Tablets | Viewpoint

Note to Tablet Companies: Education is an Enterprise

Schools are one of the biggest markets for tablets. So why do districts have to do workarounds to manage the devices?

This article originally appeared in T.H.E. Journal's October 2012 digital edition.

Last month I wrote an editorial titled, “Stop Buying iPads, Please” that raised a few hackles among readers (see our letters page). My aim wasn’t to get schools to actually stop buying iPads but to rather encourage them to emphasize teaching and learning issues rather than the technology.

But the truth is, I do have some problems with iPads, or more generally, tablets, in school settings. Wait! Hold your hate emails! I get it that the tablet interface is conducive to learning in many ways, including being an almost perfect technology for young learners (see the October issue's related story on technology and early learning).

The problem I want to discuss is the management of tablets in an enterprise setting like schools. Tablets are basically consumer devices. There was no thought in their design for needs like file structures for storing/organizing user work; security features to lock down against unsafe use; supporting multiple users of the same device; purchasing hundreds or even thousands of apps on a single account; managing those apps on hundreds or even thousands of devices.

As a consequence, schools have to do workarounds. I find it a little mind-blowing that districts can only manage 30 iPads at a time (with the help of Apple Configurator, a tool which Apple, to its credit, has made available to address some education management issues). I asked Antwon Lincoln, the instructional technology coordinator for Chula Vista (CA) Elementary School District, what his workaround is for managing his district’s 2,100 iPads and he said, laughing, "We pray. Bless this iPad, Lord. Give it wings but make sure it doesn’t fly."

Chula Vista, like other districts, is looking at third-party mobile device management (MDM) solutions to help manage their many devices, but as Lincoln points out, many MDM providers have no history of working with Apple because it isn’t an enterprise-oriented company, the way, say, Microsoft is (whose new tablet device, I’ll bet, will be enterprise friendly). "So we’ve got to be very careful of companies just showing up in our email saying, 'I can do your MDM,'" Lincoln cautioned.

The Android OS, apparently, is more hospitable to enterprise-level management. (I say "apparently" because no one from Google responded to my questions about Android’s management capabilities.) But a Google representative did confirm my fears that schools can’t do volume app purchasing from GooglePlay. “The market is still new and evolving for us,” the rep explained.

That’s fine. But I’d like to suggest that Google and Apple and anybody else selling tablets into schools evolve in the direction of education’s needs. I think schools--as a united market--should exert a little pressure over companies they are spending so much money with. I’m especially thinking of Apple, who, let’s be honest, wouldn’t even be here if it weren’t for the education market, which put the company on the map and kept it alive for many years. Any company that makes money off of schools should not treat those customers as an afterthought, but rather should build devices and solutions that truly support the education enterprise. Schools should not have to settle for workarounds.

About the Author

Therese Mageau is the former editorial director of THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at [email protected].