It didn’t take long, but soon after the Los Angeles Unified School District began their rollout of some 650,000 iPads to their students, they ran into some technical issues. Students in at least one of LAUSD’s high schools quickly discovered a way to bypass the security on the devices. Still in Phase 1 of the program, only 15,000 of the devices have been given to students, but already the District has suspended home use of the iPads due to the security issues. According to reports, LAUSD had been using software that “lets school district officials know where the iPads are, and what the students are doing with them at all times. This software also lets the district block certain sites, such as social media favorites like Facebook.” There are now questions circulating around whether the LAUSD staff was well prepared for these devices and their implementation, and what is going to be done moving forward to continue the rollout and secure the iPads.

student using mobile device

In my previous article I wrote about how educational staff need to be prepared to properly utilize iPads in their classroom. IT staff responsible for managing these iPads should also receive the proper training and preparation. What’s interesting to note here is that, at least in my experience, Apple’s stance on iPads in education is generally fairly hands-off. They recommend managing or locking down the iPads as little as possible. The idea here is that these are best served as single user devices and the best experience for the student is full ownership and manageability of the iPad out of the box. iPads aren’t meant to be used like a rolling cart of laptops going from room to room. They don’t support user profiles and managing or locking down the iPads introduces more complexity than is needed.

You want to protect the investment in these devices from theft, and prevent students from accessing inappropriate content, but if you are planning on allowing the students to take these devices home, you can only go so far. As evidenced from the LAUSD issue, students quickly discovered the iPads were so locked down they couldn’t use them at home, so they found a way to delete the configuration profiles which essentially removed any of the locks or restrictions on the iPad. Some students even went so far as to offer ‘unlocking’ service for $2. Quite the entrepreneurial spirit!

Now, it’s a daunting task for any IT department of any size to introduce over half a million new devices under your umbrella of responsibility. Add to this, that depending on the MDM solution chosen, each of these iPads have to be unboxed and configured before being handed to a student. Now, when something goes wrong they have to be collected, and reconfigured. It stands to reason that Phase 1 will remain a trial phase until some of these issues are worked out.

The LAUSD project is estimated to come at a total cost of $1 Billion. Only half of that is for the iPads themselves, the other half to provide wireless infrastructure for the LAUSD schools. This is another key area that needs to be addressed properly. If the wireless network for these schools is not designed specifically around having an iPad in the hand of every student in every room, it will fail miserably. As schools have adopted wireless technology over the past several years, they have often planned a very basic coverage model and not planned for high density. With the push towards BYOD both in Enterprise and Education, proper planning and design for high density becomes critical.

In a vendor-independent wifi stress test done by Keith Parsons at Wireless Lan Professionals, we can see that many enterprise access points begin to fail under the load of only 10-15 iPads. I can only speculate what the class sizes are like for LAUSD, but if they are typical, they are likely in the 20-30 students per classroom range. This means each classroom has to be designed as a high-density cell, with (likely) multiple access points servicing each room. This is a difficult thing to get right, and one of the biggest reasons many wireless deployments fail to meet expectations.

While the LAUSD example may be the largest of it’s kind, there have been several other successful one to one tablet rollouts in schools over the past several years. Schools and districts looking to follow in their footsteps should learn from their struggles and hurdles and plan to spend a lot of time and effort around proper design of their infrastructure and preparation of their IT departments.

What other technological issues do you expect might arise from a project such as this one?




Rob Coote

System Analyst

Northern Alberta, Canada