Classroom Tablet Management SOLVED by TabPilot


Wishing all of you who have been affected by Hurricane Sandy well.  I am in the Boston area and we were very lucky here, only losing power for 10-12 hours.  It did affect my blogging schedule, so apologies to my regular readers for the delay…

For well over a year now I’ve been talking to teachers and administrators about transitioning to tablet use in their classrooms.  The most consistent concern that I hear about, both nationally and internationally, is about the ability to “lock down” tablets, only allowing students to have access to what we want them to be doing in class.  Whether the access is narrow or broad, the universal desire seems to be for the teacher to have control over it, thereby increasing the likelihood that students are staying on task and minimizing the probability that kids are out surfing the web and getting into things that they shouldn’t be.

So it’s a problem, right?  Some schools have gone ahead an implemented tablets anyway and are dealing with the issue in a variety of ways, from a simple honor system and rules through monitoring systems.  And because tablets run through a school’s wifi system, the usual filters and blocks that a school’s wifi has in place also apply to all of the tablets, so that eliminates part of the concern.  Still, it’s a challenge, and someone who can come up with a slick tablet management system would likely find a ready and willing market for it.

That’s why I’m excited by what the folks at TabPilot have come up with in their Classroom Tablet Management System.  They offer a full solution, including Android tablets, a tablet storage and charging station and a cloud-based solution to manage the content on the apps themselves.  And the best part?  Kids only see the apps that teachers have configured on the tablets.  I’ve been testing the system, so let me unpack it a bit:

1.  Devices- You can either buy the TabPilot proprietary tablet devices, with the management software already installed, or you can use Android tablets that your school already owns and install and run the TabPilot software on them.

2.  Operating System- Unfortunately, TabPilot is unable to offer an iOS solution for their product.  This is because, as many of you already know, iOS is completely locked down.  The key to the TabPilot solution working for teachers is that the system takes control of the “Home” button on the tablet and makes it non-functional during student use.  This means that the student is unable to exit out of the student interface and access is limited to the apps and sites that the teacher has configured for the device.  Android is a more open operating system and allows the TabPilot system to take the control over devices that it needs.

3.  Software – The software works at several levels, with cloud-based interfaces for the IT Administrator and teacher, accessible from any computer.  And of course there is the student interface on the tablet device itself.

Student Interface

  • The student interface is pretty basic: a student turns the tablet on and sees a bunch of app icons and/or icons for websites on the wall.  He or she can click through on any of the visible icons, as these all have been enabled by the teacher.  The student is locked out of all tablet system settings.
  • The IT administrator interface is a dashboard that allows the administrator to track every tablet in the school, group tablets for assignment to individual classrooms, check that all tablets are synced and up-to-date, and even view which apps are enabled on each tablet.  In this interface the IT administrator also maintains a “master list” of all of the apps that are installed on all devices in the school.  It’s a pretty sweet way for administrators to get a high-level snapshot of where everything in the entire school is via one easy interface.
  • The teacher interface has some of the same functions as the administrator dashboard in that the teacher can track the devices in his or her classroom and can view the apps that have been enabled on each device.  But here is where you are going to be completely dazzled, so pay attention: From the teacher interface, the teacher can select an app from the master list of apps and push it out to all of the devices in the classroom.  You heard me correctly.  By selecting an app and clicking a “Configure” button, the teacher automatically installs the chosen app onto all of the devices in the classroom.  Automatically.  No running around installing an app on 30 different devices.  Choose.  Configure.  Done.  And now ready to use from the student interface on every device in the classroom.

Truly, that last part blew me away and is probably what sold me on TabPilot.  The locking down is great, the admin management is great, but it’s not really practical if every classroom teacher has to install and manage apps on 30 devices, right?  Especially as the number of apps they want to use grows!  So that was the first question I asked the TabPilot guys.  And I kind of didn’t believe them when they said that apps could be pushed out from the teacher interface.  I’m not a technical expert, but, um, WHAT??  I think they must have noticed my skepticism because they loaned me a TabPilot tablet and set me up with an account online to try it myself.  

