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Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Innovating with iPods - The Basic Setup

February 2010

After James Langley and I had agreed the focus of the project, we had a whole world of unanswered questions. I had absolutely no idea where to start. You see, despite being reasonably competent with technology, I had never owned or even operated an Apple product in my life! I'd never used an Apple computer, an iPhone, iPod Touch or even the very first iPods which were just simple MP3 players. I'd never used any of it. It seemed I had a whole world of technology to understand before I could begin to proceed.

I borrowed an iPod Touch over the February half term to play around with and learn how to use it. It was only then that I realised the good news: iPod Touches are stupidly easy to operate. It took me about 15 minutes to grasp the concept and familiarise myself with the core features. That was it. No manual, user guides or difficulty. It just worked. (It is important to point out that this was a pre-configured iPod Touch. I will write details of the setup process for an iPod in a future post).

But I was still massively unsure of what to do next. I 'got' the idea of the iPods, but James and I still had no idea how to:

  • store 96 iPods
  • charge 96 iPods
  • add content to 96 iPods
  • extract content from 96 iPods
  • use iTunes (the online Apple store for downloading content)
  • share purchased content between devices (Could this be done? Did we need to buy content 96 times? Could we legally buy it once and then synchronise it across all 96?)
  • keep personal content on the iPods without it syncing to the other iPods
  • ensure that they were consistent with school's E-safety Policy
We put these questions on the back burner for a while until we could come up with solutions and decided instead to crack on with the things we knew we needed. After a brief discussion we decided to buy 8GB iPod Touches - we didn't believe we would need any more storage space than this, so we decided to press on with the purchase of these. And it made absolutely no sense whatsoever to do this alone.

Top Tip: When buying equipment for a project such as this, try and use the buying power of your local City Learning Centre to secure a better price. My thanks have to go to Challenge CLC for managing to secure a price of £118 per device, including hard plastic case and screen protector. They also produced labels which were applied to the back of the iPod:

The hard plastic case and screen protector (which you can't even tell has been applied)

The back of the iPod with label showing the school logo, address and the individual iPod number

After a bit of thinking, reading and with help from Tony Vincent's blog, we started to come up with some solutions to the questions we had earlier.

We learnt a lot more about charging and syncing. In order to charge and sync any number of iPods you need to install iTunes (free download) onto a Windows or Mac computer. This is the platform for transferring content to and from the devices.

Top Tip: I would highly recommend buying an Apple PC or MacBook for the purpose of syncing  content to the iPods. Although it is technically possible to use iTunes on a Windows PC, it is far slower and much more buggy, which means that syncing multiple iPods at the same time is hit-and-miss at best. Again, I appreciate that this kind of decision is dependant on budgets.

We purchased three Apple MacBooks (one per class taking part in the project) for £619 each. Again we purchased these through our local CLC.

James Langley found a great solution to our charging and syncing issue from a company called Parat. They offer a 20-slot 'Parasync' charging and syncing dock for a price of... wait for it... £900 per unit. I know. Ouch. (We bought three of these through the CLC, who managed to negotiate a price of £850 per unit).

Having used them for a while now I can confirm that they're invaluable. The last thing you need is 20 USB cables trailing around a classroom as you attempt to sync a class set of iPods at the same time. The obvious issue is that, if you are planning a class-based project, you are going to be incredibly lucky to have only 20 pupils in your class, meaning that you will need to rotate the devices in order to charge and sync them all. This is but a minor irritation.

They also work with other iPod models, including iPod Classic, iPod Nano and iPhone.

Apple MacBook syncing content through iTunes, using Parat Parasync 20-dock charging and syncing solution

Top Tip: Parasync units are manufactured to fit an iPod Touch WITHOUT a protective plastic case. Make sure you contact Parat early on as it is possible for them to modify the units to fit an iPod Touch WITH a case if you provide them with a sample to work with. This process took around a fortnight and cost an additional £50 per unit, taking the price back up to the original £900. Convenient.

So that was it. The initial procurement was done.

This is what we had purchased for each class:

1 x Apple MacBook computer @ £619
1 x Parat Parasync charging unit @ £900
32 x Apple 8GB iPod Touch with hard plastic case and screen protector @ £118

Bringing the total spend to £5295 per class.


  1. Very innovative. Would be interested in knowing what apps in particular you will be utilising for education purposes.

    Also I'd be interested in what solution you went with to ensure that the iPod content was in line with the e-Safety policy.

    Thanks for sharing this. Very interesting.

  2. Thanks for your comment. Keep an eye out on the blog as I will be continuing to update it over the summer. Further updates will include information about educational apps and e-Safety issues.

  3. Really look forward to reading your updates especially re eSafety

  4. Could you tell me a little bit about the purchase of apps and its guidelines. Do you sync all ipods with the purchase of one app? Or do you have to purchase the same app multiple times?

  5. Due to a recent change in the iTunes terms and conditions, the rules now state that one app can be freely distributed between up to 5 devices. Therefore, if you have 15 devices, you would need 3 accounts and purchase content once per account.

    I will be blogging about this in the near future so keep checking back or subscribe for updates.

  6. You can sync as many devices as you like to one iTunes account