iPads in Education

Exploring the use of iPads and mobile devices in education.

iOS 5, iCloud and Education: To what degree will iBenefit?

Apple held it’s widely anticipated Worldwide Developer Conference recently and as expected, took the opportunity to disclose the upcoming release of many new product features and services. Chief among them was the announcement of the new iOS 5 mobile operating system and a new wireless data synchronization and storage service called iCloud.

Any analysis is still somewhat speculative as most of the new features won’t be fully available for several months … but hey, since when has that stopped us? There’s a lot to digest and several significant features that will impact education directly.

 

“PC Free” Wireless Synchronization
The huge achilles heel of iPad deployment to date has been the difficulty involved with their management and synchronization. The impending ability to now synchronize iOS devices wirelessly removes part of the headache of having to connect them to desktop with an iTunes account. With the new “PC free” feature, devices will setup automatically out of the box and then update, backup and synchronize to an iTunes account when left charging. Typically in a school scenario that will be when they are left charging overnight in a cart..

AirPlay Mirroring
Probably one of the least heralded of the new features may be the one that has a huge potential impact for classroom teachers. AirPlay mirroring will now allow anyone with an iPad 2 to project whatever is on their screen wirelessly to any HD television connected to an Apple TV. For those that aren’t familiar with Apple TV, frankly you’re in the majority. There haven’t been many compelling reasons to consider purchasing this $99 device … until now.

Consider the scenario where you ditch that expensive and repair greedy classroom projector or SmartBoard and instead purchase an inexpensive large screen HDTV along with an Apple TV for all your classroom projection needs. No more expensive repairs or $250 bulbs to buy. Instead, any teacher can now wirelessly project their iPad to the large screen TV. And it gets better. Imagine now that any student in the class can easily project their own iPad screen to the TV without moving from their seat or plugging in any cables.

Communications
For those of us that believe in the value of effective communication to both teacher and student learning, Apple has streamlined the way we can send and receive information with the following new features:

  • Notifications: We have all experienced the difficulty of maintaining focus when beeps and pop-ups constantly interrupt our concentration. iOS has made a concerted effort to make notifications less disruptive. Rather that the constant stream of pop-up interruptions that exist today, notifications will appear in a floating window that can be revealed with a swipe from the top of your iPad display. This will potentially reduce the background noise that breaks your concentration - except for those of us that will probably now be continually swiping to check our messages...
  • iMessage: OK, so let’s just call it Blackberry Messaging for iOS devices and leave it at that. It does allow you to connect an email address with a phone number to work across different iOS devices and that’s a nice addition. The one glaring limitation is the same one that plagues Blackberry’s BBM service - you can only communicate with others on the same system.
  • Twitter Integration: Educators are increasingly using twitter for professional development purposes and “tweeting” will now be integrated into a variety of apps such as Safari, Photos, Maps and more.

 

iCloud
iCloud is Apple’s new service for synching user data across devices. Data can include files, music, photos and more. Users will receive 5GB of free storage and can store files from any iCloud supported app. This includes Pages, Numbers and Keynote from Apple as well as any and all third party apps that elect to synchronize storage on iCloud. Unlike service such as Dropbox that allow storage of any files however, iCloud will only store files from compatible apps. iCloud focuses on integration with apps as opposed to DropBox or SugarSync which are more of a generic file storage mechanism.

This does however have important implications for backup and workflow and especially in schools where students are not permitted to take iPads off campus. Imagine students creating a document in Pages as a typical example. Today your options are either to store the document on the iPad without any automatic backup and without off-campus access if the iPad doesn’t go home with the student. A second option would be to email the document from the device and create a duplicate copy which can be retrieved from the email. Other options that can be configured include WebDav and DropBox but they are cumbersome to set up and manage for anything other than a handful of students.

With iCloud, the student has a web based account and the document is automatically stored and backed up from the iPad. Further, the student can access the account off-campus and retrieve the document for further editing before returning it to the iCloud account.

Safari Web Browsing

I currently have my iOS Safari browser loaded with a bookmarklet from Instapaper for saving articles for later reading and another from Readability for uncluttered and easier to read page formatting. Both of those features will now be standard in the new version of Safari under iOS 5. Add to that tabbed browsing and speed improvements and Safari may finally be a capable mobile browser.