Try it, I did, and it works.  I might not have believed it if I hadn’t done it myself and seen it with my own eyes.  Plus, the interfaces are very clean and uncluttered, adding to the intuitiveness for new users.  Like any new software program there is a learning curve, but I found it to be a short ramp.  After about a half-hour of navigating around through the interfaces, with the help of a Quick Start guide, I was zipping right along.

One feature that is not available in the TabPilot solution currently is the ability to lock down the browser.  This means that when teachers enable websites for students, there is nothing to stop the students from browsing away to other sites on the internet.  Again, the school’s wifi filters will be intact, but this still presents potential for “off-task” behavior that you may not want.  The TabPilot guys tell me that a locked down browser is definitely a possibility for a future release if there is enough demand for it.

If you’re considering a tablet implementation in your school I encourage you to check out TabPilot.  The Android tablets are more affordable than iPads and the GooglePlay store now has more than 30,000 education apps available for sale.

Are any of you using TabPilot in your classrooms?  What has your experience been?  And does anyone know of any other companies providing a similar service?

To learn more about TabPilot, visit their website by clicking here.  TabPilot is US-based and exploring global partnerships.

About karen mahon

i am a behavior and learning scientist. i hold an ed.d. in educational psychology and am trained as an instructional designer. i have spent more than 15 years working in education and instructional software design.
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17 Responses to Classroom Tablet Management SOLVED by TabPilot

  1. JL says:

    Those 30,000 Apps are little more than sized up phone Apps. There are really no more than a handful of true “tablet Apps” available for Android. The build quality of the cheaper tablets are also quite poor. The new iPad mini, though a little more expensive (schools get a discount), is far sturdier. The other problem is a warning today that up to 300,000 Android apps may be infected with malware. Schools must be very careful when using apps from Google Play. (http://www.infoworld.com/d/mobile-technology/security-research-labels-more-290000-google-play-android-apps-high-risk-206178) Apple iOS apps are unaffected because of the sandboxing and review requirements.

    • karen mahon says:

      JL, I think it’s definitely true that Android is not as far along as iOS in terms of app availability. That said, I have personally reviewed more than 350 iOS apps and I can say that the quality of those is nothing to write home about. It is true that they are more likely to be optimized for the tablet size, but by and large, the instruction really stinks. With respect to the hardware, I own an iPad3 and a Nexus7. For me, there isn’t a noticeable difference in the sturdiness, though for more discerning techies than I there certainly may be. I think the main point for me is that Android tablets and apps are becoming a more and more viable solution for schools, particularly in the developing world, where the difference in price is still a meaningful differentiator.

  2. It’s actually a nice and helpful piece of information.
    I am happy that you just shared this helpful information
    with us. Please keep us informed like this. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Jarrett says:

    JL, the number of tablet-optimized apps for Android is growing very quickly, indeed. Many of the small-screen apps scale up just fine too, making for a nice collection…something that wasn’t true even a year ago.

    It’s highly misleading and even alarmist to state that “300,000 apps may be infected with malware.” If you read the article you’ll find that this is simply the number of apps that ask for access to things like your phone book contacts or system settings….things that could possible be abused by an app that doesn’t really need access to them. Of course, if it’s something like access to your contacts list, then this is irrelevant on classroom tablets where you don’t store that sort of personal info anyhow. It should also be noted that Android prompts you during EVERY install listing the areas the app wants access to, so it’s easy to just cancel something fishy. Besides, if you choose apps from established reputable app companies, you’re not going to see this sort of thing.

    Aside from the rights that you specifically agree to when installing an Android app, Android also “sandboxes” the app. The difference is that Apple’s closed system prevents developers from accessing all of those other resources even if you wanted to grant access to them. That’s why you don’t see innovative replacements for things that Apple wants to lock you into like their dialer, keyboard, desktop interface, address book, etc. That’s why so many people “jailbreak” their iOS devices.

