What does iOS7 mean for education?

Rob Borley
by
on 22 August 2013

News that Android-based tablets have overtaken iPad shipments for the first time has caused endless speculation from technology journalists. But despite the interest this shift in sales has caused, Apple’s iPad remains the king of tablets both in the enterprise workspace and the educational arena.

Aside from a shiny new interface, iOS7 has added a number of new features that are clearly intended to capitalise on the markets in which the iPad already dominates – namely corporate computing and the education sector. In light of the experience that Dootrix has in the education sector here are our thoughts on some of the new features which schools, colleges and universities should find of particular interest.

Volume Purchase Program

Managing a fleet of iPads can be difficult, but overseeing the apps installed on them even more so. Because each iTunes account is limited to 5 separate devices, a class of 30 students needed 6 iTunes accounts to deploy apps correctly.

The new Volume Purchase Program allows schools to create a single account through which multiple app licenses can be purchased. These licenses can then be deployed to any iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch owned by the school without requiring a proper iTunes account.

Apple’s determination to become a one-stop shop for content is also reflected in the extension of this new volume purchasing program to other content. Schools will be able to buy and deploy textbooks via iBooks for instance, or license apps for use on Mac desktop and laptops too.

Easier device management

iOS is an incredibly resilient platform, thanks in part to its approach to ‘sandboxed’ apps. As such, iPads are less vulnerable to tampering or hacking by inventive students. iOS7 boasts improved support for Mobile Device Management (MDM) systems allowing for easy app deployment, configuration changes or even addition of personal devices to the school system for use in class.

Improved collaboration

Sharing information between iOS devices has almost always relied on email to send files, which in turn requires the set-up of an email accounts on each unit. iOS7 brings the concept of Ad-Hoc WiFi networks to the iPad and iPhone, in the form of AirDrop.

AirDrop allows for specific files to be sent to other nearby users without any additional configuration. Teachers can select a photo, document or other file and use the option to send by AirDrop. Students receive a notification, accept the file and begin work. Once the lesson is complete, the students simply perform the same process in reverse.

App Store parental controls

The new Volume Purchase Program (VPP) also allows for students to add their own iTunes account to the list of “authorised” IDs. Students doing this obtain additional benefits, such as being able to use their own iCloud storage area for saving homework and assignments for instance.

Currently personal iTunes account holders must be 13 or over, but the VPP promises to introduce a parental consent option. In this way primary school pupils and their parents will be able to access age-appropriate content and block out more “mature” apps, videos and songs. Parents can also be reassured that any personal data attached to these iTunes accounts is protected by the new security encryption tools built into iOS7 that prevent recovery of data without the correct device unlock code.

Accessibility advances?

iOS6 was widely praised for its accessibility features that opened tablet computing to an even wider audience. Features like VoiceOver screen reading technology help visually impaired users understand what is being displayed on screen, and support for 30 wireless braille displays further enhanced experience and usability.

Apple have not yet released many details themselves about accessibility in iOS7, but beta testers of the operating system have published some of their own findings. Students with physical and motor issues will benefit from a new “Switch Control” feature that uses head movements to detect user input. By moving their head to the left, students can “tap” an option on screen. Move to the right and the iOS device will interpret the action as a press on the Home button.

Switch Control is configurable according to the student’s specific needs, even allowing for the launch of Siri so that voice commands can be given to the device. Early testing suggests that Switch Control can be quite laborious to use, but demonstrates a continued commitment by Apple to opening their iOS platform to as many students as possible.

iOS7 for education makes a compelling case

iOS7 is attempting to be many things to many people. A shiny new interface has been added to appeal to consumers. Advanced network management tools should impress business users. However all these features are also important to educational establishments who need to use mobile computing in the classroom.

Schools and colleges that need to maintain a fleet of secure, accessible tablets will find that iOS7 continues to provide a compelling reason for using Apple, in addition to the generous hardware price discounts available to educational establishments.

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