I did some more e-book reading with my students this week.
Now I’m starting to understand a little better what the current limitations are to using this technology in a classroom setting.
My Exhibit A is iTunes‘s sharing limitations.
I was trying to make collections. We have downloaded about fifty books, mostly free, but a few paid ones. I wanted to organize them onto shelves so that students in different classes could easily access the content which was meant for them. I didn’t want to manually set up the shelves on each and every iPad, so I poked around in the settings and found a ‘share collections’ function. I turned it on, moved onto the next one, turned it on…
And then a few devices in, I got an error message that I had associated the maximum number of devices already. I was confused. I knew there was a limit to how many Apple devices you could register for one account, but I had thought we were still within it. All of our school iPads are linked to the same account, and I have been merrily downloading apps between them for years now.
Alas, there is an important distinction I had not taken into account: device limit and content limit are two separate things. I checked a few Internet help boards (such as this one) and found repeated mentions of a five-device limit for “iTunes-purchased content.”
I could still go into my iTunes cloud and manually download the books. But it would not share my collections across more than five of the iPads.
This is, to my mind, a major Achilles heel. How is a teacher supposed to purchase content and roll it out across a whole classroom? And why does this have to be such a convoluted business? I am prepared to accept that if I plan to use the book across more than five devices, it should cost a little more. But I don’t want to set up a new account for it. There has to be a one-tap way to ‘upgrade’ an existing purchase—keep it on my same account, charge me a top-up price on it, and then let me roll it out onto every device I have. Otherwise, what is the point of using these devices in the classroom?
When we first got the class set of devices, we tried to set up a corporate account through Apple. We were unsuccessful in doing so because the requirements were quite onerous. I forwarded the whole thing to my boss when Apple’s first question was, ‘Are you authorized to share tax information with Apple Canada?’ and our IT people came twice to try and do it. It didn’t work out, so we are on a plain old Apple account here.
Maybe there is a ninja way for corporate users to solve this problem. But whatever that way is, it has not been intuitive enough for little old me to figure it out, and I am our school’s technology team-lead. There is no way a ‘regular’ teacher here could make sense of this. Most teachers I know are appallingly short on tech skills. If this isn’t made simple, they won’t do it.
So, what is my solution going to be? I’m not sure yet. I thought about setting up a student Dropbox account and loading books into browsable folders for them. But that limits me to only public domain or purchased-but-DRM-free titles. These kids want to read Captain Underpants! And I don’t blame them for that.
In my perfect world, schools would be able to sign up for a program which uses a web interface to organize content. Pay an annual fee to sign your school up, then each teacher can browse via the website to add books, music, video, learning games and other content from the Netflix-style service to their class account. The student opens an up on their device, taps one button to sign in as class X or class Y, and there is a menu with all the stuff they need. Once that’s underway, we can start adding in some frills like reporting features to show the teacher whose done the reading already.
Anybody read to make such an app? My school would sign up in a heartbeat!