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Data Portability is the Clay Foot of iPads in the Classroom

Yesterday I posted an argument in favor of tablets in the classroom; today I have a reason why you might want to stick with a laptop (or BYOD).

Audrey Watters posted over on her Hack Education blog  earlier today. She’d recently met with the parent of a middle school student to talk about her experience with that school’s new 1:1 iPad program. It was a generally posiitve experience, right up until the iPad had to be turned back in:

So at the end of the year, when it was time to return the iPad to the school, she asked if she could purchase it. “No,” the school said. She’d missed her one and only chance at the beginning of the year. The school took the iPad back.

But that’s not all they took. The student had been using the iPad for most of her classes, so along with the hardware went all of her notes,  assignments, drawings, creative writing,  photos, and even the the free games she’d played.

The problem the student and parent encountered here is that as nice as the iPad might be, both the device and the majority of the apps running on it were designed as consumer products. Few developers thought beyond how a single consumer might use an app; most of the ones who did take the next step only went so far as multiple segregated accounts inside a single app.

What’s more, this isn’t the first time I’ve heard about student’s losing notes when they had to turn in their iPad. A few weeks ago I read about one father’s gripe that his son was required to turn in the IPad on 24 May and was scheduled to take his final exams on 30 May. Needless to say, this snafu didn’t help anyone’s grades.

You know, my one experience with iPads in the classroom involved a private school, my brother, and me being forced to be his IT department. The school required us to buy and set up the iPad before the student arrived at school. I was irked by the time I had to put into it but now I’m beginning to see the sliver lining.

My brother’s iPad came home with his schoolwork, notes, and so on intact. That’s going to leave him in a better position next year than if the school had arranged for the iPad. I’m not certain if he’ll need to use the notes again, but it is good to have the option. And I do think my brother’s school did foresee this problem. This is likely why they required the parents to set up the account in iTunes and at the various ebookstores.

If there’s anything I’ve learned over the past year it’s that when an iPad is used to the fullest it becomes far more than a digital textbook platform; a better description would be a digital backpack. It could end up holding all of a student’s notebooks and even the entirety of their schoolwork for the past year.

Anyone who’s involved in a1:1 program needs to start thinking about how to get the student’s data out. And that includes the parents, not just the teachers and staff. There’s at least a few things that parents can do on their own.

For example, the first incident mentioned above very likely could have ended better.  I would be willing to bet that at least some of the student’s work was recoverable. The student lost her drawings and photos, but those could probably have been transferred out over USB. Of the several paint and photo apps I’ve used, all stored their files in the same external gallery. Every time I plug in my iPad I am prompted by my laptop to import those images.

I would have also looked into what export options were offered by the apps. For example, some will let you send a doc as an email. That can be tedious, but it is better than nothing.

Now, I’m not so sure about the rest of the lost content, but depending on how the iPad was originally configured it might have been possible to backup the iPad to a related iTunes app (running on the parent’s computer). This would have saved everything, but it depends on the parents having control of whichever iTunes account that the iPad is attached to.

It doesn’t appear that this would be hard to accomplish, based on info I’ve found online. It would need some advance planning, but it looks like making sure students can take their own work home at the end of the year is merely tedious, not impossible.

Unfortunately, I’m afraid most schools won’t think of this issue until after it bites them in the but.

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Jon Jermey June 27, 2012 um 10:30 pm

In NSW secondary students are given laptops with Microsoft software for the four senior years. They get to keep these throughout high school, but when they graduate the software is wiped and they get back a non-functional chunk of hardware.

Obviously Microsoft hopes that they will purchase replacement software — assuming they want to keep a four-year-old low-spec laptop at all — but luckily Linux makes an excellent alternative. You can’t do that for a iPad, though… at least, not yet.

Ryan Sullivan June 28, 2012 um 9:11 am

It is possible that school districts could implement policies that support using cloud-based services on mobile devices such as dropbox and evernote. This would allow the students to save everything (including pictures and drawings) to the cloud, which can be accessed by other devices and computers. The student in this case would lose nothing and the school wouldn’t need to worry about storing that students' data.

k1tsun3 June 28, 2012 um 1:05 pm

The problem is not with the iPad but with the people. The student should have been able to transfer all of her stuff off the iPad quite easily. Either she should have taken notes in an app like Evernote, or moved things afterwards into Dropbox or some other cloud storage software. And shouldn’t the apps and songs she purchased stay with her personal iTunes account if she gets a new iPad? The school should have been able to help the student move all her data if her parents didn’t know how to do it. It is completely stupid that she lost all that.

Mr G's Idle Musings » Blog Archive » My Diigo 06/29/2012 June 29, 2012 um 6:49 pm

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