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.
- 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.