Introduction to the Fundamentals
Apple Configurator is an application used to set up and configure iOS devices. It is typically used to set up iPads. Apple Configurator works best when configuring and managing devices in small organizations. I have used and trained others to use Apple Configurator. We use it to configure, assign, and manage devices at the classroom and campus level. It is much better to use a cloud management service for large sets of devices. These are Mobile Device Management services.
Apple Configurator requires devices to be physically connected to the host computer. The host computer is usually dedicated to managing those devices. Devices need to connect to the computer for configuration and to install apps.
Managing multiple devices with Apple Configurator requires a robust compute. An older machine would work fine but the speed with which the devices are managed is greatly affected. Updating configurations or installing applications takes longer.
It is a detailed process
I have provided training on Apple Configurator for years. I always tell the technology person or teachers that the learning process takes days. I let them know ahead of time that they will be calling me back with questions. We need to do several days of follow up conversations and training. This is not because the software is difficult. The concepts are foreign to most teachers.
There is a process to Apple Configurator. The process isn’t always clear. There are steps that need to take place before we can proceed with the next. There are things to configure so we can use them later. There are accounts that need to be set up and linked. We need to think of one device and at the same time think of multiple devices.
Apple Configurator is easy to use but a difficult concept to embrace. To have a successful application of Apple Configurator we need to have a plan and a process in place. This plan and process aren’t clear to most teachers until they have gone through the process. Lots of teachers want to give up and find an easier way to manage devices. Apple Configurator is best when we have several devices to manage and no budget for a Mobile Device Management server or service. A Mobile device management service is too much for small sets of devices.
Apple Configurator grants and limits access on devices. Devices like iPads are often a headache for campuses. The headache occurs when a teacher uses a personal account on a campus or district device. This is usually not a problem until a teacher leaves. Teachers typically return their devices to the campus or district office before leaving. Campuses don’t always have a process to clear a teacher. A typical process often involves making sure that the physical device is returned. The process does not involve clearing out account information and data.
I often get calls where campus cannot use an iPad because it contains the previous teacher's account. The teacher that used the device often cannot be reached or doesn’t remember the password. Without a password to reset the device, it is not usable because Apple will not unlock the device. Equipment worth several hundred dollars can’t be used because a the device is locked.
Apple Configurator helps to deal with situations like this. It limits the use of personal accounts. It resets and restores assigned devices. It facilitates the use and installation of applications.
When to use Configurator
I recommend the use of Apple Configurator for campuses that use small sets of iOS devices. In my experience, Apple Configurator works best when managing classroom sets. This is typically twenty to thirty devices.
Some campuses manage larger sets of devices for the entire campus. Campuses often divide all their devices into smaller sets. A campus with one to two-hundred devices will break up the devices by grade level or classroom. These smaller sets of twenty to thirty are easier to manage.
Apple Configurator does not work as well with large organizations. These are large organizations where there is one person or a handful of people charged with managing the devices.
A Mobile Device Management service like a server works best for large organizations. The process is similar to what Apple Configurator does for small organizations. Large organizations breakup the management of devices to the campus level. These are further subdivided by grade level. Sometimes they are further divided by classrooms or teachers.
Mobile device management services streamline the process. Apple works with districts on the purchase and distribution of devices. Purchased devices are tied to a district management service at the factory. This helps districts quickly distribute devices to campuses and teachers.
In this issue, we will take a look at the basics for setting up Apple Configurator to manage iPads. We will set up devices for open and supervised distribution.
I recommend a dedicated account. Apple provides free Apple ID accounts. A dedicated account is one connected to the organization. This account is accessible by a handful of people at the organization. When I say a handful, I mean those that are in charge of managing the devices. This information will not be distributed to teachers or students. There are exceptions. The exception requires the creation of separate accounts for teachers. These accounts are still managed by a small group in the organization. The accounts are also tied to district emails.
Here are some hardware recommendations before managing devices. Make sure you have a dedicated machine to manage the devices. I recommend something like a Mac mini. It’s less expensive than a desktop or laptop. A dedicated device assures the device is available when devices need to be managed. Don’t use a device someone takes home or locks away in a closet.
One important piece of hardware you will need is a USB Hub. The hub provides additional USB ports for the iPads to connect to the computer. The computer can handle over a hundred USB devices with the aid of a USB hub. Most USB hubs don’t accommodate that many devices. You might have an iPad cart. These carts usually have a built-in hub to charge and connect to a computer. If you have a cart like this, then you don’t need a USB hub.
The installation of Apple Configurator is done through the App Store. The software is free. It requires the latest version of MacOS before installation. You might need to update the computer to the latest version before installation. The App Store will generate a message if the computer does not have the required MacOS version.
We need to do a few more things before connecting a device. Connecting devices is one of the last steps in the process. When using Apple Configurator to setup devices it helps to set up a profile for the devices. Profiles are a list of settings we want to assign for each device. The settings include such things as the preferred WiFi SSID and password. Other items we might include are restrictions, passcodes, AirPlay devices, and AirPrint settings. These settings are sent to connected devices.
There are still several steps to take before we begin to configure the devices. In the next issue, I will cover the preparation of devices for Apple Configurator. I will cover the process for preparing and supervising devices for student use. I will cover the use of Blueprints for distributing profiles and installing apps. We will take a look at what we need to do to update profiles and the apps already installed on devices. We will also take a look at what it takes to install new apps. We will develop and install profiles for specific needs. Some of these needs include assessments and guided activities.