In-house 'app stores' ease tablet-management woes

Although this level of control isn't for everyone, it does help keep a lid on chaos and support woes

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Students and teachers use the devices to download content such as electronic textbooks, and for subject-related applications such as astronomy software for science classes.

The iPads are owned and maintained by the district, and all tablet applications must be approved by the IT department or by "content supervisors" within each school building, says Tim McDade, director of technology for the district. Anyone is free to suggest applications that have educational value.

The district issues a purchase order to Apple Education to buy what are called Voucher Cards, which come in denominations of $100, $500 and $1,000. Teachers are issued cards that can be used to purchase approved apps for however many devices they need. The teacher physically downloads the app to a "primary" computer in his homeroom, from which he can load the app onto the designated number of iPads, using codes he received with the purchase. Apps that have been approved can be used anywhere in the district.

"We don't want to hinder either teachers or students [from using] what's out there; we don't want to put up barriers," McDade says. Allowing people to suggest tablet apps enables the district to keep up with the constantly changing landscape of software, he says. About 100 apps suggested by users are in use, and a great number of them are free.

Giving end users total app freedom

The IT department at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., supports tablets for students, faculty and staff, and the college allows users to load anything they want on the machines, even those owned by the college, as long as they abide by college policies and regulations.

"We believe that employees will select apps that make them more productive, or their work lives easier," says Bill Thirsk, vice president of IT at Marist. "It clearly fosters creativity. And the IT department does not want to be the app police. We are likely to miss great apps if we block innovation, from wherever it may come."

Should an application appear that's harmful to the college's network or is out of line with policies or in some way breaks the law, officials will block it from being downloaded or moved around via college-owned networks. This is much like Marist blocks viruses to protect other network-attached devices. "If it was a policy violation by how the individual was using the app but the app was OK, then we would block the individual device from gaining network access," Thirsk says.

Bill Thirsk
Bill Thirsk, vice president of IT at Marist College, says, "The IT department does not want to be the app police. We are likely to miss great apps if we block innovation, from wherever it may come."

"We have not yet seen viruses in the iPad world but are aware of some creeping into the Android space," Thirsk says. "We suspect that whenever there is a new platform, there will be new malware or other threats."

Further, students "must also abide by our network acceptable-use policy," Thirsk says. Students have access to an iPad app called Marist College Television. "If an episode was aired under the Marist brand where a person exhibited behavior in violation of the rules of student conduct or used copyrighted materials not authorized, or in some other way violated network acceptable-use policy, then the student would be subject to discipline and the app or episode in the app would be removed after peer review and the judicial process."

The applications in use at Marist range from "convenience computing all the way to advanced courseware," Thirsk says. Some applications are specific to the college, such as campus maps and directories. Others, such as games the college considers "edutainment," are more generic.

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