element that is often overlooked is the planning and organization of content workflow. How will information and work be distributed, shared, and collected? He recommends the use of cloud-based services, where work can be stored, collected, accessed, distributed, and shared. Among the most impressive right now: Evernote and Google Apps for Education.

Gliksman also suggests making sure that if a school is using a learning management system, that the LMS works with the iPad; not all of them do. If an LMS isn't in place and the choice is up for grabs, two that he's seen used effectively with iPads are Edmodo and Schoology. In the best scenario, he notes, the sharing and distributing system will tie into the LMS to simplify and streamline teacher and student file sharing communication.

3. Get Content off the iPad

Getting work off the iPad isn't as simple as it is with standard computers, Gliksman observes. But he points to "little utilities" that can "make life easier for the teacher." Most iPad apps have three helpful elements worth exploiting.

First, there's email. Using a generic email address through an app on the device allows the student to shuttle content to the teacher or to a cloud service being used by the teacher.

Second, there's Open In, an option baked into the OS that appears under the Share icon in many iPad apps. Gliksman calls the Open In... function "invaluable." As one example, if the user has Google Drive, where Google Docs live, he or she can go onto a file, select the Open In option, and move it to the Google Drive, where it can become shareable and available from any other computer or device.

Third, although, as Gliksman writes in his book, "You can't cable your iPad to a printer," printing can be done. He recommends the use of Printopia, an application that gets loaded onto a Mac computer; then any printers attached to that Mac will be accessible via iOS when the user chooses the print function of an app. Also, the iPad can perform a "virtual print," to send the document to the teacher as a form of digital workflow. For Windows users, Gliksman recommends FingerPrint, which installs on Windows or Mac computer to share printers with iOS devices. A third option that can be installed on a network for network-wide printing is a small device called xPrintServer from Lantronix.

4. Know the Right Way to Manage a "Mid-Sized" Deployment

In settings with just a handful of iPads, management of the devices can be done by onesies and twosies. In large deployments, chances are, the school will want to implement a mobile device management solution. But then there's that middle ground--where the school has somewhere between 10 and 150 iPads (Gliksman's suggested thresholds), too many to handle one by one, too few to invest in MDM software. What to do?

He recommends learning how to use Apple Configurator, available free in the App Store, which enables IT or the teacher to set up and distribute profiles on the iPad or other iOS devices. Configurator does its magic from an iMac or MacBook, not an iPad. Says Gliksman, "You can do things like set restrictions, define how to connect to the wireless network, create email accounts and distribute them to the various iPads, and manage and update the apps on the devices. It's a really nice solution for the small to medium iPad implementation."

5. Reduce Spending on Apps

Apple's Volume Purchase Program enables schools to buy a large quantity of an app at a discount--close to 50 percent off the price with a minimum purchase, Gliksman points out. The purchase gives the school a list of codes that can be distributed for various devices so that the app gets installed on each. If your school uses Configurator, he adds, "you simply import a spreadsheet with all the codes and it'll automatically distribute those to the connected devices, which makes the process simpler."

But the bigger challenge, as far as Gliksman is concerned, is that schools "underestimate how much they're going to spend on apps... and I think they spend way too much."

The problem, he says, is that teachers too often take a narrow viewpoint: For every individual lesson, they go out and find a new app to help them teach it. "So they end up with a ton of these limited-in-scope apps that don't offer the kids a lot of room for creativity. The apps are designed to deliver a very specific skill or curriculum objective and only that skill. They'll use them for two days and then that's it."

A better approach, Gliksman recommends, is to seek out "open-ended tools"--apps that utilize different media, encourage students to be creative, and can be used for a wide variety of purposes."

6. Give Students Creative Options

Gliksman recommends allowing students to express themselves using a variety of different media. As an example, allowing students to create and distribute digital eBooks with the iPad is a great use of the technology, he reports. In his book he shares a number of apps to make that kind of endeavor possible.

Scribble Press, "which a lot of schools use," he says, is designed to be used in K-2.

Book Creator, for older students, allows kids to move beyond the written text and to "incorporate images, video, narrative--any variety of media." That app also allows students to combine their individual books into a class book through a mechanism such as Dropbox. The completed book, he writes, can be read in iBooks, sent out to family and friends, and even submitted for publication in the iBookstore.

Both of those programs use fixed layout pages with text and images. However, Book Creator also has audio capabilities.

iBooks Author, a free program that Gliksman calls "a heavyweight," is intended to be used on a Mac computer. He says he has been in classrooms where students use their iPads to create the content of a book and then that material is compiled through iBooks Author. The program has multiple predesigned templates that can be retooled; includes text import to bring content in from Word or another program; allows text to be automatically wrapped around images on the page; and allows for the use of widgets to create customizable objects in the book. For example, if students are developing their own textbook, they could embed videos of themselves explaining a particular type of problem to accompany the text they've written.

7. Get Those Must-have Accessories

From firsthand experience, Gliksman recommends several must-have accessories for the iPad classroom. First, there's Find My iPad, an app that he's used on "a number of occasions." Its use requires an iCloud account; you simply log into iCloud from a browser and it will show the location of the iPad on a map when it's turned on.

On the topic of styluses, he encourages users to try out multiple styles. "I happen to like one called the Bamboo Stylus," he says. "But it's really a question of taste."

One accessory that shouldn't be overlooked is the Bluetooth keyboard. Gliksman recommends having a few available in the classroom. "Especially with the older kids, they're a lot more comfortable typing on a keyboard than they are on the virtual keyboard on the iPad."

External microphones are another essential item, especially for classes that do multimedia work using the iPads. Although the iPad has a built-in mic, external ones come in handy for cutting down on background noise when a student is creating a podcast or video.

Earbuds are also vital, and here, he endorses every student having his or her own set.

Last, teachers will want iPad stands, which have a number of purposes: scanning, as a document camera, and for stop-motion animation projects. "If kids have created artwork that you want to put into your iBook in Book Creator, you can use the stand to hold the iPad as it takes photos of all the artwork," he explains. If there's a book the teacher wants everybody in the class to see, the stand can be used for displaying it. "She can turn on the video camera, and all of a sudden it becomes a document camera." Or, in animation projects, the students can move their pieces under the iPad as they snap photos with the device sitting in the stand.

But the most essential accessory needed in the iPad classroom is the willingness of teachers to allow students to use the devices to "express themselves in ways that were previously unavailable," declares Gliksman. "When you use the iPad in more of a student-centered approach, kids are engaged, they're enthusiastic, they're excited, they're investigating, researching, they're learning in a hundred new ways. The trick is convincing administrators and teachers that they have to let go of control--that if you give the kids the freedom to use technology, it will take them to places that they simply could not have gone before, and they do amazing things with it. We've given them wings--now let them fly!"