We decided to use Apple Configurator to set up our classroom iPads.
Honestly, I didn’t expect it to be quite so much work! In the end though, I think it was worth it. Apple Configurator is a free, Apple product that allows schools and businesses to manage multiple iPads using an Apple laptop. You can determine the settings you want your collection of devices to have, the apps you want to load on to them, and also “check out” the devices to the people who will be using them. I’ve read about people using it to manage hundreds of devices. I’m using it to manage five. Many would say that using Apple Configurator for five devices is overkill. I am inclined to agree. However, I wanted to learn how to use this product because there was a chance that we could decide to use it to manage all of the iPads we currently have circulating in our little early childhood wing, which would include 16-20 iPads. I had also grown rather tired of having to run around to each of the 4 iPads we used last year to update and install any new apps we wanted. I liked the idea of being able to install a single collection of apps on multiple iPads with the push of a single button. It didn’t turn out to be quite that simple, but with practice, I’m fairly certain it could become close to that simple.
There were a lot of technical details that we had to attend to before we could even begin to think about the iPads. In fact, the iPads sat all boxed up on our back table for weeks, just waiting for me to be ready for them! I never imagined that I would be able to leave four iPads untouched for weeks! Just goes to show how busy the start of the school year really is for us teachers!
The first thing we had to do was upgrade the operating system running on the computer that would be used to run Apple Configurator. After our tech support staff helped me upgrade my machine so that it was running Mountain Lion, we then had to upgrade iTunes to the most current version. After those two systems were up to date, we were finally able to successfully install Apple Configurator.
Once Apple Configurator was installed, I was very intimidated. I was sure that I would somehow ruin all of the iPads. Of course that didn’t happen. I read a bunch of articles and watched a variety of videos to gather as much information as I could before beginning. I started a Pinterest Board to keep all of the articles I found in one place. A couple of resources were particularly helpful: This article had a lot of useful information. This YouTube video was fantastic. I kept it open in my browser during the entire configuration process and stopped and started it as I worked my way through the Configurator set up. My favorite tip from this video allowed me to customize our home screens with our school name, grade level, and iPad color.
I’m not going to walk you through the set up process because I don’t think I can be any more effective than the videos and articles on my Pinterest board that do the exact same thing. I will share a few things we discovered along the way. We used the Apple Volume Purchase Program (VPP) to purchase our apps. This served a couple of purposes. First, it allowed us to get the volume discount on apps that we were sharing across our division. You need to purchase twenty copies of an app to receive the discount. We were surprised to find that not all apps actually offer the volume discount. A couple of our favorite apps were full price, regardless of how many copies we purchased. The other reason for using the VPP was that it made it very easy to purchase and install apps in bulk. Using the VPP in combination with Apple Configurator really did simplify the app installation process like I had hoped it would. Once you’ve purchased apps through the VPP, you are given a spreadsheet containing the codes for the apps you’ve purchased. Apple Configurator is able to read this spreadsheet, and apply the codes to the apps, so that it can then automatically install the apps you’ve purchased onto the iPads that you are configuring. Configurator is picky about the format of the spreadsheet. It needs to be in the orginal .xls format that you download. It did not like the Google Drive version of the spreadsheet.
You need one Apple i.d. to use with Apple Configurator and in my experience, this Apple i.d. needs to have ownership of a single copy of all of the apps that you want to put on the configured devices. (It was only through my apple i.d. that I was able to import the apps that I wanted into configurator. Others may have found a way around this.) This Apple i.d. cannot be the same Apple i.d. that you used to create your VPP account. I used the Apple i.d. that I first established when we received our iPads almost a year ago. This worked well because it ensured that almost all of the apps I wanted to install through configurator were already associated with my Apple i.d. We did not establish an Apple i.d. for any of the devices that we configured, and so far, that seems to be working fine. I’m wrote an article that shares which apps I decided to include on our configured devices and why I chose those particular apps. You can read it here.
I used a USB hub so that I could plug all of our iPads into the laptop and configure them at the same time. These aren’t very expensive and can be purchased from Amazon, New Egg, Best Buy, etc.
Many organizations that use Configurator have iPad carts that hold 20 devices and act as both charging station and configuration center. We went the budget route, so our iPads are currently charged and configured using the ever practical dish drain charging center. Read more details about how we set that up here. I have to say, it works pretty well, all things considered!
One of the other main things that Apple Configurator allows you to do is set up the system preferences for all of your iPads at the same time. The security and settings for each iPad that you configure in a group will be identical. Configurator allows you to be incredibly specific with your settings. I haven’t counted, but I would guess that there are at least one hundred different settings boxes that can be check or unchecked depending on how secure you want to make your iPads. Honestly, it was as I explored these settings, that I began to realize that I was in a bit over my head. I am a classroom teacher that likes to use technology with her students. I like trying to figure out how I can use an iPad to teach a kid to read, or to count or to problem solve. I like to figure out techie things too, but I’m still very new in the Ed Tech world. I don’t have the experience or scope of knowledge to make decisions about how much we should allow students to share online, whether or not to turn on location services, or whether or not we should be blocking certain apps or sites. Looking at all of those check boxes suddenly became very overwhelming. There were so many possibilities and in many instances, there were good reasons to both check and un-check a particular box. Rather than become frozen by the seemingly endless choices, I decided to try to move forward. In one of the articles that I pinned, another educator said something to the effect of, “If you try to evaluate every possible outcome and analyze every possibility with Apple Configurator, you will never, ever get your iPads up and running. Sometimes you just need to jump in with both feet and give it a go.” So, that’s what I did. I made some educated guesses, I depended on the fact that these are pre-schoolers I’m dealing with and that I am therefore still more technologically sophisticated than they are (barely ) and jumped in with both feet. I am expecting though, that we are going to need to have more conversations about whether all of those boxes really should be checked or unchecked. I think that we are going to want to sit down with our tech department and make some decisions about how we as a school want to approach iPads collectively.
I’m really excited to begin using iPads with my students again. They are really excited too. They’ve watched as I’ve piled up iPads on my desk to get them ready to configure. They’ve found me tangled in wires trying to get them connected to the USB hub and then to the computer. They know I’ve got iPads, and most of them know what an iPad is. I think they have an idea of what’s coming, and they’re ready to jump in with both feet too!
I’m working on using Apple Configurator with my third set of iPads. I finally got organized and made myself a checklist. You’re welcome to download a copy for yourself. You can find my Apple Configurator Checklist here.