 

Multitasking Gestures
One of the main critiques of the iPad from a productivity standpoint is that you can only display and work with one app at a time (although I have had students tell me that this actually minimizes distractions and makes it easier for them to concentrate). Multitasking will now be simpler and faster with new gestures that allow you to swipe left or right to switch between apps.

Accessibility
The iPad has been extremely popular in special education and iOS 5 continues to make improvements for people and learners with disabilities. New features include LED flash and custom vibration patterns to see or hear when someone is contacting you as well as improved VoiceOver controls.

Would Have Been Nice If...
Given that they won’t be fully released for some time, it’s too early to close the book on iOS 5 and iCloud yet. There are however several features that could still be important additions:

  • Printing: Air Print has been suffering from a lack of oxygen. There doesn’t seem to be any help on the way. iOS 5 could have been the perfect time to support a far wider range of wireless printers with this function.
  • Improved text editing control in the web browser: The inadequacy of the mobile Safari text editor control has made it next to impossible to use popular text editing tools to edit blog posts or Google Docs. The jury’s still out on this feature but it appears that an enhanced version could still be included with iOS 5. This would be a dramatic and very desirable improvement.
  • Bridging between iOS and Lion with iMessage: iMessage is a great new feature but I often work at the desktop in my office and leave my iPad elsewhere. Enabling a desktop version of iMessage, possibly linked to iChat, would have been a nice idea.


Overall, I’d have to say that most of the new features aren’t really “new” and have existed in other third party apps and competing services for some time already (see Android, Blackberry, Google, DropBox, Instapaper, Readability and more). One could question the ethics of copying concepts from competitors but that seems to have been the behavior de rigueur of the software industry for many years (from which legal firms have profited more than anyone). For those of us that have become accustomed to Apple’s record of innovation this may have been somewhat of a disappointment. Apple does however seem to have successfully integrated the new features into their operating system and software in a fundamental and seamless manner. If you’re an avid Apple consumer or an Apple school then you’ll likely to find many of these new features indispensable.

 

Sam Gliksman

samgliksman@gmail.com

Twitter: @samgliksman

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Comment by JW on September 28, 2011 at 8:27am

With these new features  is anyone starting to discuss possible impacts to school ipads? Wireless syncing? Network impacts? Can the wireless sync/update features be disabled?

 

Comment by Dave Brown on June 27, 2011 at 7:29pm

I see iOS 5 as groundbreaking for many of the reasons Sam outlined, but I find the discussion on projectors/Apple TV particularly interesting.  I have owned an Apple TV for about six months. Although my wife and I have come to enjoy Netflix and the convenience of the Apple movie store, I bought it because I knew the device would eventually have a major impact on education. And I really believe that by this September, a lot of people are going to start recognizing this. I think Sam highlighted a crucial point in his post.  Even in a classroom where there is only 1 iPad, the cost of the iPad/Apple TV/projector configuration is at least half that of a new interactive whiteboard.  Sure, there are advantages and disadvantages of using one instead of the other (and I think having both would be even better), but as a classroom teacher myself, I like the idea of being able to move around the room during a lesson while the passing the iPad around to my students.  This solution seems far more student-centered to me.  Now consider a 1 to 1 classroom where all the students can Airplay their documents, sketches, or apps onto a shared screen.  Wow!  That is a major step forward in how children can use technology to collaborate.  

 

Before beginning this post, I checked out Best Buy to see how many of its projectors come with an HDMI input.  Of the 4 or 5 priced between $350 - $500, only one had an HDMI input, but I would say that for most of the mid to high-end projectors the opposite was true.  They were equipped. Granted, these are new projectors (likely newer than the one in your classroom).

 

The other detail to remember here is WiFi.  Without a network in your school, this setup is not going to work for you.  Unfortunately, because of this limitation, I will not be able to use the Airplay feature in my classroom even next year. 

