[Updated] Could iOS 9.3 be about to change #iPadEd?

Update: Today (14th January 2016) the public beta of iOS 9.3 was made available. You can access this by signing up to the Apple Beta Software Program.

Yesterday (11th January 2016) evening, news broke online of some of the new features that are set to be included in the release of iOS 9.3. Now usually, the minor, interim releases focus on subtle enhancements, like bug fixes and stability improvements, rather than new features. However, iOS 9.3 seems to come bundled with a number of new features piqued the interest of the EdTech and iPadEd community. Within hours of the news breaking, it became one of the top trending topics on Twitter!

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What’s new in iOS 9.3?
Whilst iOS 9.3 comes bundled with a raft of new features, here I will focus on those which are designed to cater to those using technology in education. Since many institutions rely on class sets of iOS devices as opposed to 1:1, Apple is seemingly adding features which aim to improve the experience of those using shared devices. Apple claims that this “lets students enjoy the benefits of having their own iPad in whatever classroom they’re in“. The Education Preview website elaborates on this by stating that students can log in to an iPad and have access to their apps, books and documents, all thanks to a new, intelligent caching system. To streamline this process, Apple is set to introduce a new Photo ID feature, whereby a photo of each student will appear on the device they have been using, making it easier to spot the device they have been using. It doesn’t say whether a password (maybe Apple ID password) would need to be entered to access the device, although I would hope so for security purposes.

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Perhaps one of the most exciting features to be announced is a new built in app, Classroom. It would appear that this feature allows teachers to view the screen of a student within a class, simply by tapping their name, making it easier for teachers to monitor the progress of every student. In addition, teachers now have the ability to launch a specific app, website or page in a book on every iPad in a class and even be able to lock it, to ensure that they remain focused on the task at hand. Finally, within Classroom, it is also possible to reset a students password, if they forget it: something that is sure to please school Network Managers across the globe!

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It appears that Apple has also looked to help not only classroom teachers, but also administrators. Apple School Manager is a web based features designed for admins which Apple states is “Everything you need to use iPad in schools“. One of the most useful features associated with this is Managed Apple IDs. These retain all the features that come bundled with a regular Apple ID, but are designed specifically for schools. Administrators will gain the ability to reset passwords, audit accounts and assign custom roles to each ID. Currently, children under the age of 13 cannot create an Apple ID of their own, which can cause a headache for staff, particularly in primary and lower secondary schools. It will be interesting to see if this feature provides a suitable alternative.

Conclusion
Whilst details are still a little sketchy, it seems that this update could bring some significant improvements to the way iPad is used in education and addresses a number of issues that educators have been crying out for. With the developer beta released yesterday morning, when the news of the new features broke, it is anticipated that the public beta release could surface in the near future.

If you would like to access the public beta of iOS 9.3 (and any future releases) once it is available, you should sign up to the Apple Beta Software Program.

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