Sunday, January 12, 2014

Behind the Scenes of the iPad With Apple Configurator

As a classroom teacher, I was able to bring my iPad into my classroom and use with my entire class as a whole group or in small groups during center time.  I chose the apps that I wanted to use with my students, loaded them onto my iPad, and either instructed/reviewed content with my students using the app, or allowed them to use the device on their own while I facilitated.  Piece of cake.  This year I am working behind the scenes.  I was fortunate this year to assume the position as an Educational Technology Coach and Coordinator at an independent school in New York.  One of my many responsibilities in this position is deploying our iPads and Google Chromebooks.  Of course, it is all very exciting for the teachers, students, and everyone in our school.  In fact, one of the teachers informed the students that our iPads are replacing our textbooks!  Sorry, not so quick!  As Uncle Ben said to Peter Parker in Spiderman, "With great power comes great responsibility."  One of the most important tasks in preparing the iPads for deployment is to set up proper safety and security settings.   However, to do this on each individual iPad is virtually impossible - especially when it comes to creating a blacklist and whitelist for Internet websites.  Fortunately, my Twitter PLN member Margaret A Powers (https://twitter.com/mpowers3) introduced me to the Apple Configurator.   
                                             

                                       

If you have deployed iPads or will be soon deploying iPads in your school, the Apple Configurator is a must have app.  For some reason (and I do not know why), but there are many technology coordinators who have not heard of this app.  I was lucky to learn about it a couple of months ago and I therefore want to "share the wealth" by communicating to others about the benefits of using it.  

First of all, the Apple Configurator is not an iOS app, so you will not download it to your Apple mobile devices.  It is actually a free app that you can use on your Mac by downloading it from the Mac App Store.  If you don't own a Mac, I would highly recommend that your school purchases a Mac for you to use as well as a syncing/charging cart in order to configure, sync, and charge the iPads.  In short, you will connect the Mac to the cart via USB, and the iPads will be connected to the cart in slots via lightning cables.  

Apple Configurator makes it easy for anyone to mass configure and deploy iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch in a school, business, or institution.   Three simple workflows let you prepare new iOS devices for immediate distribution, supervise devices that need to maintain a standard configuration, and assign devices to users. Quickly update your devices simultaneously to the latest version of iOS, configure settings, and install apps and data for your students, employees, or patrons.

In the first phase of Apple Configurator, one prepares the devices.  Several events occur during this phase, such as: devices are configured simultaneously according to one's configuration settings and are updated to the latest version of iOS, apps are imported into Apple Configurator and are synced to new devices. Also during this phase, one has the option to enroll the devices in the institution's MDM (Mobile Device Management) system.  

During the second phase of Apple Configurator, one supervises the devices.  During this phase, one has the ability to do several things, including but not limited to: organize supervised devices into custom groups, automatically apply common configurations to supervised devices, and define and apply common or sequential names to all devices.  It is during this phase that one chooses the safety and security settings to be put onto the devices.  As during the prepare phase, one may continue to import apps into Apple Configurator and sync them to supervised devices.  

During the third and final phase of the Apple Configurator, one assigns the devices.  This includes but is not limited to the following activities: adding users and groups manually or autopopulating via Open Directory or Active Directory, checking out a device to a user and restoring the user’s settings and data on that device, and applying custom text, wallpaper, or the user’s picture to a device’s Lock screen.  


       

I have started using the Apple Configurator last week in order to properly set up iPads for my school.  I will be continuing to use it throughout this coming week during which I hope to complete the initial set up.  I will continue to use it every time I make changes to the iPads; whether it be modifying the security settings, or adding additional apps or features to the devices.  The Apple Configurator has been a huge help and I could not have done the job of iPad deployment without it.  As Apple updates this app, they continue to add additional features to it.  That being said, Apple has been very helpful as well as I have spent hours with them on the phone during the past couple of weeks.  I am very excited to prepare the devices for deployment and cannot wait to learn how they will positively impact our students' learning in their classrooms.

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