My AppleID Strategy: For Better Or Worse

I was recently asked what my AppleID strategy is for teachers and iPads. It’s very simple and it stems from an issue we have, at least in California public schools known as “Gifting” public funds. When iPads first came out, the organization that advises schools on finance matters in California released a scary document that basically said, districts shouldn’t buy an App and then have that app be redeemed to an individual’s personal AppleID account. It would be akin to buying a license for Microsoft Office and giving the DVD and Activation Code to the teacher to take home and install on their home computer. In other words, BAD.

Apple’s sort of solution to this was the Volume Purchase Program (VPP). Districts setup management accounts, buy vouchers (gift cards), use the gift cards to buy App codes and then redeem the app codes to an AppleID. The problem is, the code still can’t be redeemed to a personal ID because once it has been redeemed, there is no way to get the app back from that AppleID. iOS 7 may fix this, but because Apple’s consumer release schedule doesn’t line up to the start of school, it won’t come into play until January at the soonest. The problem will still remain one of App Management. With IT staffing in schools in CA bordering on institutionally negligent for adequately building and supporting a technology infused 21st Century Learning environment, asking IT to step in and manage hundreds of teacher apps is ridiculous. Not to mention it’s totally anti-discovery and innovation which I talk about in this post here.

Now to my solution. When issuing iPads to teachers, part of the orientation training is the creation of a “district” AppleID using the teacher’s district email address as both the AppleID and email. This process can be painful as it requires many steps and sometimes towards the end, the process fails, especially when more than a few dozen folks try and activate AppleIDs in a short time period on the same network. The nice thing though is that once the AppleID is setup, teachers “own” their App experience. It’s their iTunes account.

The process we go through involves creating a new AppleID during the iPad setup routine. This creates an iTunes account with a payment method of “None” which allows teachers to download and update free apps all on their own! For paid apps, they must have a VPP app code from the school or district. When redeeming the app code, I emphasize that they must be logged into their district AppleID before redeeming the code. Otherwise, if they’ve logged in with their personal account to download their own apps and forget to log back in to their district account before redeeming an App code, they’ve just been gifted public funds and that is BAD (but hey, we can all get a cell phone stipend, right?).

The very last step in the iPad orientation training is adding the iPad to our Meraki MDM solution. I don’t actively manage settings on the iPads but it’s nice to know I can push web clips, clear pass codes and change wifi settings over the air if need be.

This AppleID system is not perfect. Setting up the initial accounts can be a real challenge. For some users, they get all the way to the apple store questions step in creating an account and they aren’t given the “None” payment option.  They have to cancel out, go to the App store, “buy” a free app (we use Google Drive, since that is the 1st app I have everyone install), choose to create a new account and then they get the “None” option. I’ve spent literally an hour setting up one teacher’s AppleID. Not fun.

Also, I can’t reset their passwords for their AppleID accounts. This has caused a few problems, since resetting AppleID passwords can be hit or miss if people don’t remember their security questions, didn’t provide the correct birthday or miss-typed their email on the iPad during initial account setup.

Under this setup, I don’t cede total control. Since I can access the district email account (I can reset the email account password and request an AppleID password reset email) I can always re-gain control of the iTunes account. Because of this, I can change the email address and AppleID, essentially re-claiming those apps for assignment to another teacher. There is a potentially annoying minor issue with this capability as well, anyone care to guess what it might be? In real life, would I spend the time required to do this? Probably not.

The bottom line is that apps are consumables like paper and ink (with the exception of certain SpecialEd apps that cost a lot). Districts need to start budgeting for Apps like they do paper and pencils. The alternative is a mess of management, bureaucracy and control that will only serve to impede learning in the classroom and make ubiquitous technology adoption in education fail yet again.

As a side note: On my wish list with Apple is LDAP integration for AppleID accounts (or at least a CSV upload) and an SSO option for passwords. What I need to make things work really well is one account repository.  A singe username and password to rule them all for teachers. Because if there is one thing that I’ve learned in the last four months of handing out hundreds of teacher iPads, it’s that not everyone is comfortable managing multiple accounts (Windows, iTunes, SIS, Google Apps, HR Portal, Website CMS, etc…) across several platforms. Yes, it’s 2013 and that’s pretty much the norm but most classrooms still operate in the 19th century and change is hard.

Got a better AppleID strategy? I’d love to hear it.