Rennie has put 350 iPads in the hands of executives, IT staff, administrators, faculty and students—all using the iPads in various ways depending on job function. It’s the first phase of a project calling for a thousand iPads to be delivered throughout the college by the end of the year, including at libraries and labs where students can “check” them out.
Why does a college need iPads? Tired of staring at spreadsheets, executives wanted iPads for reporting purposes, Rennie says. The iPad’s elegant interface could serve up information such as budgets, staffing issues and status of projects. Students and faculty could leverage iPads for e-books, PDF handouts, as well as Florida State College’s wealth of information on its Web portal.
Meanwhile, the IT staff at Florida State College saw the iPad as a great device for monitoring systems and receiving mobile alerts and tasks, he says. (In fact, IT staffs across the country have become early adopters of the iPad.)
The first phase of Florida State College’s iPad rollout started shortly after the iPad became available earlier this year. Rennie has learned a lot since then, as he prepares to send more iPads out into the field. Here are five of his surprises:
1. Executives Love iPads in Meetings
Executives at Florida State College were the first to ask for iPads, says Rennie, who gave iPads to the CEO, CFO, vice president of HR, and campus presidents. (The Florida State College system is made up of several smaller colleges and academies, each with their own president and deans.)
What happened next shocked him. “I was surprised at how fast senior management fell in love with the iPad,” Rennie says. “They made it their primary device, replacing their laptops.”
Now decisions at meetings are made quickly thanks to the iPad, he says.
In the past, no one fired up laptops at meetings in a conference room because it made the executive look disengaged. When a topic came up that required facts to make a decision, such as the difference in cost for an allocated requisition and an unallocated one, the vice president of HR would have to research it later. Thus, the topic would be tabled for the next meeting.
Today, the vice president of HR can look up the pay grades on the iPad, find the difference, and then ask the president if there’s room in the operating budget. The president can look it up on the iPad and respond appropriately. “You can’t get closure if you don’t have the facts,” Rennie says. “With the iPad, it’s a very different conversation because everyone is armed with the facts at their fingertips.”
2. Pushback May Happen in Unexpected Places
While executives embraced the iPad, some college deans and faculty pushed back. Deans worried that some of their students couldn’t afford the iPad (or couldn’t learn how to use it), while faculty figured IT resources spent supporting the iPad meant that support for other devices would fall by the wayside.
Rennie had to explain to them that Florida State College believes in the consumerization of IT – “You should be able to do anything you need to do with us with your device of choice,” he says. This means students can access content and conduct required tasks over an iPad, desktop, notebook, netbook and even a smartphone such as the iPhone and Droid.
In terms of cost to the student, Florida State College recognizes that the majority of its student body can either afford technology or has technology purchases covered under financial aid. Yet 20 percent don’t qualify for financial aid and lack much disposable income. For this group, Florida State College is working on providing forgivable loans for technology and will have iPads available for check out.
“The challenge we have with the deans is helping them understand,” Rennie says, adding that he’s winning that battle.
Anyone who has followed Apple CEO Steve Jobs’ rant against Adobe Flash knows that no Apple device will ever support the ubiquitous Web technology. Rennie is squarely in Apple’s camp and has embraced HTML 5 throughout Florida State College’s Web presence.
Nevertheless, Rennie was surprised that some students were running into Flash-based sites. “The iPad is a perfect Web surfing device, but every once in a while a student hits a site that they really need but it has Flash embedded in it for navigation purposes,” he says.
The student will have to find other means for accessing the site. While this might seem like a major blow to the iPad, Rennie says required sites with Flash are few in number. Moreover, most sites are evolving to an embedded player that doesn’t require a plug in.
At any rate, students aren’t complaining—yet. “It’s a larger problem for general Web use,” Rennie says, “but a small problem for us.”
4. Consider the Apple vs. Adobe Fight : Part Two, PDFs
Given Apple’s dicey relationship with Adobe, Rennie worried that the iPad wouldn’t support PDFs. Apple prefers HTML 5 over Flash and ePub over PDF. The iPad doesn’t support Flash, so would Apple take a similar stance on PDFs?
Educators have created student handouts in PDFs for years, and Florida State College was no different. “We have a big legacy investment in PDFs,” Rennie says. If iPads didn’t support PDFs, “that would have been a deal killer.”
Rennie, though, was pleasantly surprised at how nice the iPad works with PDFs. With the iPad, students can open and read a PDF. Cool apps let them annotate and highlight text, which are then recorded in the table of contents for fast referral.
But PDF is really an Adobe proprietary standard, and Apple has taken a hard stance against what it deems as proprietary standards. It’s unclear what Apple will do in the future. Rennie believes the PDF and ePub are both going to live together on the iPad for a while.
5. Users Have iPad Location Privacy Fears
Most people use iPads for both work and in their personal lives. Rennie was surprised at the level of fear the iPad caused concerning privacy.
With iPads, Rennie’s team created certificates and limitations about what people can do on them. For instance, you’re not allowed to visit certain websites. Some people’s response? “With personal devices, there’s a fear that somehow management infrastructure spies on the personal sides of their lives,” Rennie says.
Add in location-based apps, and the iPad becomes not only content police but also follows people’s every move. After all, the iPad is really a big iPhone with the same operating system and location services.
To his credit, Rennie understands people’s concerns. “Say a faculty member has an alternative lifestyle, and the content on their personal device reflects that lifestyle,” he says. “Now their personal life is integrated. In the back of their mind, there’s a fear about it becoming an issue.”
Rennie, though, was surprised that people didn’t make the distinction between the iPad and laptop regarding privacy. A laptop authenticates to Florida State College’s network—”where we really know what’s going on,” he says—yet people are more fearful of mobile devices purely because of location services.
Nevertheless, Rennie says he has to “earn the trust every day.”