Earlier this month I went to a meeting about the introduction of iPads to my children’s secondary school and was astonished regarding how far iPads have progressed in terms of being more suitable for education. I have taught classes with 1-to-1 iPads in the past and two major concerns were students being distracted by other apps, and trying to limit the students to using only the correct app in an exam situation. For exams we used Guided Access to restrict what app students could use, which was a cumbersome, time consuming procedure.
The meeting centred on the power of Mobile Device Management (MDM) software called ZuluDesk. It allows teachers and parents to decide which apps a student can use at which particular time. It can impose restrictions based on the location of the iPad (e.g. at school or at home) and based on time. It can block access to any app 24 hours a day. So if the parents don’t want their child to have access to the Twitter or Facebook app, they won’t get access even at home. In real time, if a teacher wants students to only use NearPod in class, that is all they can use. With a tap on their ZuluTeacher app, teachers can also turn the students’ iPads into non-responsive devices so they can enjoy the full attention of the students.Of course the students can access Facebook, Twitter, etc via their browsers, can’t they? No – because the schools and parents can set up url blacklists – again, based on time and location. Parents can set what apps and websites are available at home and for how long. The web traffic is directed through the school’s DNS setup so web blocks are effective even at home. The presenter, from Dexterra (a Western Australian organisation and reseller of ZuluDesk), explained that the lock down is done at a low level. When the iPad starts it reads the serial number and recognises that it is controlled by ZuluDesk – it isn’t just an app that can be easily deleted.
This is a new and bold direction for the school as students up to now have not been allowed to use mobile devices in classes – all mobile phones had to stay in the student lockers during school time. But with ZuluDesk, iPads will not transform break times from lots of kids talking and joking into app zombies. Most probably the students will find that outside class times they can only access homework apps or even none at all!
Parents can choose how restrictive to be on an individual basis (except they must access the internet via the school’s DNS settings) outside school time. Therefore this is a solution that can appeal to both the libertarians that want their children to be exposed to social media and most of what the internet has to offer from a young age, through to those who believe their children should be shielded from the full experience of the internet.