3 Ways Apple Can Better Support K-12 IT Departments

Apple provides excellent support for education customers, including services like Apple School Manager, the Device Enrollment Program, Apple Professional Learning, new apps like SchoolWork, Apple Classroom on macOS, and even a ClassKit framework for developers. However, there are a few things they could do to improve support for K-12 IT departments.

identity management apple k-12 IT educationIdentity Management

Identity management is a significant factor in securing and deploying resources in enterprise environments including K-12 education. Though macOS devices can be bound to directory services, additional native support for LDAP, Active Directory more specifically, would allow us to deliver services seamlessly. Enterprise Connect is a step in the right direction and continues to evolve, which is encouraging; however, there are still areas where it could be improved. For example, mounting directory resources has to be accomplished with either configuration profiles or scripts. Enterprise Connect requires a two day engagement with professional services to deploy. It would be helpful if this app was either natively in macOS or featured in the Mac App Store.

Apple School Manager (ASM) is Apple’s portal combining Managed Apple IDs, Device Enrollment Program (DEP), and volume purchasing of apps and books. It would be very helpful if ASM integrated with LDAP/AD for the creation of Managed Apple IDs. Student Information System (SIS) integration is possible, but not seamless. There are issues with how the data imports from SIS that can cause errors when importing into ASM. Also, LDAP/AD integration may offer opportunities that give flexibility to IT in how Managed Apple IDs are created. Many services federate with LDAP/AD, including secure network file storage and printing services. LDAP/AD federation offers a more unified solution for users, eliminates the need for complicated SFTP exports, and makes account management easier.

Device Form Factor and Sustainability

iPad Air 2 Screen Apple K-12 IT education
Manufacturing choices, like the fused digitizer and glass in the iPad Air 2, increase repair costs that affect sustainability.

It is important for K-12 to be able to service and repair devices economically. Manufacturing decisions have a direct impact on the cost and availability of repair services, third party replacement parts (screens, digitizers), and cases. While we applaud Apple’s continued focus on innovation and providing cutting edge technology, this can come at a cost to stakeholders when significant changes in the form factor occur.

For example, our district purchased approximately $3 million in iPad Air 2 devices for our 1:1 refresh in 2016. On the iPad Air 2, the glass screen is fused to the digitizer, making repair difficult for vendors. The change in form factor when moving to the 5th Gen. iPad caused a significant shortage of available parts and accessories. Apple is currently the only vendor who has parts to repair this model at a cost of $291 per device (discounted education price). Typically, services for screen repair on previous models cost about $100 – $180. This difference creates a significant financial impact on our program, endangering the sustainability of our 1:1 initiative.

The recent price drop for the iPad helps make iOS an affordable choice for schools. iPads are a great option for most students. It is extremely mobile, front and rear facing cameras help capture media, and a variety of feature-rich iOS apps appeal to diverse learners.   However, there is still a significant need for an economically priced entry level MacBook. Specialty apps like XCode are not available for iOS. Typing for some students can be difficult on a tablet. While schools are able to purchase keyboard cases for iPads, in our experience, this has not proven to be an adequate substitute to a MacBook for curriculum areas that require extensive keyboard use. Our device utilization in secondary grades would benefit from a more affordable MacBook option.

Apple Education Support K-12 IT
Apple hosts education events to showcase new features for students and teachers.

Increased Training and Support

Apple has excellent support in K-12 education for instruction and leadership. Apple also has a variety of support opportunities to address issues that arise when devices malfunction, like AppleCare and Enterprise Support. We would like to see more focus on providing resources for training and development for K-12 IT departments and professionals. Apple’s IT certifications have actually decreased over the years. IT certification is a great way for organizations to verify credentials of engineers working on supporting macOS and iOS users. Additional certification in areas including security, deployment, and device management would be beneficial.

While SE’s give tech updates and help bridge this gap, there are no content or professional development teams similar to Apple Professional Learning for K-12 IT. Currently those services get outsourced. Educational Development Executives excel in supporting instructional leaders and teachers. However, to my knowledge, there are no Development Execs for IT or the Apple Edu SE team. Consulting Engineers tend to fill this gap and are extremely valuable resources. While the barriers to accessing information focused on K-12 IT has improved over the past few years, there still remains a significant need for more resources.

Help Is On the Way

We have seen improvement in the sophistication of enterprise solutions offered by Apple, driven by the proliferation of iPads and Macs in businesses, government, and healthcare. The current employee choice movement and initiatives like Mac@IBM are a significant factor in this shift. It turns out that what is good for enterprise is also good for education. Kudos to Apple for making these changes. So, let’s give credit for what has improved. Device deployment and management is vastly improved from when I started in 2010. Zero touch deployment of MacBooks is a reality. Secure, user friendly iOS deployment is easy and reliable. VPP saves districts money by allowing them to retain licensing for apps and other purchases. Teachers can manage iOS devices in their classroom with an app. Plus, most of this is available through one single portal: Apple School Manager.

I hope that as enterprise and education deployments move forward, some of the pain-points will get fixed. Apple is very good for K-12 IT. I know it will continue to get even better!