Working with Apple’s Configurator

I have a friend who is a high school principal, and over the past year, I’ve exposed him to the power of the iPad in education.  The iPad first became an answer for him as he traveled overseas, and since then, he has been using his own iPad in countless ways.  The other principals in the district have bought their own, and the Superintendent will be purchasing his own, too.  This is a traditionally anti-Apple district, and the IT director is very anti-Apple and anti-iPad.  The principals, at this point, are working around him.

Side note: this is never the best situation.   It is always best if the IT staff in a district can be in an informed and supportive role of any technological initiative.  But there can be an arrogance of IT staff in that they can choose to ignore what students and staff want to pursue because “they know better.”  Yes, it is possible the students and staff might not know what is best–but in the case of educational initiatives with the iPad, is it worth lying down in front of a bulldozer?

So, the principal had some capital left at the end of the year, and bought ten iPad 2s at the end of the school year, along with a Mac Mini (to run Apple’s Configurator) and Zagg Zaggfolios for each iPad.  He also opened an Education Volume Licensing Account to buy apps at a significant discount.  We had previously purchased 10 paid apps.

Last night, we set up the MacMini and ran Apple’s Configurator on all 10 iPads.  One of the iPads was a bit of a stinker, and I had to put it in DFU mode to allow iOS to install properly (there was an iOS update required on the iPads).

What worked with Configurator?

  • You can import the .ipa files of apps directly from iTunes.  If the apps are free, there are no problems.  If the apps are paid apps, you must have codes for those apps (e.g. Volume License).
  • You can import the spreadsheet Apple sends you when you buy an app with the Volume License, and then Configurator “hands out” those apps to each install.
  • Configurator is awesome for installing iOS updates.  It downloads the installation file, and then installs the update on every iPad you connect (if needed).
  • You have a number of customizable settings where you can truly impact the operation of the device.  As these devices were going to teachers, we only removed their ability to use iCloud for backups and document storage.  A school giving iPads to students have a number of additional options, including turning off the ability to install apps or open the YouTube app.
What didn’t work?
  • We’re learning as we go with this process, so we probably made some mistakes along the way.
  • The VPP requires a specific e-mail based iTunes account; this account cannot be used to download “regular” apps on a computer.  This is frustrating…the same school e-mail account should be able to be used for any AppStore interaction.
  • We ended up having to use another iTunes account to download free apps, but that account had to be connected to a credit card–there was no way around it.  We had two different accounts that we could use…one was a “free” iTunes account without a credit card, and the other was a traditional iTunes account (personal).  There was no way to use the “free” account without adding a credit card, so we had to use a personal iTunes account.  That same e-mail account had to be linked to Configurator as well.  We’re not sure if there will be a way to separate the downloads linked to that e-mail account on Configurator in the future (i.e. transfer them to another e-mail address) or if they will be forever linked to a personal iTunes account.  You can see the havoc this would cause if the personal account moved out of the district…you won’t leave your personal iTunes account open so that others have access to it.
  • Configurator never seemed to stop.  Even when it showed devices were “finished” the program never “stopped.”  We’re not sure if this is a bug.
There was still a little bit of messing around with each iPad (you have to go through the start-up routine, and if you want to enable findmyiPhone, you need to go through that process but turn other iCloud data off.  But the amount of time you save over entering codes for each iPad is immense…and there seems to be no better way of putting free apps on multiple iPads at one time.
Configurator is Mac only at this time.

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