  4. CB says:

    Our K-6th school has successfully implemented the tab pilot system and as an IT administrator I LOVE IT. The ease of downloading and sending an app to the tablets is impressive and a HUGE time saver. We have a set of Ipads at my school and honestly they sit on a shelf since we purchased our tab pilot system. The ability to control what students can use on the tablets allows teachers to be comfortable allowing students to work independently on their tablets without the concern of them playing games or accessing things that are not relevant to their classroom learning. We have found many apps to support classroom learning, and since the android tablets run flash there are numerous websites that can run on the tablets. I look forward to seeing what the future holds for educational apps and android devices – which are much more affordable for schools.

    • karen mahon says:

      Thanks, CB! It’s so great to hear a firsthand success story! Let me ask you this….given that TabPilot doesn’t ship with app, how are you and the others at your school going about choosing apps?

      • CB says:

        As a computer lab instructor I have all grade level curriculum plans so I try to suggest and download apps that support the skills and concepts for all grade levels at my school. We have also successfully used several websites on the tablets. We are still in the preliminary stages of using the tablets but our teachers and students love them for centers. Pinterest is a great resource for me to find and collect all kinds of resources together for future use.

  5. CL says:

    We are a rural school district in the Midwest. We do not believe any one individual reserves the right to decide that our students’ learning capacity should be restricted based on a redneck tablet version of “Fords vs Chevy’s.” Our responsibility as educators is to provide a fair and equitable learning environment. This includes a mix of devices to ensure a broad experience for students.

    TabPilot is a great option for managing our droid devices. It goes beyond simple MDM to offer an environment similar to what many school districts do with extensive group policies. As an administrator trying to offer a truly free and self-resetting environment, deepfreeze for tablets would be the ideal solution. Since they don’t make such a beast, TabPilot is the next best thing. It keeps the tablet clean, simple to use for students, and mitigates the liability of what malicious users may do with them. The management interface is simple enough for select staff to “self-regulate” over groups that permissions can be granted for. That is a huge benefit over many other MDM’s out there; it takes day to day management out of the IT workload. We utilize a few “master tablets” that select staff are allowed to install apps on and then deploy to the rest of the group as they see fit. The app selection process turns into a collaborative effort which increases tablet effectiveness and overall satisfaction.

    Fords and Chevy’s aside, TabPilot is on the right track for maximizing the effectiveness of tablets in the classroom. Maybe one day they can do the same for Apple. TabPilot is new, innovative, and responding to a need that the industry has chosen to blatantly ignore. They are great to work with and the software is progressing nicely. It will be exciting to see how the product develops over the next decade.

  6. Mike Jasper says:

    When it comes to content and apps, this is great (on our school we use something else, not TabPilot). But for real classroom management, and I mean knowing whatever is going on in the classroom during class time when students are hiding behind the screen, there is no substitute for a traditional classroom management software. You know, like teacher screen broadcast and locking up message “eyes up here please…” and all that stuff. We use a different content management for our tablets, but we also use SmartClass http://www.radix-int.com/Classroom-Management/Classroom-Management-Software.html. This really helps our teachers actually focus the students. One of the 8th grade teachers refused to use the tablets until she got the software for her class too :-)

  7. karen mahon says:

    Thanks for sharing that, Mike. After a quick glance, it does look like the SmartClass system offers some features that TabPilot does not. I think you’re right that TabPilot is less concerned about policing the students and is focused more on managing the devices and apps being used. How do you like the SmartClass software? Is it easy to use?

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  9. Pingback: Android Tablet Use in US Schools: A Response | disrupt learning!

  10. Radix SmartClass enables the teacher to manage students’ Android tablets, by using the teacher’s own Android mobile devices.

    • karen mahon says:

      Thanks, Radix! We’ll check you out! (As an aside, TabPilot also works with existing Android mobile devices in the classroom; you may purchase the platform without purchasing devices from them.)

      • I personally thinks that Radix is a much better solution than existing classroom management apps. I have tried mythware, tabpilot, netsupport and other software but radix Smartclass has a vast list of features and commands than any other app. Also these applications gets hang or lags as soon as you increase the no. of tablets in the network. This is not an issue with Radix. They have actually submitted the video of 48 tablets running Radix smartclass on a single network.

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