iPads in Education

Innovating education with technology.

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 Sam Gliksman on June 10, 2011 at 5:10am
There really isnt an ideal enterprise level file management solution for iPads Tricia. DropBox is a great cloud storage solution that works well on iPads but there isn't any way to manage accounts and permissions on an enterprise level. In terms of account management the best enterprise level solution for cloud file management remains Google Docs. You can create a Google Apps account for your school and manage student accounts as an administrator. You will however need to be selective in using apps that link to the GA accounts. Pages doesn't but many others do. And of course you can't share iPads as logins are automatically cached on the device for almost all apps.
Comment by Tricia O'Keeffe on June 10, 2011 at 2:12am
Hi, we deployed 200 iPads this year and I am keen to implement a cloud solution for file exchange, like DropBox but on a more enterprise scale where I can manage student account creation. Also that has the ability to store both MSoft and Apple file formats ie MS Word and Pages. Would you have any suggestions.
Kind Regards Tricia, West Moreton Anglican College
Comment by Sam Gliksman on June 9, 2011 at 9:48pm
Ex-pat Aussie here Karen. Yes, these days fall is September for me - coincides with my Magpies playing in the Grand Final...
Comment by Karen Barley on June 9, 2011 at 8:20pm

Hi Sam...

sorry ignorant Aussie....is Fall September?

 

Karina

 

ps I agree with you John,.....it is a transformative tool but I love the term monolith...lol

Comment by Sam Gliksman on June 9, 2011 at 8:16pm
The official word is "fall" Karen.
Comment by John J Caprice on June 9, 2011 at 7:46pm

The ability to wirelessly sync will eliminate a significant labor cost in schools with large deployments of iPads.

I wonder if an Apple TV receiver can be connected to a projector.....Hmmmm...That could work out.

I strongly suspect that Apple is preparing and educational network, one that can provide state standard specific lesson plans, and provide an entire world knowledge base.

The iPad is more than disruptive technology...Rather, it is the evolutionary monolith that alters the future....JJC

Comment by Karen Barley on June 9, 2011 at 7:45pm
when is ios5 going to be available?

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