How to Configure and Manage iPads for Your Classroom

By Sam Gliksman

The truck rolls up and drops several large boxes of iPads at your classroom door. You need to get them ready for class use, but you don’t have any training or experience setting up mobile devices. That’s okay. Hopefully, you’ve already defined the size of your deployment and an appropriate management strategy.

There are three basic deployment models:

  • Personally owned and managed: Staff and/or students own and manage their own devices. This personal deployment is the model being used by millions of iPad users around the world. Users activate the iPad using the Setup Assistant that prompts them when the iPad is first powered up and use their own Apple IDs. The same model would also apply in a “BYOD” (bring your own device) environment.

  • Personally distributed but school managed: This is a common scenario in 1:1 deployments where each student gets exclusive use of an iPad, but the devices are centrally configured and managed. Devices are usually configured before distribution to users, and an MDM solution is often used to manage the devices and settings.

    A hybrid alternative would enroll the device using an MDM, which would control settings and organizational apps while allowing users the freedom to separately install their own apps and content.

  • Shared devices: iPads that will be shared are typically configured and managed centrally and usually have restrictions set to prevent users from installing apps or changing settings. Apple Configurator is a program that’s often used to set up and supervise device settings and profiles.

Of course, you may also have a mixture of any of these scenarios. It’s possible that you may allow teachers to manage the devices they are given but student iPads are administered by the IT (information technology) department using an MDM.

Getting Apple IDs for students

A significant part of the iPad management hassles in elementary schools stemmed from the fact that U.S. regulations prohibited institutions from creating web-based accounts such as Apple IDs for students under the age of 13. This has been addressed by Apple in the new Apple ID for Students program.

Schools can upload a spreadsheet of student names and IDs to Apple. Emails are sent out to parents requesting their consent to create the Apple ID. Upon receipt of parental consent, Apple creates the ID for their student. With their own ID in hand, students can get individualized access to school materials, iCloud, content, textbooks, and more.

Apple has a Device Enrollment Program that enables institutions to enroll iPads into mobile device management to ensure that all of devices are configured right out of the box. Institutionally owned devices can be automatically enrolled in MDM during activation without ever touching the device.

You can set custom settings for your institution, and streamline the entire setup process so users get an abbreviated version of the Setup Assistant and can quickly get up and running when they first start up the iPad.

Managing devices

iOS devices are unmanaged by default. They’re primarily designed as personal devices, allowing individual users to change settings, accounts, and content as needed. Many institutions decide to adopt a management strategy when purchasing large numbers of devices, and they usually implement it with an MDM solution. iPads are enrolled in the MDM, which has comprehensive controls for configuring and administering the device.

Distributing configuration profiles

Setting up an iPad requires information about email servers, Wi-Fi settings, possible restrictions on use, and more. That information can be encoded in a configuration profile. If you’re setting up large numbers of iPads, you can automate the setup by distributing the configuration profile to the devices. That’s typically done using Apple Configurator on smaller deployments or wirelessly via an MDM when dealing with larger numbers.

Supervising devices

iPads are also not supervised by default. Configuration settings can be changed by any user. Supervision allows an organization to monitor and change settings on devices that have already been rolled out to users. Supervision is usually enabled as part of the device setup through Apple Configurator or an MDM solution and will lock the configuration profile and prevent individual users from changing it.

Changes and new profiles can be distributed with Apple Configurator or the MDM.