Category Archives: apple

Did you know?

iOS devices

I was interested to see in the last few days that there were a number of people who were not aware of Apple’s Volume Purchase Programme.

The Volume Purchase Programme allows educational institutions to purchase iOS apps and books in volume and distribute them to students, teachers, administrators and employees.

I did post about this back in September last year when it finally arrived in the UK.

Institutions that weren’t aware of the Volume Purchase Programme would very likely have real issues with trying to manage class sets of iPads.

They could have just relied on free apps only, which was a pain if there were apps you wanted to buy or relied on in-app purchases.

Users could have been asked to spend their own money on apps, easy to do, but not everyone wanted or could afford to do this, and certainly wasn’t a practical solution on shared devices. It would also create difficulties with refunding people. It also meant that you would be “giving” people apps, which would create further problems in future years.

I was aware that some institutions decided to give users iTunes gift cards which were then used to buy apps. This did rely on trusting the users to buy the apps and not go out and buy music and films. As with refunding users, you were “giving” them apps.

It was certainly possible to create multiple iTunes user accounts and install apps on the devices, but this would have been an administrative nightmare with a huge number of iPads.

I suspect what most people were doing was to breach their iTunes agreement, buy an app once and then load it onto multiple devices. You can do this with your own devices, but according to the iTunes agreement this isn’t a viable option for educational devices.

Without the Volume Purchase Programme in place, we didn’t put in class sets of iPads as there wasn’t a practical method to get the apps people wanted onto the iPads. Virtually all the iPads we did buy were assigned to individuals.

Since the introduction of the Volume Purchase Programme we do have class sets and the Volume Purchase Programme has made it very easy to legally purchase apps for use on those class sets.

Find out more about the Apple Volume Purchase Programme.

Should I buy an Apple TV for my classroom?

Apple TV

I noticed the following tweet on the Twitter over the weekend and was inspired to reply.

This kind of response is just as short-sighted and blinkered as those by people who would say “buy an Apple TV”.

I agree with the sentiment that if we work within education, then we shouldn’t waste public money, but to assume that going down the Apple TV route is a waste of money, makes too many assumptions about the context.

So why all this “fuss” in the first place? What is the significance of AirPlay and as a result the discussion over Air Server and Apple TV.

One of the features that Apple have had for many years is the ability to stream media across your wireless network to a device on that network.

You could stream your iTunes audio to the original Airport Express, which was then connected to speakers (usually better speakers than the ones on the Mac) or speakers in a different room. This was known as AirTunes.

The name was changed to AirPlay in 2010 when it could be used to stream video content from your Mac. In 2011 with the release of the iPad 2 it was now possible to stream (mirror) your screen using AirPlay.

What then excited people in education was the ability to mirror your iPad (and now your Mac desktop) over the wireless network. This meant you didn’t need to worry about cables and you could hand round your device without needing to come up to the screen.

Additionally everyone with a device could use also use the technology could use it, so if all your learners had an iPad they could all stream their screens.

Though initially such a technology was restricted to Apple devices, it wasn’t long before developers came up with solutions for other devices.

Your PC could, through the use of Air Server act as an “Apple TV” and allow devices to Air Play or mirror their screens. Software such as Air Parrot allows older Macs and PCs to stream and mirror their screens to Apple TV.

So what was initially an Apple centric solution now didn’t need a single Apple device.

So what about that tweet?

Well if you already have a classroom setup, there is a PC, a projector then I agree an Apple TV is probably not the cheapest solution, I would also suspect that the projector doesn’t have an HDMI connection. In this instance and context then Air Server is the cheaper solution.

However this is not the only context and to say the Apple TV is a waste of money is not correct.

When equipping a new room, or replacing equipment, if you consider the cost of a PC, a projector, an IWB or an iPad, then compare that to the cost of an iPad, a TV and an Apple TV then the Apple TV solution would be a much cheaper solution. Add a wheeled stand to the TV and suddenly you have a mobile solution.

The important consideration when purchasing any equipment is not to favour one solution over another, but consider the context, what do you have already, what do you want to do, where are you going to do it.

