The iBooks Store, Caching server and iTunes U

If we do the maths on our iTunes U data throughout the figures are pretty daunting:

500mb worth of iBooks content (average per student in our eLearning introduction course) across 300 devices makes 150gb of content through our internet and piping over our wifi network. Scary, especially considering many New Zealand schools are still on adsl (we have a dual vdsl connection) and most of this content is downloaded by students in the space of a few days.

When you're dealing with that amount of content it really becomes worthwhile to get the iBooks that you've made up onto the iBooks store because OS X caching server will cache iTunes Store content, but not iTunes U content. You have to be more careful regarding the content of iBooks you submit to the store, such as copyright on the images used in the iBooks and you lose the ability to keep content in submitted books private. There's also the extra step of learners authenticating to 'buy' the free book (they don't need to do this when iTunes U hosts the content). But even with these caveats moving a couple hundred megabytes to cache-eligible content can improve overall network performance and, more importantly, the user experience lost while waiting to download.

Ideally I'd like to self host large iBooks Author books on our local webserver, but to date I haven't been able to get them to download and open on an iPad correctly.

Personalising iPads in Bulk

Although we've come a long way in the short time the iPad has existed it's still predominately a personal, consumer device. It was pretty simple to enrol kids' iPads into our MDM and give them access to our wifi using configurator, but there was still a lot of work left for each child to do on their iPad once they received them.

Namely:

  1. Sign in with their Apple ID
  2. Enable Location Services, iCloud (backup is disabled by the MDM profile), Siri and Register with Apple
  3. Add their Google Apps email account
  4. Verify their Apple ID email address
  5. Join the VPP Managed Distribution programme by clicking a link in an email, logging in to the App Store and hitting accept
  6. Enrol in our iTunes U Digital Citizenship course (after iTunes U and iBooks has finished being pushed out by the MDM)
  7. Wait to be accepted into the course, then download the books

All before the kids even start learning! I'm sure there are some ways we could have made it simpler, but we worked pretty hard to optimise it to this point (webclips to join the iTunes U course, mail merge passport sheets, configurator settings).

For us this meant orientation lessons with the kids when they got their device, working step by step but with the opportunity for confident kids to move ahead. Setup took about 40-60 minutes a classroom.

All of this will be a lot easier if one day schools can manage institutional Apple IDs, removing steps 4 and 5 (the most time consuming steps), and whitelist addresses (ideally with wild cards) for iTunes U enrolment. Rome wasn't built in a day though and the progress so far in deployments has been pretty great. Ideally I'd like to assign a device to a student in our MDM and then have it download all the mail, Apple ID and other bits and pieces to it by magic.

It begins!

Willing teachers, excellent pedagogical support and support from our leadership team brough things in alignment for a full rollout of iPads, starting with senior students, at Te Akau ki Papamoa School. We'd already had three classes of 1:1 laptop (Macbook) classrooms in year 4, 5 and 6 - with amazing results, so the next step for us was a full iPad deployment in the senior school to enable access for all our kids. We have an amazing board, which practically allowed us to have a rollout at no costs to students or their families rather than a traditional BYOD program which would exclude much of our community. This created a lot of debate at a national level (which is entirely out of the scope of this blog), but was received enthusiastically by the vast majority of our school community.

This blog is intended to journal the technical adventures and the mistakes we made along the way to a full 1:1 rollout at TAKP.