The latest release of Apple’s operating system for its tablet and phone devices is the first one I’ve noticed considerable mention being made of education-specific enhancements.
The following list of school-centric features by no means cracks the many challenges surrounding the use of fully integrated technology in the classroom, but it goes a long way, indicates how important this market is to Apple and makes the iPad an even more compelling learning tool.
Better, simpler collaboration
Airdrop is Apple’s new feature for sharing documents, photos, video, maps or Safari pages with others nearby. It uses a combination of wifi and Bluetooth to allow students to share files with individuals or groups. This is clearly very useful, will encourage ad hoc collaboration and massively simplifies the task.
Better security, management & admin of devices
Activation Lock now means that a stolen iPad cannot be used without the associated AppleID and password, making stealing it less likely and helping assuage parents’ worries about their child carrying an expensive computer to and from school.
Auto Update is an option which allows users to let the device download and install all app updates, ensuring that everyone’s software is up to date and functional. Combined with an OS X Caching server, the strain on a school’s bandwidth becomes much more manageable.
Apple’s Volume Purchase Programme for apps has been pretty primitive in this country but has got (a little bit) better with a change which allows schools to retain the license to any app bought. Previously, the license disappeared out of the door with the student, but they can now be recalled and reused as cohorts of children leave. Just the ridiculous payment ‘options’ to sort now, Cupertino.
Improved control through Mobile Device Management is also broadly hinted at. MDM has always been held back by iOS’ inbuilt restrictions over what can be controlled. Apple now promise teachers greater control over what students can and cannot do in lessons, via MDM. As this (perceived classroom management problems) is probably the greatest barrier to this technology being embraced by non-evangelists, this development can only be a good thing. Over to you, Airwatch/ LightSpeed, et al.
Better screen sharing?
Finally, and not before time, AppleTV’s firmware (v6.0) gets an overhaul which shows that Apple have realized that a fair chunk of these devices have ended up in classrooms. Again utilizing MDM as the interface, teachers will be empowered to invite students to mirror their screen to the classroom’s display without having to share their password (and thereby introducing massive anonymously temptation to hijack the display from anywhere on the wireless network…). It remains to be seen how well this all works, as teachers will need to be au fait with their MDM software to gain the fuller control promised. Software alternatives to AppleTV (Airserver, Reflector) are ahead of the game here.
In summary? Positive moves away from a consumer-only focus towards features which support positive use of these amazing devices in classrooms, but there’s a long way to go yet.