In my libraries we have large plasma screens with a Mac mini underneath, in this instance we have gone down the Air Server route to allow us to stream through AirPlay. However if I already had the iPad and the screen, to buy a £499 Mac mini would cost a lot more than a £99 Apple TV.

It’s not about the technology, it’s about the context. Be informed and think about solutions.

MacBook Retina and HDMI

Left ports on MacBook Retina and HDMI

One of the features I really like about the MacBook Retina is the fact it comes with an HDMI port. Okay what I really like about it is the fantastic screen… but back to the HDMI port.

The Mac mini has had an HDMI port for a while now and we have been using them at work to power the plasma screen in the library. Self-contained it means we can show a whole range of different things on the screen, from movies to YouTube playlists, presentations and a browser. Very useful in the library for news and information and a great presentation tool to take the library out into the college (in the dining room or Freshers’ Fayre).

I demonstrate a fair bit of stuff at work and it has always been a bit of pain to connect my Mac to a projector, so much so it was often easier to bring in my own projector than use the one in the rooms I was presenting in. I would have used the Mac mini and the screen (as the screen was on a stand with wheels) however the problem was that I couldn’t see the screen and therefore would have had my back to the group.

Now that my Macbook has an HDMI port, I can now face the group and they can see what I am doing on the big screen. It has been pretty seamless and worked well… until recently.

I had my Macbook upgraded to Mountain Lion, in the main so I could use AirPlay to stream the screen to a TV via AppleTV. Alas though that worked, the HDMI port stopped working properly. It works fine with some screens with HDMI but not all.

I had hoped that the update to 10.8.2 would fix it, but it hasn’t. It is rather annoying.

What was happening was, you plugged in the HDMI cable and I then expected the screen to refresh as it changed resolution to match the external screen. What in fact was happening was that the screen would go all weird and wonky. Even restarting, with the HDMI cable plugged in, wouldn’t fix the issue. The MacBook starts off acting normally and then the screen goes “black” and stops working… it doesn’t change to the 1080p resolution that it is suppose to.

If you power cycle the screen, this has no impact. If you turn off the MacBook and turn it back on again, well the login screen “works”, but then after logging in, it no longer works as it should. I managed to get it to work once… but never again.

Hadn’t realised how much I had depended on it for delivering training. Of course HDMI on laptops is not a new thing, various PC laptops have had it for a while. For many classrooms I have found that unless you have a high powered projector then a screen is brighter and clearer for the audience. Some of the classrooms I work in also have very noisy old projectors, in these cases the screen works better too.

At this time, the only real solution appears to be replacing the screens!


iOS devices

One question I get asked again and again by colleagues in the sector is how should institutions purchase apps for their iOS devices.

The easiest solution before, was to move the entire institution to the USA, buy the apps using the volume purchasing programme and then move back…

What most people did was either:

a) rely on free apps only, which was a pain if there were apps you wanted to buy or relied on in-app purchases.

b) spend their own money on apps, easy to do, but not everyone wanted or could afford to do this, and certainly wasn’t a practical solution on shared devices.

c) give users iTunes gift cards which were then used to buy apps. This did rely on trusting the users to buy the apps and not go out and buy music and films.

d) breach their iTunes agreement, buy an app once and then load it onto multiple devices. You can do this with your own devices, but according to the iTunes agreement wasn’t a viable option for educational devices.

So I am finally pleased to see that Apple have launched their Volume Purchase Programme in the UK.

The Volume Purchase Programme allows educational institutions to purchase iOS apps in volume and distribute them to students, teachers, administrators and employees.

Apple Volume Purchase Programme

It is worthwhile reading the FAQ to see how this works.

The process looks quite simple, a nominated individual in the institution (and there can be more than one) buys apps in volume using a corporate credit card.

The institution then  gets a series of codes which can be redeemed in the iTunes store for the app purchased by either staff or learners. Mobile device management (MDM) software can also facilitate this distribution.

This ensures that the institution is staying within the terms of the iTunes agreement, that staff and learners don’t need to spend their own money on the app and that the users also have direct access to the app.