Comment by Sam Gliksman on June 21, 2011 at 6:49pm
Thanks Offie. Box.net is a possibility but their pricing is prohibitive for most schools and their solution isn't supported by many popular apps such as Pages. It is definitely more enterprise friendly however.
Comment by Offie Clark on June 16, 2011 at 9:17am

for people looking for robust cloud storage solutions have you looked at box.net? It has the ability to look at your open/active directory and import users and groups then assign those groups permissions. Much more enterprise/education friendly than dropbox. It also has free mobile clients and when you move up to enterprise they have a desktop app too.

 

apple tv does hdmi so you'd need an HDMI enabled projector, but the iPad 2 outputs to hdmi (with an adaptor) so unless you have a bunch of original pads you just need that adaptor.

 

Sam, this is a great summary of iOS 5 developments, thanks.

Comment by Jeremy Dorn on June 15, 2011 at 6:47am
There are some things I'm not hearing out of Apple that is making me grump. First is the lack of info about iOS and how it interacts with Lion Server. Second is if AirDrop will also be included. Apple demoting the PC to the same level as the iOS is okay as long as iOS takes up some of that PC like connectivity. Whats bad is they are seemingly putting their own cloud ahead any local cloud you would wish to create.

@Deb, try looking for some of the 3rd party solutions that "spoof" turn your PC into an AppleTV. Again another "bad" by Apple (beef #3). AirPlay through a computer should already be enabled. I've got a beta app that is okay. Not sure if it would take constant switching between student computers.

As a related point if the iPad 2 can Wifi Mirrior the screen the why can't we use Apple Remote Desktop to monitor multiple iPads? (beef #4)

@Stuff about WebDAV,

For those new to the term think of it like a more robust FTP. Anything you used to be able to do with FTP you can do to WebDAV. If you are doing your own external share you could also bring a VPN into the mix as well. This is why I'm not happy about the lack of talk about iOS and Lion Server integration. Server makes accounts (could handle multiuser iPads if Apple want being such a stick in the mud on it being a single user device), it does Push Notifications, it can host WebDAV and CalDAV, it can host it's own iChat service (why no integration with iMessage?) and thats just my experience using Snow Leapord Server.

I know I'm taking a rather negative tone here but Apple seems to have totally missed the fact that both schools and busisnnes don't really need the iCloud itself. What they need is a way to implement their own iCloud for security and control reasons. I know if my district had issues with getting Google Docs for schools, the same legal issues will apply to iCloud for students.

I will say the one thing I am looking forward to is the Rich Text use iOS wide. Hopefully even RTFD. On the Lion side I can't wait to see how far Multiple Concurrent users can be pushed.
Comment by Tricia O'Keeffe on June 10, 2011 at 8:18pm
Thanks for info on Google and WebDav. I like the WebDav server idea. Has anyone used Box.net? I am currently looking at that. And any ideas about whether Live@edu would do this? Cheers Tricia
Comment by Tim Cooper on June 10, 2011 at 11:50am
Apple TV only has an hdmi connection. If the projector has an hdmi connector then it is easy, but most do not. You can get a convertor from hdmi to s video or component which many projectors do have. There are even some hdmi to via convertor systems but they are a little more elaborate
Comment by Deb Burdick-Hinton on June 10, 2011 at 9:12am
Does anyone know if you can connect Apple TV directly to an HD Projector, thus allowing students to connect wirelessly and project their ipad2 screen using AirPlay Mirroring? Most classrooms already have projectors and there may not be room or funds to purchase/mount HD TV's.
Comment by Peter Zingg on June 10, 2011 at 8:58am
I hope this doesn't mean that every student will need to obtain an Apple ID (with a credit card), and that teachers will have to get students to "log in" and "log out" from shared iPads with their Apple ID and password...
Comment by Tim Cooper on June 10, 2011 at 8:29am
One other enterprise option available now is WebDAV . If you have a Mac osx server with user accounts, WebDAV is an option. Webdav is an internal version of a dropbox like storage solution. You can make it available on the public internet. All of the apple products support it and it can be a way to make iPad stuff available on a Mac, this could be helpful if you for instance wanted to shoot a movie with the iPad but edit it in iMovie on a Mac. When the icloud emerges the experience and procedure will be similar.

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