A while ago I wrote about the less-covered side of iPad deployment, the app update cycle. There's another aspect that makes it apparent Apple never intended individual teachers would be managing class sets. With a given class set, what happens when you add a new device to the fold? How would you wipe the devices at the end of the year? How can you employ the same restrictions across devices?
Frustratingly, the answer seems to be repeat the process one device at a time. If you think about the way iPads are marketed to consumers, this makes sense. Consumers buy the biggest chunk of iPads. In a perfect world, each iPad is intended to be used by one person, with one iTunes account, with the ability to download anything purchased by that account. Though, most families don't live up to the fantasy. There might be one iPad per household, juggling the content preferences of five different people. It's clunky.
In a classroom, you'd want a homogeneous set of apps, accounts, and restrictions to ensure any student could perform what you require.
In theory, Apple has a way to do this with Apple Configurator.
Looks great at first: plug in your devices, create a master profile and off you go.
In practice, blech. From the documentation:
Paid apps from the App Store can only be installed using redemption codes acquired through the Volume Purchase Program for Business or Education....
Important: Apps installed using Apple Configurator are tied to the device they were installed on, not to a specific Apple ID. To update apps deployed using Apple Configurator, you must reconnect to the same Mac from which the apps were installed. Additionally, you can't redownload these apps via iTunes apps in the Cloud.
The first problem is the Volume Purchase Program. If your district is enrolled, they're probably managing the iPads for you and have a process for requesting access to apps. If managing the iPads is your responsibility, enrolling in the program requires you to be an authorized representative of the institution. A supervisor has to be provided and they have to agree that you can do this.
Say you want to skip this and strike out on your own, a valid Dun and Bradstreet (DUNS) number is required to enroll yourself as Teacher, LLC.
The second part is the killer, requiring a computer to manage the deployment. The killer feature of iOS 5 was the ability to configure an iPad without syncing it to a computer. If you submit to Apple Configurator, you're back to the wired way of doing business. Apps (free or paid) must be the present on your computer AND you don't get a backup copy from Apple. Lost the original and you must repurchase. Apps get updated? All the iPads need to be synced back to the computer.
There's a reason you don't see any of this in the marketing videos. It's secretly not easy or whimsical in any way. A rating of 2.5 stars for Apple Configurator doesn't help.
For 30+ iPads the Configurator probably saves time, if you can get around the VPP hurlde. For 15? Forget it.