Oh My Tech: Setting up the iPad for classrooms
iPad • Unfortunately, you can’t restrict students from using iMessage on the iPad.

By Vince Horiuchi

The Salt Lake Tribune

Published: April 23, 2012 11:25AM
Updated: May 7, 2012 10:13AM
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Vince Horiuchi

I work at a school where the students’ mobile phones aren’t allowed into the classroom. We’d love to deploy iPads on a wider basis, but we don’t know how to restrict iMessage. We’re already using LocPad to restrict the students’ website access on their iPads just to the few we need in the math classroom, but we don’t know how to restrict iMessage.

Shane Colby

With Apple trying to push the iPad as a great device for schools, you would think the company would do everything it could to make it “slacker-proof” for students.

But alas, after asking a lot of Apple experts and school instructional technology administrators, I’ve concluded there is apparently no way to block iMessage from the iPad.

First, a little background. Apple’s iMessage is an SMS-style text-messaging service for iPhones, iPod touches and iPads. It’s free as long as you text from an iOS device to another iOS device.

“OMG! What a great feature,” you might be thinking. But I can see how Shane wants to restrict students’ use of iMessage in the classroom. You wouldn’t want students texting the answers back and forth if they were taking a quiz on the iPad.

You can, however, restrict everything else on the iPad. There is a free Mac app (not an app for the iPad but for Mac computers) called Apple Configurator that can be used to help control iPads. This brand new tool developed by Apple for businesses and schools allows you to set up, configure and control the use of iPads that are deployed in the field for workers or students.

With it, you can configure up to 30 iPads at a time from one computer and take off apps that you don’t want the students to use such as Facetime (Apple’s videoconferencing app), YouTube or the Safari web browser. You also can tell all the iPads to lock out anyone from downloading new apps or deleting existing ones. After all, you wouldn’t want the kids playing Angry Birds instead of doing their homework.

Unfortunately, the Apple Configurator will not prevent the use of iMessage. And so far, there isn’t a third-party app out there that blocks it, either.

Apple should consider figuring out a way to restrict its text messaging service for schools if it wants to push the iPad into the education sector. And that is what it’s trying to do by lowering the price of the iPad 2 to $399 to make it more attractive for schools and businesses.

Rick Gaisford, educational technology specialist for the Utah State Office of Education, said that more and more schools are adding iPads to the classrooms all the time. Even elementary schools are employing them for reading and math, he said. In fact, the Piute School District has issued iPads to all its high-school freshmen to take home and use whenever they want. Kearns High School has loaned out iPod touches to some of its students for educational purposes.

For the time being, I guess students will be able to LOL as much as they want behind their teachers’ backs until Apple comes up with a solution.

If you have a question for Vince, email him at ohmytech@sltrib.com, and he’ll try to answer it for his column in The Salt Lake Tribune or on its website. For an archive of past columns, go to www.sltrib.com/topics/ohmytech.