Hardware

How to manage Apple devices in K-12 schools: 5 tips

Apple devices offer a number of benefits for school IT admins. Here are tips for IT administrators on deploying and maintaining the devices.

Chromebooks may dominate the K-12 market, but Apple is making moves to become more education-friendly, recently unveiling a new $299 iPad for the education market with custom software and support for the Apple Pencil and augmented reality (AR).

"Apple has a long history with K-12 schools and education in general," said Tom Daccord, co-author of the book iPads in the Classroom and co-founders of the EdTech Teacher initiative.

"Apple devices can unleash a lot of student creativity." For example, students can use iPads alone to write prose, code, or create audio, video, and animation, he added.

Despite the benefits of iPads, iMacs, and MacBooks, Chromebooks hold about 58% of the K-12 mobile computing market share, while Apple devices hold only about 14%. This is due largely to the different price points of the devices—Chromebooks start at $119, while the latest iPad costs $329. However, Chromebooks rely on a school's Wi-Fi, which can pose problems for multimedia work, Daccord said.

At Pequea Valley School District in Kinzers, PA, some of the district's 1,600 students do not have internet access, due either to their rural location or families that cannot afford it.

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"When we were going through the process of selecting a device, we wanted to stay away from options that relied heavily on internet access, like a Chromebook or BYOD program," said Ashley Heagy, director of technology. The district was able to convince the school board to spend more on Apple devices by showing how fast they boot up compared to Windows devices, she added.

Apple devices also typically hold their value for years, Heagy said. "I'm a firm believer in you get what you pay for," Heagy said. "The price point is a little bit high, but I have no problem with the devices and they will last for a four-year refresh cycle."

Warwick Public Schools, a district of about 10,000 students in Warwick, RI, has about 140 Macs and 140 iPads district wide, along with a range of other devices, according to director of technology Douglas Alexander.

"When we finally got iMacs in our photo lab, it was a much cleaner-looking lab, teachers had more counter space, and we were using a lot less power than when students were crammed at tiny tables with CRT monitors," Alexander said. "And they were easier to manage because we could use our desktop tools, mobile device management, or endpoint management software to manage them all as a cluster."

Apple devices typically don't require much maintenance, Alexander said. "We've had a few hardware failures, but more what we have to touch is the iPads, because the teachers love them so much they're constantly wanting new apps for them," he added. "But, I have not heard much of a peep about the iMacs since we deployed them, other than that we want to manage them centrally and better, and my techs need a little more training on how to do that."

Here are five tips for IT administrators managing Apple devices in their school or district.

1. Don't skip professional development for IT staff and teachers

"You can never provide too much professional development," Heagy said. Many edtech initiatives come from the administration, and end up lasting only a year or two. "You need to really make those teachers comfortable with the tech in their classroom. That's where you're going to reap the rewards of technology transformation in your schools."

Too often, professional development is overlooked, and teachers are just handed a new device, Heagy said. "Nobody knows what they can do with it. And that's a huge classroom management piece when you're talking about 30 faces staring back at you in your classroom, and now they all have a device," she added. "It's a whole new world of fear for some teachers."

At Warwick, the district brought in FileWave for a two-day training when it purchased the system. "By the time we were done, we walked out knowing how to build file sets and how to enroll machines, and also how to work with Chromebooks, which was a huge advantage," Alexander said.

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2. Get an MDM

A mobile device management (MDM) system is "crucial" for school Apple device management, Alexander said.

"If you're doing it right, you've got a mobile device management tool like Casper, Jamf, or FileWave," Alexander said. "And you've got configuration profiles that you can push out. Basically, you don't even need to image Macs anymore—Sierra and High Sierra don't really support imaging as much as they support firing up a vanilla Mac and then pushing out configuration profiles centrally."

Then, you can build and push out application sets, Alexander said. Some, like Adobe Creative Cloud, are more difficult to deploy, but most found in the Apple store are fairly simple, he added.

Many schools are now using Apple Classroom for teacher management of iPads, Daccord said. "Teachers want to be able to see students' screens, to lock them into certain apps, and to push out apps onto their devices easily," Daccord said.

3. Tap DEP and VPP

Apple's Device Enrollment Program (DEP) allows you to register the device to your organization upon purchase, so your system can detect it at boot up out of the box and push down a configuration profile. "A lot of bigger districts use it this way," Alexander said. "It's super powerful, because you have to do very little out of the box to hook the system right into your MDM and then have it basically auto-configure, once you've connected to the network."

Schools can also purchase software through the Volume Purchasing Program (VPP), which allows you to buy licenses for the software, deploy them to each client, and if the client gets recycled or goes offline and you need to replace it, you can pull that license back and redeploy it. "Software becomes really easy to manage, because you're not buying a single copy and then downloading it to a single device. You buy the license and then flexibly use it," Alexander said.

4. Repair in-house

Pequea Valley has two technicians on site that are certified to do warrantied repairs, Heagy said. To fill gaps, the district also has a student tech support team that can repair any equipment that is out of warranty, she added.

5. Model the creative potential of the devices

It's important for teachers to get to know the apps on their Apple devices, Daccord said. But it's even more important for them to develop a vision of what the technology allows students to do from a creative and educational standpoint.

"Ultimately it comes down to what's happening in the classroom, and so whatever IT and other administrators can do to help teachers understand and embrace the creative potential of Apple devices will be best for the long term," Daccord said. "If they don't embrace it, they're going to question why they pay more for Apple devices if they're simply using them as productivity devices."

Also see

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Image: Apple

About Alison DeNisco Rayome

Alison DeNisco Rayome is a Staff Writer for TechRepublic. She covers CXO, cybersecurity, and the convergence of tech and the workplace.

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