What is useful to know is that for app purchases, education institutions have the option of redeeming one app code per iTunes authorised computer, or “sync station,” and retaining the rest of the codes as proof of purchase. So they can then do the d) option, buy the app once and load onto a series of devices.

One limitation is that the programme does not cover in-app purchases, this was often a way of upgrading free lite versions to the full version, but now you can buy the full version.

I am pleased to see this programme finally in the UK and it should support those people and institutions rolling out iOS devices in their colleges and universities.

Thinking about iTunes U

Thursday in New York, Apple gave a presentation which announced three new products and services for education, iBooks 2, iBooks Author and an iTunes U app. I’ve already written about iBooks 2 and iBooks Author, so what about iTunes U.

Before today, iTunes U was in the main a marketing tool for universities and colleges. It was a way of showing prospective students great content and give them an idea of what they may expect to experience if they went to that institution. There were some institutions which used iTunes U as a delivery mechanism for their learners, it was even possible to “close” or “lock” down iTunes U so that only authorised users could access the content.

The key though was that iTunes U was a content delivery system and was not about interactive content, communication or collaboration. It also wasn’t a total content delivery system, as iTunes U was in the main focused on delivering audio and video content (and in some cases PDFs).

Most of the main UK Universities and Colleges were not using iTunes U to deliver all their content to their learners and certainly though there was some excellent content, it was just one delivery mechanism for learners. I would hazard a guess that in most institutions, once the learners are there, most of the content would be provided through the institutional virtual learning environment, a tool such as Blackboard or Moodle. These tools do allow for communication and collaboration and interaction. What was always lacking, until very recently, were usable and decent mobile access to the institutional virtual learning environment. Both Blackboard and Moodle now have either a mobile app, or a mobile optimised stylesheet, however these really don’t “work” as well as they could, as both products were designed to work in a standard web browser on a computer.

Apple have “upgraded” iTunes U to allow much more diverse content to be delivered to learners through iTunes and a new iTunes U app for the iPad. With iBooks 2, interactive textbooks can be “purchased” alongside the planned delivery of video and audio. iBooks Author allows teachers and lecturers to create their own “books” that either can be given or sold to learners (through the iBookstore). This means that much more varied content can be delivered through iTunes U.

What Apple have done with iTunes U for the iPad is design an app for the delivery of curriculum from a mobile perspective. The learner will be “given” a complete course that they can then use on their iPad complete with textbooks, video, audio and other content.

What iTunes U lacks is the social interaction, communication and collaboration tools that an institutional virtual learning environment can provide. Learners would probably say, “so what” as we interact and communicate using Facebook and Twitter. So though iTunes U fails from a two way student engagement perspective, there are other ways in which learners will talk, discuss and communicate, whether that includes the practitioner, that remains to be seen.

Will iTunes U replace Blackboard or Moodle? A lot depends on what we as consumers do. It’s true that iTunes has had a huge effect on the music industry and digital downloads. So there is a precedent for Apple changing an industry, the same can be said about the iPod or the iPhone. However we also need to consider Ping and iWeb, not everything Apple does has that golden touch.

Of course you can’t just use iTunes U, firstly your institution needs to apply to be on iTunes U and that isn’t a simple process, and it isn’t something an individual does, you will need to get management in your organisation on board. However I suspect this will be easier once more institutions get enrolled and you could argue about it from a competitive perspective.

Though a lot of stuff on iTunes U can be viewed on a computer, to take advantage of the real potential of the new iTunes U, the learner is going to need an iPad. You can’t read the new textbooks or books created with iBooks Author on a Mac or a PC, only on an iPad. So if you do put content on iTunes U for use with the iTunes U app then you will need to be sure that either a) all your learners have an iPad, or b) you provide the content in a different format. The latter will be challenging as the export functionality in iBooks Author leaves a lot be desired, the alternatives to the iBook format are PDF and text which don’t utilise the use of media or interactivity.

If every learner in your institution has an iPad, then iTunes U is a great way of delivering content to your learners, if every learner doesn’t… well I wouldn’t bother with iTunes U.

Get iTunes U in the iTunes App Store.