lots-of-ipadsI considered giving this article a more positive spin, something along the lines of, “iPads Work Best in a 1:1 ratio”, but with the amount of research, and money being spent looking into the installation of iPad’s in schools the above needed to be put more plainly: iPads don’t work as a multi-user device.

The Importance of Being Scalable

Why, when the iPad works so brilliantly for me at home, can I not just buy fifteen more and have it work as brilliantly in the classroom? The issue is something those in IT deal with every day — scalability.

Scalability means that the administrative overheads — primarily man-hours, but also time spent managing security and data protection — do not follow a significant upward curve as we increase the number of devices.

Let’s look at Microsoft Windows. Windows is the most successful operating system in the enterprise primary because it scales brilliantly. Whatever you think about the Windows desktop you can’t deny that it’s possibly the most flexible tool available to manage large numbers of devices.

Almost every aspect of a Windows computer can be managed centrally to a very granular level. This means that if I want to install a new computer suite I can do so with very little additional upkeep cost. That is to say, if I buy 30 new Windows PCs my upkeep costs stay relatively flat.

The opposite is true of iPad.

Where’s My Data?

The most requested feature I have from teachers where iPads have been rolled out in large numbers is, “is there a way to have a separate desktop for students?” Teachers need a way to separate their personal information from students who may also use the device. The answer is there isn’t and, outside of the issues of scalability, this is the most concerning issue for a Network Administrator.

With iPad it is extremely complicated to access a Windows based file shares, which means that saving to a central location is impossible for most users. As a result we turn to cloud based storage providers who have developed apps that plug into iOS and allow work to be passed out into a usable format. This is where the main issue occurs.

In Windows we use many tricks to prevent the student or teacher failing to do simple tasks. The process of saving a document in a Windows environment is able to be managed to such a degree that the user almost cannot fail to save their work into an appropriate place. We do things like restrict access to local storage and places that might be inappropriate to save, force the default save location to be their home folder, and require that the user saves before closing a document. With iPad the user has no control over this saving process, in fact, in many applications saving is done automatically into an inaccessible ocation on the device itself without warning the user. The user is then required to manually export the work in an unintuitive way to an external service of their choice.

Who Is Accessing Your Data?

A further issue is raised when individual accounts are used on a multi-user iPad.

If a user logs into Google Drive, Dropbox, iCloud, email or any of the myriad of apps without manually logging out of each application individually and disconnecting iCloud accounts there is no way to secure the data of the tablet’s owner from other users. Similarly, if moving to a new device each of those accounts have to be manually logged into each time and synchronised.

In a classroom environment this becomes a time consuming manual process which many simply will not follow or forget to do so. The end result is multiple accounts, some personal, strewn across multiple devices. Student and staff email accounts, Dropbox, Google Apps, photos, contacts, web history, left completely accessible and open to the next user of the device.

This leaves us only two options:

  1. Restrict core functions of the iPad thereby reducing its functionality
  2. Encourage 1:1 use of tablets

This lack of multiple user support severely reduces the usability of iPad and I suggest makes them such a concern for data protection that they are unusable. Instead, to get the most out of tablets, we should be strongly pushing for 1:1 devices.


About Author

Profile photo of Karl Rivers

Karl is an award winning Director of IT for the Royal Grammar School Guildford, based near London, England. He has been working in education for more than ten years and founded ClassThink in 2013 to share technology best practice with other schools. In 2014 he won the NAACE Impact Award for support services in schools, and writes edtech articles for Education Executive Magazine.

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